Sam Shepard
Birth Date:
November 5, 1943
Birth Place:
Fort Sheridan, Illinois, USA
6' 1½" (1.87 m)
Famous for:
Received Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Buried Child
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Buried Child


"There are places where writing is acting and acting is writing. I'm not so interested in the divisions. I'm interested in the way things cross over." Sam Shepard.

Arguably one of America's greatest living playwrights, Sam Shepard is also an accomplished actor, director, screenwriter and musician. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1979 play “Buried Child” and was nominated for two Tony Awards for “Buried Child” in 1996 and for “True West” in 2000. Shepard, whose 11 of his 45 plays have won Obie Awards, was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986 and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994.

As a film actor, he was nominated an Oscar for his turn as legendary pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). He then went to direct and write the screenplay for the 1988 drama Far North and the 1994 Western film Silent Tongue. His recent films include The Notebook (2004), Don't Come Knocking (2005) and Bandidas (2006). He will star in the upcoming films The Return, alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar, and The Assassination of Jesse James, opposite Brad Pitt (Shepard will play Pitt's Jesse James' brother).

The multi-talented star was also the drummer for late 1960s bands "Lothar and the Hand People" and "The Holy Modal Rounders." He collaborated with Bob Dylan on an epic, 11 minute song entitled "Brownsville Girl," featured on the 1986 Knocked Out Loaded album and later compilations.

The 6' 1½" tall and lanky star was previously married to actress O-Lan Jones (born O-Lan Barna) from 1969 to 1984 and has one son with her. He met Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of 1982 movie Frances, and has since living with her and their two children.

"I still haven't gotten over this thing of walking down the street and somebody recognizing you because you've been in a movie. There's this illusion that movie stars only exist in the movies. And to see one live is like seeing a leopard let out of the zoo." Sam Shepard.


Childhood and Family

“It’s a weird accumulation of things, a strange kind of melting pot - Spanish, Okie, Black, Midwestern elements all jumbled together. People on the move who couldn't move anymore, who wound up in trailer parks." Sam Shepard (describing Duarte).

Born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on November 5, 1943, Samuel Shepard Rogers IV, nicknamed Charlie, spent his formative years on a California farm in Duarte. He is the oldest son of parents Jane Elaine Rogers (born July 16, 1917) and Samuel Shepard Rogers (born February 3, 1917). His father, a former Air Force man who retired to be a farmer, died in a fire in 1984 at age 67. Sam has two younger sisters: Roxanne Rogers and Sandy Rogers.

Young Sam studied at Lincoln Elementary School in South Pasadena, and Duarte High School in Duarte, California. Initially thinking of becoming a veterinarian, Sam studied agriculture at Mount San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, California, for a year.

On November 9, 1969, Sam married actress O-Lan Jones (a.k.a. O-lan Johnson Dark; born May 23, 1950) and they have one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born May 1970). In 1971, Sam had a much-publicized relationship with rock singer and poet Patti Smith (born December 30, 1946), with whom Sam co-wrote the 1971 play “Cowboy Mouth.” Sam also began relationship with actress Jessica Lange (born April 20, 1949) while filming Frances (1982). Since then, the two has been living together and have two children: daughter Hannah Jane Shepard (born 1985) and son Samuel Walker Shepard (born June 14, 1987). Sam and O-Lan divorced in 1984.

Sam currently lives with Jessica Lange and their children in Manhattan.

"Personality is everything that's false in a human, everything that's been added on to him and contrived." Sam Shepard.

True West


"You're still much more afraid of the audience, and yet, on the other hand, you desperately want to plunge into new territory. So every once in a while, the opportunity to make this leap gets handed to you. It's like jumping into cold water." Sam Shepard.

Since in high school, Sam Shepard has begun acting and writing poetry. He also worked as a stable hand at a horse ranch in Chino from 1958-1960. He originally dreamed to be a veterinarian but quickly made up his mind when a traveling theater group, the Bishop's Company Repertory Players, visited his town. He joined up the touring company, and after traveling with them for a year (1962-1963), he was appointed playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. In 1963, he moved to New York City and changed his name to Sam Shepard on the bus ride. In the Big Apple, he worked as a bus boy at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village while pursuing his theatrical interests.

"I preferred a character that was constantly unidentifiable, shifting through the actor, so that the actor could play almost anything, and the audience was never expected to identify with the characters." Sam Shepard (on his initial approach to his writing).

The next year, Sam’s play, "Cowboys," was first produced at Theatre Genesis, New York City. He subsequently worked at experimental spots like La Mama, Cafe Cino, the Open Theatre and the American Place Theatre. In 1969, he contributed sketches to the long-running avant-garde theatrical revue "Oh! Calcutta!" and made his first teleplay broadcast, "Fourteen Hundred Thousand" (NET).

In the early 1970s, he became a co-screenwriter for commercial film "Zabriskie Point," directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. He also made first major stage appearance, "Cowboy Mouth" (he wrote with Patti Smith), at American Place Theatre, New York. In 1975, he toured as drummer with Bob Dylan's "Rolling Thunder Revue" and later wrote book about experience.

1978 saw Sam in his first major film role, as the rich Farmer, in writer-director Terrence Malick's Oscar-winning drama Days of Heaven (opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams). He was also hired by director, writer and actor Bob Dylan to create scenes for his surrealist movie, Renaldo and Clara. Filmed during Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975, the film was released in 1978. That same year, he made first collaboration with Joseph Chaiken in the play "Tongues."

Sam was launched to national fame as a playwright in 1979 when he won that year Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play "Buried Child." The play, a macabre look at an American Midwestern family with a dark, terrible secret, premiered at Theater for the New City in New York City on October 19, 1978. The show was later revived for a two month run on Broadway in 1996 following a production at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. The production, helmed by Gary Sinise at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, received five Tony nominations.

In 1982, Sam costarred with Jessica Lange in director Graeme Clifford's Oscar-nominating biographical drama Frances, the true story of actress Frances Farmer's meteoric rise to fame in Hollywood and her later downfall and ill health as the result of blacklisting. The following year, he picked up the role of Chuck Yeager in Philip Kaufman's adaptation of a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff. His brilliant performance as the living legend of aviation earned Sam an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Meanwhile, Sam continued working for stage. He helmed his first major stage production, "Fool for Love," at Circle Repertory Company, New York City (1983; starring Ed Harris and Kathy Baker), for which he received an OBIE for Best Director. The production later featured Bruce Willis, Will Patton, Aidan Quinn, Ellen Barkin and Frances Fisher. Sam later adapted the play into film in 1985, which was directed by Robert Altman. In the film, Sam also played the lead role opposite Kim Basinger.

In 1984, Sam reunited with Lange, playing husband and wife, in Richard Pearce's midwestern family drama Country. With an assist from L M 'Kit' Carson, Sam wrote screenplay for director Wim Wenders' best-known and most critically acclaimed feature, Paris, Texas (1984). The film, starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, won the 1984 Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival. After reteaming with Lange in Bruce Beresford's adaptation of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Crimes of the Heart (1986; also starring Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek), Sam wrote and directed the stage play "A Lie of the Mind." The seventh full-length play, about two families torn apart by tragedy, was first produced at the Promenade Theater in New York City on December 5, 1985, starring Harvey Keitel, Amanda Plummer and Aidan Quinn. It won the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play of the Year in the 1985-1986 season.

Sam played Dr. Jeff Cooper, opposite Diane Keaton, in Charles Shyer's romantic comedy Baby Boom (1987). Afterward, he wrote the screenplay and helmed his directorial debut, Far North (1988; starring Jessica Lange). Two years later, Sam starred as an airplane crash survivor and engineer, in German director Volker Schlöndorff's drama The Voyager (a.k.a. Homo Faber; opposite Julie Delpy), adapted from the 1957 novel by Max Frisch. He also costarred with Val Kilmer in Michael Apted's drama thriller Thunderheart (1992) while writing, directing and providing percussion for the epic western Silent Tongue (filmed in 1991; released in 1994), starring Richard Harris, Sheila Tousey, Alan Bates and River Phoenix.

"Don't you find it kind of self-indulgent for actors to go around writing parts for themselves?" Sam Shepard.

In 1995, Bruce Beresford adapted Sam’s coming of age play about a dirt-poor 1920's-era farm family, “Curse of the Starving Class,” for Showtime movie presentation. The next year, he was honored by the Signature Theater Company in NYC with a season devoted to his work, and played a railroad worker who married Stockard Channing's character in Peter Masterson's tense, period drama adapted by Horton Foote from his stage play, “Lily Dale” (1996; Showtime). He also teamed up with Chaikin writing "When the World Was Green," commissioned for the Olympic Arts Festival in Atlanta, before reteaming with Peter Masterson in his film version of Larry Ketron's play, The Only Thrill (1997; also starring Diane Keaton and Diane Lane).

The rest of the 1990s saw Sam in the documentary "Sam Shepard: Stalking Himself" (1998), a part of PBS’ "Great Performances," appeared in Scott Hicks' Oscar-nominating romantic drama Snow Falling on Cedars, based on David Guterson's novel of the same title, and garnered an Emmy nomination for portraying writer Dashiell Hammett in the A&E biopic directed by Kathy Bates, "Dash & Lilly" (opposite Judy Davis).

Entering the new millennium, Sam’s new play, "The Late Henry Moss" (featuring Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson and Nick Nolte), premiered in San Francisco. He produced "True West" on Broadway, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly playing the leads. The production was so successful and garnered several Tony nominations, including as Best Play. Subsequently, Sam spent more time for big screen works. He was cast as Senator James Reisman in Dominic Sena's cyberpunk-action/thriller Swordfish (starring Hugh Jackman, John Travolta and Halle Berry), as the chief of detectives in Sean Penn’s drama/thriller based on the novel by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge (with Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright-Penn and Benicio Del Toro) and starred as Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison in Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning film based on the book by Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (starring Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor). He was also cast in Nick Cassavetes' epic love story adapted from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (2004; starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling).

In 2005, Sam reunited with Lange, starring as washed up cowboy actor, in German director Wim Wenders' comedy-drama Don't Come Knocking, which Sam also wrote the screenplay. He also appeared in Rob Cohen's box office bomb Stealth (2005; starring Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx), Matt Williams' period drama Walker Payne (2006) and Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg's Western comedy Bandidas (2006; starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek).

Sam will soon be seen opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar in Asif Kapadia's drama/thriller The Return, with Brad Pitt in Andrew Dominik's Western adventure based on Ron Hansen's critically acclaimed and popular novel, The Assassination of Jesse James (Sam will play Frank James, the older brother of Jesse James), and with Frank Whaley in Ruffian, an ESPN-produced TV movie based on the legendary racehorse.

As for his stage work, Sam’s politically-charged play, “The God of Hell,” opens the new season for San Francisco's Magic Theatre and begins previews on September 23, 2006. His other play, “Tooth of Crime Bites,” which had its New York debut in 1972 at the Performing Garage, will return to La MaMa ETC Annex on October 3, 2006,in celebration of the theater's 45th anniversary.

"Collaboration - that's the word producers use. That means, don't forget to kiss a** from beginning to end." Sam Shepard.


  • Lone Star Film & Television Awards: Best TV Supporting Actor, Lily Dale, 1997

  • Drama Desk Award: Outstanding New Play, A Lie of the Mind, 1986

  • New York Drama Critics Circle Award: Best New Play, A Lie of the Mind, 1986

  • OBIE Award: Best New American Play, Fool for Love, 1983-1984

  • OBIE Award: Direction, Fool for Love, 1983-1984

  • OBIE Award: Sustained Achievement, 1979-1980

  • Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Buried Child, 1979

  • OBIE Award: Playwriting, Buried Child, 1978-1979

  • OBIE Award: Best New American Play, Curse of the Starving Class, 1976-1977

  • National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, 1976

  • OBIE Award: Playwriting, Action, 1974-1975

  • OBIE Award: Distinguished Play, The Tooth of Crime, 1972-1973

  • OBIE Award: Distinguished Play, Forensic and the Navigators and Melodrama Play; part of a series called Six from La Mama; two plays cited, 1967-1968

  • OBIE Award: Distinguished Play, La Turista, 1966-1967

  • OBIE Award: Distinguished Play, Chicago, Icarus's Mother and Red Cross; three plays cited, 1965-1966

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