Skip To Content

Sam Shepard, Playwright Of Biblical Proportions, Dies At 73

Sam Shepard, a playwright and actor whose work helped revolutionize American theater, died on July 30 at his home in Kentucky from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 73 years old.

Shepard, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play “Buried Child” and was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in the 1983 Philip Kaufman-directed film “The Right Stuff,” became one of the most significant voices of New York’s downtown theater scene, progressing from Off-Off-Broadway, to Off-Broadway, to the Great White Way itself.

Writing about Shepard in 2003, the prominent critic Harold Bloom remarked on the playwright’s similarities to the British Jewish dramatist Harold Pinter, and commented that Shepard’s work played into a strain of so-called “Adamic” American literature. “Like Walt Whitman, Sam Shepard seeks to be Adam early in the morning, but a Western American Adam,” Bloom wrote.

Throughout his career, Shepard had close working relationships with a number of Jewish directors, including Joseph Chaikin and Jacques Levy. In the 1980s, he helped Bob Dylan write the song “Brownsville Girl.”

Shepard is survived by his three children: Jesse, from his marriage to the actress O-Lan Jones, and Hannah and Walker, from his longtime relationship with the actress Jessica Lange.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.