About Samuel Shepard Rogers, IV
Sam Shepard (born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV; November 5, 1943) is an American playwright, actor, and television and film director. He is the author of several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs, and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child. Shepard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983).
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, he worked on a ranch as a teenager. His father, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., was a teacher and farmer who served in the United States Army Air Forces as a bomber pilot during World War II. His mother, Jane Elaine (née Schook), was a teacher and a native of Chicago, Illinois. After high school, Shepard briefly attended college, but dropped out to join a travelling theater group. He was also a drummer for the eccentric late-1960s rock band The Holy Modal Rounders, featured in the movie Easy Rider (1969).
Shepard became involved in New York City's Off-Off-Broadway theater scene beginning at the age of nineteen. Although his plays were staged at several Off-Off-Broadway venues, he was most closely connected with Theatre Genesis, housed at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan's East Village. Most of his writing was for the stage, but he had early screen-writing credits for Me and My Brother (1968) and Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970). His early science-fiction play, The Unseen Hand, influenced Richard O'Brien's stage musical Rocky Horror Show. After three years of living in England, in 1976 Shepard relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in California and was named playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco where many of his works received their premier productions. Notable work includes Buried Child (1978), Curse of the Starving Class (1978), True West (1980) and A Lie of the Mind (1985). He also continued with his collaboration with Bob Dylan that started with the surrealist film Renaldo and Clara (1978) and co-wrote with Dylan an epic, 11-minute song entitled "Brownsville Girl", included on Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded (1986) album and later compilations.
Shepard began his acting career in earnest when he was cast as the handsome land baron in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams. This led to other important films and roles, most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983), earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, one of his plays, Fool for Love, was being made into a film directed by Robert Altman; his play A Lie of the Mind was Off-Broadway with an all-star cast including Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page; he was living with Jessica Lange; and he was working steadily as a film actor—all of which put him on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
Throughout the years, Shepard has done a considerable amount of teaching on writing plays and other aspects of theatre. His classes and seminars have occurred at various theatre workshops, festivals, and universities. During the 1970s he served a stint as a Regents Professor at the University of California, Davis.
Shepard was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986.
In 2000, Shepard decided to repay a debt of gratitude to the Magic Theatre by staging his play The Late Henry Moss as a benefit in San Francisco. The cast included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin. The limited, three-month run was sold out.
In 2001, Shepard had a notable role of General William F. Garrison in the box office hit and cult classic movie Black Hawk Down. Although he was cast in a supporting role, it reinvigorated interest in Shepard among the public and critics alike.
He performed Spalding Gray's final monologue Life Interrupted for its audio release through Macmillan Audio in 2006.
In 2007, Shepard was featured playing banjo on Patti Smith's cover of Nirvana's song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", on her album Twelve.
Although many artists have had an influence on Shepard's work, one of the most significant has been actor-director Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of the Living Theatre and founder of a group called the Open Theatre. The two have often worked together on various projects, and Shepard acknowledges that Chaikin has been a valuable mentor.
A revival of A Lie of the Mind in New York was staged at the same time as his 2010 play, Ages of the Moon, also opened there. Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that the older, longer play feels to him "awkward ...[, a]ll of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don’t really fit together," while the newer play "is like a Porsche. ... It’s sleek, it does exactly what you want it to do, and it can speed up but also shows off great brakes." The revival and new play also coincided with the publication of the collection Day out of Days: Stories (book title echoing a film-making term), also by Shepard. The book includes "short stories, poems and narrative sketches ... that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] has carried with him over the years."
In 2011 Shepard will star in Blackthorn, in theaters Oct 7th.
At the beginning of his playwriting career, Shepard did not direct his own plays. His earliest plays were directed by a number of different directors but most frequently by Ralph Cook, the founder of Theatre Genesis. Later, while living at the Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of Buried Child (1982), among other plays. During the 1970s, though, Shepard decided that his vision of his plays required that he should direct them himself. He has since directed many of his own plays, but with a few rare exceptions, he has not directed plays by other playwrights. He has also directed two films but apparently does not see film direction as a major interest.
When Shepard first arrived in New York, he roomed with Charlie Mingus Jr., a friend from high school days and the son of famous jazz musician Charles Mingus. Then he lived with actress Joyce Aaron. From 1969 to 1984 he was married to actress O-Lan Jones (born O-Lan Johnson, alias O-Lan Johnson Dark, alias O-Lan Barna), with whom he has one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). After the end of his relationship with singer-musician Patti Smith, Shepard met Academy-Award-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of the film Frances, in which they were both acting. He moved in with her in 1983, and they were together for nearly thirty years. They separated quietly without publicity in 2010. They have two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987). In 2005, Jesse Shepard wrote a book of short stories that was published in San Francisco, and his father appeared together with him at a reading to introduce the book.
Although he played the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, in The Right Stuff, and he allowed the real Chuck Yeager to take him up in a jet plane in 1982 when he was preparing for his role as Yeager, he is known for his aversion to flying. He went through an airliner crash in the film Voyager (1992), and according to one account, he vowed never to fly again after a very rocky trip on an airliner coming back from Mexico in the 1960s.
In the early morning hours of January 3, 2009, Shepard was arrested and charged with speeding and drunken driving in Normal, Illinois; his blood alcohol content was allegedly 0.175. Shepard was taken to the McLean County Jail, in Bloomington, Illinois, and posted bond after processing. He pleaded guilty to both charges on February 11, 2009 and was sentenced to 24 months probation, alcohol education classes, and 100 hours of community service.
Awards and honors