There has been an outpouring of love for playwright, actor and novelist Sam Shepard since his death due to complications from Lou Gehrig’s Disease was announced on the morning of July 31st.
The lights on Broadway will dim for one minute tomorrow night, and many words have been written, but perhaps nothing that has reached the light thus far has been as moving as the tribute by close friend and writing buddy Patti Smith published by The New Yorker:
He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.
“Gogol was Ukrainian,” he once said, seemingly out of nowhere. Only not just any nowhere, but a sliver of a many-faceted nowhere that, when lifted in a certain light, became a somewhere. I’d pick up the thread, and we’d improvise into dawn, like two beat-up tenor saxophones, exchanging riffs.
Smith also wrote the foreword for Shepard’s final work, a novel published by Knopf in February. The One Inside, a story set in the American Southwest, was reviewed favorably by the New York Times’ Michiki Kautani back in February:
Sam Shepard’s elliptical new book, “The One Inside,” is labeled a work of fiction, though its hero — a writer and actor who lives in a place that sounds an awful lot like Santa Fe — bears more than a passing resemblance to the author. As his friend Patti Smith writes in a foreword, this character (“a loner who doesn’t want to be alone”) is, simultaneously, Shepard, “sort of him, not him at all.”
Deadline Hollywood mourned Shepard with style and economy:
Sam Shepard, whose snaggle-toothed smile, craggy good looks and outlaw style as actor and writer made him an American icon in the mold of Gary Cooper and Marlon Brando, died July 27 at home in Kentucky. He was 73 and had been suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was surrounded by family at the time of his death, according to Chris Boneau, a family spokesman.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actor, author, screenwriter and director, Shepard was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film The Right Stuff. The author of 44 plays, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for Buried Child and was best known for such works as Fool for Love, True West and A Lie of the Mind. In 2009 he was named the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist.