Shepard died at his Kentucky home last Thursday of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), according to Chris Boneau, a spokesperson for the Shepard family.
"The family requests privacy at this difficult time," Boneau said in a statement.
R.I.P. Sam Shepard - cowboy poet dramatist of the American family shadow. A legend.— @rainnwilson
Born in Illinois and raised on a ranch in California, Shepard was an award-winning playwright (his Buried Child earned a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979), accomplished writer and celebrated actor, picking up an Oscar nomination for The Right Stuff in 1984.
Since the 1960s, Shepard had published dozens of plays that made their way to the stage, developing a reputation for bleak stories about troubled families on the fringes of U.S. society. Cowboys, A Lie of the Mind, Fool for Love and his trilogy Chicago, Icarus's Mother and Red Cross are among his many noted stage productions.
Across the past three decades, he also developed a career as a popular actor in Hollywood, with credits including Days of Heaven, Steel Magnolias, Frances, All the Pretty Horses and August: Osage County., as well as Netflix's recent series Bloodline.
The multi-disciplined artist earned praise as a screenwriter (his Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders, was a Cannes Film Festival winner) and for teaching playwriting and leading theatre classes and workshops at universities. He published his most recent book — a novel called The One Inside — in February.
Shepard was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. Other career accolades include induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994, and receiving the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theatre Award recognizing him as a master American dramatist.
Sam Shepard is one of the greats. These eyes saw so much, and he wrote of what he saw with fearless, timeless honesty. RIP maestro. pic.twitter.com/pIY4FWxXtZ— @BeauWillimon
Shepard split from his longtime partner Jessica Lange, with whom he had two children, in 2009.
His survivors include their children Hannah and Walker, his son Jesse from his earlier marriage to actress O-Lan Jones, and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.
Love this photo of Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. 💕 pic.twitter.com/r1KCtapNr8— @cinemacities
Funeral arrangements remain private, and plans for a public memorial have not yet been determined, according to Boneau.