Old enough to see the rustic world of his childhood disappear, Sam Shepard was a new kind of man who brought a new kind of language to the American stage.
"There's some hidden, deeply rooted thing in the Anglo male American that has to do with inferiority, that has to do with not being a man, and always, continually having to act out some idea of manhood that invariably is violent," Shepard, who died last week at age 73, told The New York Times in 1984.
His many film credits included Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven," ''Steel Magnolias," ''The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and 2012's "Mud." He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983's "The Right Stuff" and wrote Wim Wenders' acclaimed 1984 drama "Paris, Texas").
He took acting gigs more frequently as he grew older and noted that one movie could pay for 16 plays.
"In True West," ''Buried Child" and other groundbreaking plays, Shepard's characters spoke with a rugged poetry and raw introspection rarely heard from out of men and women from the American West. Like William Faulkner writing about the American South, Shepard gave voice to a society haunted by decline and defeat and a fear of being on the wrong side of an old and moral argument.
"This sense of failure runs very deep — maybe it has to do with the frontier being systematically taken away, with the guilt of having gotten this country by wiping out a native race of people, with the whole Protestant work ethic. I can't put my finger on it, but it's the source of a lot of intrigue for me."
The handsome, taciturn Shepard was shaped by the frontier life he mourned and critiqued and by the revolutionary changes of the post-World War II era that helped upend it.
Shepard was best remembered for his wrenching plays and his prominent role in the Off-Off-Broadway movement. His 1979 drama "Buried Child" won the Pulitzer for drama.
Two other plays — "True West," about two warring brothers, and "Fool for Love," about a man who fears he's turning into his father — also were nominated for Pulitzers.