He apparently experienced amyotrophic sidelong sclerosis (ALS), and kicked the bucket with family close by. Shepard was a productive author, penning 44 plays and a few books amid his profession.
Shepard was likewise assigned for an Academy Award for his part as pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff in 1983.
New York magazine once called him “the best American writer of his era.”
Writing and acting (wiki)
After securing a position as a busboy at The Village Gate upon arriving in New York City, Shepard became involved in the Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene in 1962 through Ralph Cook, the club’s head waiter.
At this time Samuel “Steve” Rogers adopted the professional name Sam Shepard. Although his plays would go on to be staged at several Off-Off-Broadway venues, he was most closely connected with Cook’s Theatre Genesis, housed at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan’s East Village.
Most of his initial writing was for the stage; after winning six Obie Awards between 1966 and 1968, Shepard emerged as a viable screenwriter with Robert Frank’s Me and My Brother (1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970).
Several of Shepard’s early plays, including Red Cross (1966) and La Turista (1967), were directed by Jacques Levy. A habitué of the Chelsea Hotel scene of the era, he also contributed to Kenneth Tynan’s ribald Oh! Calcutta! (1969) and drummed sporadically from 1967 through 1971 with psychedelic folk band The Holy Modal Rounders, appearing on Indian War Whoop (1967) and The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (1968).
Shepard’s early science fiction play The Unseen Hand (1969) would influence Richard O’Brien’s stage musical The Rocky Horror Show. Shepard’s Cowboy Mouth – a collaboration with his then-lover Patti Smith – was staged at The American Place Theater in April 1971, providing early exposure for the future punk rock singer.
He wrote plays out of his house and served for a semester as Regents’ Professor of Drama at the University of California, Davis. Shepard accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 as the ostensible screenwriter of the surrealist Renaldo and Clara (1978) that emerged from the tour; because much of the film was improvised, Shepard’s services were seldom utilized.
His diary of the tour (Rolling Thunder Logbook) was published by Penguin Books in 1978. A decade later, Dylan and Shepard co-wrote the 11-minute “Brownsville Girl”, included on Dylan’s Knocked Out Loaded (1986) album and later compilations.
Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that, to him, the older play felt “awkward”, adding, “All of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don’t really fit together,” while the newer play “is like a Porsche.
It’s sleek, it does exactly what you want it to do, and it can speed up but also shows off great brakes.”
The revival and new play also coincided with the publication of Shepard’s collection Day out of Days: Stories (the title echoes a filmmaking term).
The book includes “short stories, poems and narrative sketches… that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] has carried with him over the years.” In 2011, Shepard starred in the film Blackthorn.
At the beginning of his playwriting career, Shepard did not direct his own plays. His earliest plays were directed by a number of different directors but most frequently by Ralph Cook, the founder of Theatre Genesis.
Later, while living at the Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of Buried Child (1982), among other plays.
During the 1970s, though, Shepard decided that his vision of his plays required that he should direct them himself.
He has since directed many of his own plays, but with a few rare exceptions, he has not directed plays by other playwrights.
He has also directed two films, but reportedly does not see film direction as a major interest.