Skip to main content

Sam Shepard Obituary

Sam Shepard – Playwright, screen-writer, actor, director

Born November 5,1943; died July 27 2017.


Sam Shepard, who has died at his Kentucky home aged 73 following a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was a literary outlaw who explored America's mythology in more than fifty plays. Shepard's career as a dramatist began at a time when the 1960s counter-culture he fell into was exploring a sense of rootless disaffection which his work in part defined.

From his early plays seen on the Off Off Broadway circuit, Obie and Pulitzer Prize winning success saw him mature in ways that took his work beyond the claustrophobic motel walls where many of his anti heroes dwelled, to an expanded widescreen backdrop where his poetic existential meditations could be fleshed out. As an actor, he was acclaimed in a Hollywood mainstream he never quite fitted in with, but was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Right Stuff anyway.

With one foot inside and the other outside the system, Shepard recognised the conflicts and contradictions in the uneasy relationship between art and commerce. He channelled this unease into his 1980 play, True West, in which two brothers, one an Ivy League educated screen-writer, the other an unhinged drifter, are reunited in the suburbs for a volatile struggle of wills that threatens to consume each other.

As some time drummer with psychedelic jug band the Holy Modal Rounders between 1967 and 1971, Shepard brought a whiff of rock and roll and an ineffable cool to the theatre. This was the case whether writing and appearing in the play, Cowboy Mouth (1971), with his then lover Patti Smith, or going on tour in 1975 with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, a free-wheeling cross country sprawl featuring a cast list that included beat poet Allen Ginsberg and singers Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Shepard was hired as scriptwriter for a proposed film that resulted in the quasi fictional Renaldo and Clara. Shepard's document of the tour, Rolling Thunder Logbook, ends with a drunk Dylan causing havoc at press night for an Off Broadway production of Shepard's play, Geography of A Horse Dreamer. The real life scene read as unhinged as anything happening onstage.

Samuel Shepard Rogers III was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, to his teacher and farmer father and teacher mother, and, until he adopted the name of Sam Shepard as his writing name, was nicknamed Steve Rogers. Explorations of fractured identity would filter through his work ever after, as would the figure of his alcoholic father. After graduating from high school in Los Angeles County, Shepard briefly studied architecture, but, after falling for the work of Samuel Beckett, jazz and abstract expressionism, he dropped out to join a touring theatre group.

While working as a busboy in New York, Shepard became involved in the Off Off Broadway theatre scene, with plays such as Cowboys (1964) and The Rock Garden (1964). Between 1966 and 1968, Shepard won six Obie Awards, and in 1969 co-scripted Robert Frank's film, Me and My Brother. A year later Shepard co-wrote Michaelangelo Antonioni's fractured hippy fantasia, Zabriskie Point. With Wim Wenders, he later wrote Paris, Texas (1984), which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The 1970s saw Shepard flesh out his range and vision with a series of modern American epics. Curse of the Starving Class arrived in 1978, the same year Buried Child won him a Pulitzer. True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983) were both nominated, while Fool For Love was later filmed by Robert Altman, with Shepard playing the lead.

A parallel career as an actor began with a role in Terence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978). The Oscar nomination for The Right Stuff (1983), in which Shepard played test pilot Chuck Yeager, followed. Onstage he won plaudits for his performance in the 2004 off Broadway production of Caryl Churchill's clone-based play, A Number.

Shepard worked closely with radical director Joseph Chaikin, with whom he co-wrote Tongues (1978) and Savage/Love (1981), which explored more poetic forms of theatrical language. After Chaikin was afflicted with aphasia, Shepard penned The War in Heaven, a hyper minimalist text which Chaikin performed.

As well as numerous playtexts, collections of stories and fragments were published. Hawk Moon appeared in 1973, Motel Chronicles in 1983, and Day Out of Days in 2004.

In 1969, Shepard married actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he reunited and decamped to London with their son Jesse following the affair with Smith. They divorced in 1984. By that time Shepard had met Jessica Lange on the set of Frances. They never married, but had two children, Hannah and Samuel Walker, and were together until 2009 in what Shepard later described as a “tumultuous” relationship. The pair spoke fondly of each other until the end.

In 2013, Shepard came to Glasgow to see the final night of the Citizens Theatre's revival of True West, and to take part in an aftershow Q and A. He was impressed enough with Phillip Breen's production to help secure it a London transfer the following year. Shepard's most recent play, A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations), premiered in Derry/Londonderry 2014. As an actor, he most recently appeared appeared in Netflix TV show, Bloodline.

Throughout his at times high profile career, Shepard kept his distance from celebrity, choosing instead to retain a stoic integrity as the dysfunctional conscience of America's vast and fractured heartland. Like a never ending highway, his writing seemed to go on forever.

“I hate endings,” he said in a 1997 interview with the Paris Review. “Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exiting, middles are perplexing and endings are a disaster. The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That's genius.”

Shepard is survived by his children, Jesse, Hannah and Samuel Walker, and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.

 
The Herald, August 2nd 2017

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1
1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77)
3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77)
4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77)
5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77)
6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77)
7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77)
8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78)
9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78)
10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79) 
11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79)
12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79) 
13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79)
14. JOLT See Saw (6/79)
15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79)
16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79)
17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79)
18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79)
19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79)
20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79)
21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79)
22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79)
23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79)
24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80)
25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

1. THE REZILLOS I Can’t Stand My Baby (Sensible FAB 18/77) If it wasn’t for T…

Michael Rother - Sterntaler at 40

"There's so much to do," says an uncharacteristically flustered Michael Rother. The normally unflappably beatific German guitarist, composer and former member of Neu! and Harmonia, who also had a stint in a nascent Kraftwerk, is packing for live dates in Russia and the UK, including this weekend's show at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow.
"It has always been my choice to take care of these things myself and not have a manager," he says. "Somehow for me the independent aspect of doing things is really important, but it has its disadvantages."
As well as playing selections from Neu! and Harmonia, the trio he formed with Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, Rother's Glasgow date will see him play a fortieth anniversary rendering of his second solo album, Sterntaler, in full. Rother will be accompanied by guitarist Franz Bargmann and drummer Hans Lampe, the latter of whose musical involvement with Rother dates back to Neu! days, …