Playwright Sam Shepard Passes at 73

Actor Sam Shepard arrives for the screening of his movie "The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford" at the 64th Venice Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2007. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Sam Shepard, who emerged as one of the leading playwrights of his generation while also sustaining a significant career as a film actor, has died at the age of 73. According to The New York Times, Shepard died at his home in Kentucky on Thursday of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Shepard’s unsparing vision and singular voice led to the creation of such arresting dramas as the Pulitzer-winning “Buried Child,’’ “Fool for Love,’’ “True West,’’ “A Lie of the Mind,’’ “The Tooth of Crime,’’ and “Curse of the Starving Class.’’ His plays were rooted in the American West, but it was a West stripped of illusion and myth. Possessed of leading-man looks and a compelling, Gary Cooper-ish presence onscreen, Shepard earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of legendary pilot Chuck Yeager in the adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff,’’ and gave numerous other memorable performances onscreen over the years. The combination of major playwright and movie star was a highly unusual one.

“We won’t see the likes of him pass this way again,’’ said John J. Winters of Pawtucket, R.I., author of a recently published biography titled “Sam Shepard: A Life’’ (Counterpoint Press).