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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 years old 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, Oscar nominated actor, author, screenwriter, and director, Shepard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor 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.
Shepard’s screen acting career began with Terrence Malick’s 1978 Days of Heaven, with Richard Gere and Brooke Adams. He played Ellen Burstyn’s love interest, Cal, in Resurrection (1980). In 1985, Robert Atman adapted Fool for Love with Shepard playing opposite Kim Basinger and Harry Dean Stanton.
The following year, Shepard was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Shepard, like Bob Dylan another mid-West transplant to New York’s creatively roiling, devoutly anti-Establishment downtown scene of the 1960s, came of age in the anarchic, off-off-Broadway theaters – Theatre Genesis Caffé Cino, Judson Poets’ Theatre and La Mama Experimental Theatre Club. His early plays grafted the energy and often the music of rock’n’roll onto the free-wheeling op[en verse of protest and youth-worship. His affair and collaboration with poet and rocker Patti Smith resulted in Cowboy Mouth, whose hero was described in semi-mythic terms (“a rock-and-roll Jesus with a cowboy…