Sam Shepard, who died last Thursday at age 73, was a polymathic writer who collected acclaim and accolades as a playwright, actor and author. The New York Times has covered Mr. Shepard’s career since the mid-1960s. Below are highlights from our reviews.
“Buried Child” (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and remains Mr. Shepard’s best-known work. It arrived on Broadway in 1996 and has been revived many times since — the most recent staging, by the New Group Off Broadway in 2016, starred Ed Harris. Richard Eder reviewed the premiere, at the small Theater for the New City downtown:
Sam Shepard does not merely denounce chaos and anomie in American life, he mourns over them. His corrosive images and scenes of absurdity never soften to concede the presence of a lament, but it is there all the same.
Denunciation that has no pity in it is pamphleteering at best and a striking of fashionable attitudes at worst, and it is fairly common on the contemporary stage. Mr. Shepard is an uncommon playwright and uncommonly gifted and he does not take denouncing for granted. He wrestles with it at the risk of being thrown.
Mr. Harris also starred in the New York premiere of “Fool for Love,” in 1983. Here is what Frank Rich had to say:
It could be argued, perhaps, that both the glory and failing of Mr. Shepard’s art is its extraordinary afterlife: His works often play more feverishly in the mind after they’re over than they do while they’re before us in the theater. But that’s the way he is, and who would or could change him?
Ben Brantley reviewed Mr. Shepard’s latest play, “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” in 2014:
Mr. Shepard is (I think) trying to get at the ways we all are all haunted by the primal myths that run through our civilizations. Think of this fixation, if you wish, as a sort of cultural original sin. And no matter how “advanced” our scientific and intellectual investigations and theorizing, those myths retain a hold on us that can never be erased or even clinically assessed.
Mr. Shepard’s “Rolling Thunder Logbook” (1977) has a loose form: It is a diary, but also a screenplay and a scrapbook about Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. Ben Sisario wrote about it in 2004:
Shepard captures Dylan and his motley circle — Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, T-Bone Burnett — in biting, impressionistic road vignettes. One typically priceless episode: Ginsberg reading his Oedipal “Kaddish” to a group of mah-jongg-playing women at a hotel in Falmouth, Mass.
Also defying genre was “Motel Chronicles” (1982), a collection of stories, autobiography and poetry. Mr. Rich wrote of it:
“Motel Chronicles” is full of verbal delights, as well as insights into its author’s entire canon. Whether Mr. Shepard is reminiscing about his parents or daydreaming about cherished movies and cars of his youth, he speaks in pungent and ethereal language that remakes our West.
Michiko Kakutani, who reviewed much of Mr. Shepard’s fiction, wrote of his latest book, “The One Inside,” this year:
As in Shepard’s plays, time past and time present blur and overlap in this story, just as boundaries — between, say, an actor and his roles, a writer and his creations — grow fluid and porous. … It’s glued together, collage-style, by the consciousness of the hero: an archetypal Shepard male, engaged in an Oedipal struggle with his cantankerous father, and caught in a passive-aggressive dynamic with his girlfriends, whose company he both craves and disdains.
Mr. Shepard’s first appearance on film was in Terrence Malick’s early masterpiece “Days of Heaven,” in 1978. Harold C. Schonberg wrote:
He has a tall, rangy figure, a broodingly intense quality, and his work comes as a welcome surprise.
Later, he received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” Vincent Canby’s review was largely negative, but praised Mr. Shepard:
As played by Sam Shepard, the tall, lanky playwright-actor, the film’s Chuck Yeager seems also to personify the reason and sanity that came close to being lost in the United States’s hysterical drive first to catch up with the Soviet Union’s space program and then to surpass it. Both as the character he plays and as an ironic screen presence, Mr. Shepard gives the film much well-needed heft. He is its center of gravity.
More recently, Mr. Shepard was in the 2013 screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “August: Osage County.” A.O. Scott, describing Mr. Shepard’s only appearance, in the movie’s first scene, wrote:
Mr. Shepard is Beverly Weston, a poet living in a big, faded farmhouse in northeastern Oklahoma. Beverly’s wife, Violet, soon makes her wobbly, cackling entrance in the person of Meryl Streep. She takes pills. He drinks. And then Mr. Shepard quits the scene. You will miss him.