Updated at 5:21 p.m.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated actor and celebrated author Sam Shepard, once a familiar figure on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and the Corner when he lived in Albemarle County, died last week at the age of 73.
Family spokesman Chris Boneau said Monday that Shepard died Thursday at his home in Kentucky from complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Shepard, who grew up on a California ranch, wrote 44 plays and numerous books, memoirs and short stories. He is considered one of the most influential playwrights of his generation.
Shepard and then-partner Jessica Lange lived on a large Scottsville-area farm from the mid-1980s to 1995 with their three children, raising horses and chickens. He was a well-known visitor to the Downtown Mall and frequented Miller’s, The Virginian restaurant on the Corner, the C&O Restaurant and the now-defunct Tavern restaurant on Emmet Street.
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His death echoed across social media. Area residents on Facebook recalled Shepard as a colorful, flirtatious and gregarious character.
A talented drummer, as well, Shepard on occasion was known to sit in with local bands playing at whatever venue he was visiting.
“[I remember] Sam Shepard when he sat in playing drums with the Kokomotions at the C&O,” recalled Billy Brockman, a long-time player in the local music scene and Kokomotions guitar player. “He was a talented guy. Rest in peace, Sam.”
“Sam Shepard was a towering figure in American theater and film. He indeed had ‘the right stuff.’ His voice will truly be missed,” actor George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on the original TV series “Star Trek,” wrote on Twitter.
“He was to playwriting what Brando was to acting. Made it look at itself in a new light, redefined it. Gave us new eyes to see ourselves,” TV and movie actor James Morrison wrote on Twitter.
Shepard’s longtime editor at Alfred A. Knopf, LuAnn Walther, said Shepard’s writing was “quite poetic, and very intimate, but also very direct and plainspoken.” She said that when people asked her what Shepard was really like, she would respond, “Just read the fiction.”
“I was writing basically for actors,” Shepard told The Associated Press in a 2011 interview. “And actors immediately seemed to have a handle on it, on the rhythm of it, the sound of it, the characters. I started to understand there was this possibility of conversation between actors, and that’s how it all started.”
Shepard appeared in dozens of films, including “Steel Magnolias,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Mud.” He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983’s “The Right Stuff.” Among his most recent roles was the Florida Keys patriarch of the Netflix series “Bloodline.”
But Shepard was best remembered for his influential plays and his prominent role in the off-Broadway movement. His 1979 play “Buried Child” won the Pulitzer for drama. Two other plays — “True West” and “Fool for Love” — were nominated for the Pulitzer, as well, and are frequently revived.
Samuel Shepard Rogers VII was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in 1943 and grew up on an avocado ranch in Duarte, California.
Shepard arrived in New York in 1963 with no connections, little money and vague aspirations to act, write or make music. He quickly became part of the off-off-Broadway movement.
As Shepard grew as a playwright, he returned again and again to meditations on violence. His collection “Seven Plays” was dedicated to his father.
Besides his plays, Shepard wrote short stories and a full-length work of fiction, “The One Inside,” which came out earlier this year. “The One Inside” is a highly personal narrative about a man looking back on his life and taking in what has been lost, including control over his own body as the symptoms of ALS advanced.