Named Samuel Shepard Rogers IV, Sam Shepard was born in Illinois, but moved throughout the United States during his childhood, the result of an Air Force father. Finally, in his teens, the family settled in California. As a teen, Shepard worked on a ranch, and began his college career studying animal husbandry with the potential goal of being a veterinarian.
In 1962, the touring group Bishop's Company Repertory Players caught Shepard's attention as they came through town. He left home and toured with the company for a season. In 1963, he moved to New York City and began writing avant-garde dramas for off-off-Broadway venues, including La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and Theatre Genesis. He was a dynamic and prolific writer, winning his first Obie Awards for Best Distinguished Play in 1966 for Chicago, Icarus's Mother, and Red Cross. Throughout his career he, would win nine more Obie Awards for his plays, including Curse of the Starving Class (1977, Best New American Play), Buried Child (1979, Best Playwriting), and Fool for Love (1984, Best New American Play and Best Direction). Buried Child also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Shepard's career expanded beyond the theatre, and he delved into acting and screenwriting. He had roles in a wide range of films, from historical films like The Right Stuff to the dramas Steel Magnolias and August: Osage County to action films like Black Hawk Down.
In 1994, Shepard was inducted into the American theatre Hall of Fame. He won or was nominated for dozens of awards throughout his career: Obie Awards, Drama Desk, Academy Awards, Olivier Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, Hollywood Film Festival, Lucille Lortel Awards, Critics' Circle, Screen Actors Guild, Tony Awards. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, and after his Pulitzer Prize win for Buried Child, he was nominated twice more.
Sam Shepard's dramatic works examined psychologies and family dynamics, and many of them were inspired by his own childhood experiences. His early work was influenced by absurdism and surrealism, and as his career developed, his work evolved into poetic realism, equal parts tragedy and dark comedy.
Shepard died in 2017 as a result of ALS.
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