Sam Shepard Biography
Samuel Shepard Rogers III is an American playwright, and actor, director of stage and screen. He is 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 born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois and worked on a ranch as a teenager. His father, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., was a teacher, farmer, and served in the Air Force as a bomber pilot during World War II. His mother, Jane Elaine Schook, was a teacher and a native of Chicago. After high school Shepard briefly attended college, but dropped out to join a traveling theater group. He avoided the draft during the Vietnam era by claiming to be a heroin addict. The year 1963 found him working as a busboy in Greenwich Village. During this time Shepard was using illicit drugs. He was also a drummer for the eccentric late 1960s rock band Holy Modal Rounders, featured in the movie Easy Rider.
Shepard became very much involved in New York'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 East Village. He acted occasionally in those days, but his interests were almost strictly confined to writing, up until the late 1970s. 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 Rocky Horror Show. After three years of living in England, in 1976 Shepard relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and was named playwright in residence at the Magic Theatre where many of his works received their premier productions. Notable work includes Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class in 1978, True West in 1980 and A Lie of the Mind in 1985. He also continued with his collaboration with Bob Dylan that started with the surrealist film Renaldo and Clara and co-wrote with Dylan an epic, 11 minute song entitled "Brownsville Girl", included on the 1986 Knocked Out Loaded 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, earning him an Oscar nomination in 1984. 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 on 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. Earlier in his life, during the rebellion of the 1960s, Shepard had vowed famously, "I never want to be on the cover of Newsweek." Things had changed.
Throughout the years, Shepard has done a considerable amount of teaching on playwriting 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.
In 1986, Shepard was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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 2006, Shepard performed Spalding Gray's final monologue Life Interrupted for its audio release through Macmillan Audio.
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.
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, in San Francisco, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of Buried Child (1978), 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 of his from high school and son of the famous jazz musician. Then he lived with actress Joyce Aaron. He later married actress O-Lan Jones (born O-Lan Johnson, alias O-Lan Johnson Dark, alias O-Lan Barna) from 1969 to 1984, with whom he has one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). After the end of his relationship with the singer and musician Patti Smith, Shepard met Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of a movie they both starred in, Frances. He moved in with her in 1983, and they have been together ever since. They have two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Walker Samuel Shepard (born 1987). In 2005 Jesse Shepard wrote a book of short stories which 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 went through an airliner crash in the film Voyager (1992), Shepard is known for his aversion to flying. 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. However, 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 in The Right Stuff.
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, IL, 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.