Sam Shepard, who died at age 73 of complications from Lou Gehrig’s disease, was the bard of America’s flat highways, wide-open spaces and wounding, dysfunctional families. His death was especially mourned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, whose initial rapid rise to global fame as an intense, in-your-face theater was intrinsically linked to Shepard and his work.
“Shepard,” said Anna D. Shapiro, the Steppenwolf artistic director, “was the embodiment of all that the founders of Steppenwolf wanted to achieve.”
Shepard died Thursday at his home in Kentucky, according to an announcement Monday from his family.
Born in Fort Sheridan, Ill., in 1943, the once-prolific playwright (and actor, essayist and poet) was the author of such seminal dramatic works as “The Tooth of Crime” (1973); the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child” (1978), set in downstate Illinois, “Curse of the Starving Class” (1978); and “True West” (1980). His masterful “A Lie of the Mind” (1985) is a three-act, four-hour, metaphor-laden odyssey through the dismal failures of American parenting.
If his peer, David Mamet, penned the poetry of American urbanity, Shepard wrote oft-surreal odes to farmers, rock stars and the sexually repressed residents of trailer parks. Although a native Midwesterner (he was born into a family that started out as wheat farmers in McHenry County, Ill., and later moved to a Chicago suburb), Shepard got out of Dodge and soon became fascinated with the people and open spaces of the Southwest.
But his work returned home often to the Midwest, a region he could not escape.
Wherever his subjects wandered,…
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