SANTA FE – Sam Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, author and Oscar-nominated actor with deep connections to Santa Fe, died Thursday in Kentucky at the age of 73.
Shepard lived in the City Different on and off for decades and in recent years was associated with the renowned Santa Fe Institute, a multidisciplinary research center that focuses on science but includes artists as well
Family spokesman Chris Boneau said Shepard died Thursday from complications related to Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Shepard, who grew up on a California ranch, produced 44 plays and numerous books, memoirs and short stories. He was one most influential playwrights of his generation, as a plain-spoken poet of the modern American West.
Shepard first moved to Santa Fe in the 1980s and shared a home with actress Jessica Lange, with whom he had two children. His father, Samuel Shepard Rogers VI, died in Santa Fe, when he was run over by a car as he left a bar. In recent years, Shepard split time between Santa Fe – court records from two years agao showed him with an address just southeast of town – and at his horse farm in Midway, Ky.
In 2002, Shepard told the New York Times the only time Rogers saw one of his plays was in Santa Fe and that the father recognized himself in the playwright’s famed “Buried Child,” a 1979 Pulitzer Prize winner.
“He was stoned drunk,” Shepard told the Times, ‘’and he started yelling at the actors, telling them that what they were depicting was untrue. He knew because he was in the play. And they kicked him out of the theater.”
From 2010-2011, Shepard was a Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute. The institute’s Jenna Marshall said Monday that even after his formal affiliation with the institute ended, Shepard was still active with the organization. He was friends with staff members and kept a work desk in the library on the SFI campus in the hills overlooking town. There he worked on writing projects like his 2014 play “A Particle of Dread.”
“Sam was an inspired choice as an SFI Miller scholar; he loved hanging out with us, writing in our library and elsewhere, visiting with us all, and stayed on long past his official Miller tenure. … He is very much missed and will be long-remembered as a wonderful friend and a creative giant among us,” David Pines, an SFI co-founder and friend of Shepard, said in a statement Monday.
Pines also said Shepard “vanished” from SFI a few years ago and now realizes it was because of his illness.
Shepard also frequented the movie theater at Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts. Though he hadn’t been seen there probably since late 2016, CCA Cinematique director Jason Silverman said, Shepard had “adventurous tastes” and was interested in the more off-beat or experimental screenings.
He remembers Shepard as someone who always came to shows early and would ask a lot of questions about the theater’s programming. Silverman also described Shepard as a “peaceful soul” who seemed to enjoy being treated like any other patron. “He loved movies in a very deep way and seemed like an endlessly curious person,” said Silverman.
Shepard, born in 1943 and became known for “Buried Child” and other key plays “True West” and “Fool for Love.” He was also an accomplished actor, receiving an Academy Award nomination for portraying Chuck Yeager in 1983’s “The Right Stuff” as well as Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his television work. Most recently, he acted in Netflix’s “Bloodline.”
In May 2015, he was arrested in Santa Fe on charges of a DWI charge after his truck was making jerking motions as was trying exit a restaurant parking lot. The charges were later dropped, and the district attorney entered into the court record a statement saying evidence would “rebut any inference of impairment to the slightest degree.” Dan Cron, Shepard’s local attorney, wouldn’t comment Monday on whether Lou Gehrig’s disease had any relation to the circumstances of the arrest.