By BEN BRANTLEY
© 2017 New York Times News Service
Sam Shepard, whose hallucinatory plays redefined the landscape of the American West and its inhabitants, died Thursday at his home in Kentucky of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a spokesman for the Shepard family announced Monday. He was 73.
A reluctant movie star who was always suspicious of celebrity’s luster, he was more at home as one of the theater’s most original and prolific portraitists of what was once the American frontier. In plays like “True West” (1980), “Fool for Love” (1983) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child” (1978), he dismantled the classic iconography of cowboys and homesteaders, of American dreams and white picket fences, and reworked the landscape of deserts and farmlands into his own shimmering expanse of surreal estate.
In Shepard’s plays, the only undeniable truth is that of the mirage. From early pieces like “Chicago” (1965), written when Shepard was in his early 20s and staged in the margins of
That includes any comforting notions of family, home, material success and even individual identity. “To me, a strong sense of self isn’t believing in a lot,” Shepard said in a 1994 interview with The New York Times. “Some people might define it that way, saying, ‘He has a very strong sense of himself.’ But it’s a complete lie.”
That feeling of uncertainty was translated into
Shepard is survived by his children — Jesse, Hannah and Walker Shepard — and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.