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Pulitzer-winning playwright, actor, and director Sam Shepard has died at 73

'Cold In July' Portraits - 2014 Sundance Film Festival Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director, passed away on July 30, Broadway World reports.

Shepard was one of those multi-hyphenates who, rather unfairly to the rest of us, turned out to be brilliant and highly renowned at just about everything he put his mind to. His first plays were produced when he was in his very early 20s. In 1979, when he was 36 years old, he won a Pulitzer for his play Buried Child, the second play in what would come to be known as his “Family Trilogy,” alongside Curse of the Starving Class and True West, the latter of which was also a Pulitzer finalist. Before he turned 40, New York magazine called him “the greatest American playwright of his generation”; he wrote more than 40 plays in his lifetime, as well as short stories, essays, and memoirs.

Around the same time that he picked up his Pulitzer, Shepard began acting on and off in movies — first in director Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven — and would eventually garner an Oscar nomination for his appearance in 1983’s The Right Stuff. He tended to turn down most of the movie offers he got, though, his agent informed New York magazine, because he preferred to live quietly in the country. Most recently, he had a recurring role as Robert Rayburn on Netflix’s Bloodline.

In between becoming one of the greatest playwrights of his generation and a highly sought-after actor in his downtime, Shepard found the time to direct some of his best-known plays, like 1983’s Fool for Love, which would go on to become a Robert Altman-directed film starring Shepard himself in the lead role. He also tried his hand at directing film versions of his own plays, notably the Jessica Lange-starring Far North in 1988 and 1993’s Silent Tongue.

But the heart of Shepard’s work was always the plays he wrote, which are bleak and abstract, to the point they could often seem at first glance to be incoherent. “Instead of the idea of a ‘whole character’ with logical motives behind his behavior which the actor submerges himself into,” he writes in a note to the actors in the introduction of Angel City, “he should consider instead a fractured whole with bits and pieces of character flying off the central theme. In other words, more in terms of … jazz improvisation.”

Shepard died on Sunday after a long battle with ALS. He was 73 years old.