The hard-living, grizzled playwright, actor and director Sam Shepard has died. Complications of Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to the New York Times. He was 73.
His plays — “True West,” “Fool for Love” and “Buried Child” among them — won him the Pulitzer Prize for drama, with a couple of extra nominations to spare. The plays always worked better on the stage than adapted for the screen, but “Curse of the Starving Class” and “True West” stick in the brain — brittle icicles of human hurt and dashed dreams.
Then, there was the song he co-wrote with Bob Dylan — “Brownsville Girl.”
He was involved with Jessica Lange for years and years.
But the public at large will remember him for laconic, iconic work in a lot of films — character parts, mostly.
He simmered and seethed in some tasty, hard-boiled supporting roles in indie films such as “Midnight Special” and “Cold in July” in recent years.
He played a lot of military officers, cops, senators and men of power, in everything from “Blackhawk Down” to “The Pelican Brief,” “Swordfish.”
With that lanky frame and Okie face (he was born in Illinois, lived for years in Va. horse country and died in Kentucky) he was born to play cowboys and outlaws, but he rarely got the chance. Check out “Blackthorn” if you’ve a mind to.
But to me his truly stand-out performance was as the pilot’s pilot, sound-barrier-breaking man’s man Chuck Yeager (above, right). He embodied Tom Wolfe’s portrayal of Yeager in “The Right Stuff”— a drawling West Virginian whose calm, southern-fried demeanor could be heard in every laid-back Southernized and cool “This is your captain speaking” in commercial aviation for decades.
That line Levon Helm gets to deliver at the end of the movie, after Yeager has touched the edge of space, and crashed? Hey, uh, is that a MAN?”
“You’re damned right it is.”
That fit Shepard to a T.