Updated at 1:34 p.m. ET
For more than half a century, playwright Sam Shepard stood as a towering presence in American theater and cinema, penning dozens of plays and earning an Oscar nomination as an actor in his own right. Delving deeply into the complicated, often bleak nature of family life, the Pulitzer Prize winner earned the title — in drama critic Jack Kroll's words — of "poet laureate of America's emotional badlands."
That influential "poet laureate" — who was not only a playwright, but an actor and director too — died Thursday at 73 of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease, also called called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A family representative said he died at his home in Kentucky.
"The family requests privacy at this difficult time," spokesman Chris Boneau said Monday.
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers in Illinois, the playwright spent much of his youth moving from place to place with his family, eventually attending high school just east of LA in Duarte, Calif. And by the time he opened his career in his early 20s with a string of one-act plays, the mythology of the fading West had firmly taken hold in him.