To Patti Smith, he was “my buddy”. To Richard Gere, he was “a desert cowboy”.
To Philip Kaufman, writer and director of The Right Stuff, he was “cool, and I mean the original meaning of cool”.
To Jeff Nichols, writer and director of Oscar-nominated film Loving, he was “an American icon in a time when we manufacture a lot of celebrities”.
Those are just a few of the ways friends and collaborators have summed up Sam Shepard, the actor and writer whose death was announced this week.
Shepard wrote more than 40 plays – a Pulitzer winner and two more nominees among them – and performed in films like 1983’s The Right Stuff, for which he earned an Oscar nomination.
Here are the thoughts of some of those who have been writing and speaking about him:
The singer and songwriter was friends with Shepard for years and has written a memorial, explaining how the pair worked on his final manuscript despite his “debilitating” motor neurone disease, also known as ALS.
“Labouring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him.”
She recalled how theirs was a “real friendship”.
“We were friends; good or bad, we were just ourselves. The passing of time did nothing but strengthen that.
“Challenges escalated, but we kept going and he finished his work on the manuscript. It was sitting on the table. Nothing was left unsaid. When I departed, Sam was reading Proust.”
Kaufman, who directed Shepard to his Oscar nomination in The Right Stuff (pictured), has written about how he first spotted “this sense of honesty about him, and a sense of presence” at a poetry reading.
“Sam didn’t just write and act; he played drums and other instruments. He travelled with Dylan for a while. He was cool, and I mean the original meaning of cool. He was out of the jazz era. He was a cowboy.”
Shepard was “a writer of the streets” whose characters carried “truth and veritas”, Kaufman wrote.
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“He was the same way as an actor. You always had to validate the truth of things with him. With some people, you read an obituary and that’s it. But with Sam I have to reject the obituary approach, because he lived such a vivid life.
“The Sam I have in mind is still alive. His plays bear testimony to that, and all his varied roles in films.”
Gere, who acted in two of Shepard’s plays before starring opposite him in 1978’s Days of Heaven, gave his memories of filming to the Hollywood Reporter.
“Here we were, two young guys. He was Sam Shepard and I was one of the up-and-comers from New York. I’m sure there was some competition between the two of us, but I had enormous respect for him. And he was a wonderful actor. I had several scenes with him – he was very present, very real. He had all the skills you would want as an actor.”
Gere continued that he found Shepard to be “a very charming, easy guy”.
“Sam was like some washed-out sun-bleached bone you find out in the desert. Even when he was young it felt like there was something very ancient about him…
“There was a desert cowboy thing about him, where he was at home being alone – but happy when he got to town and took his boots off. I think he felt comfortable with that persona. The Coyote.”
Nichols, who wrote and directed two of Shepard’s last acting projects, said the actor didn’t discuss his illness, even when his condition began to deteriorate.
“He had more important things to talk about. He wanted to talk about your movie, he didn’t want to waste any time talking about that.”
The director, who cast Shepard in 2012’s Mud and 2016’s Midnight Special, said he will remember him as “one of the greats.”
“[Shepard] was an American icon in a time when we manufacture a lot of celebrities, but there’s a giant chasm between celebrity and an icon. And I don’t want to sound too cheesy – he wouldn’t want that – but that’s what he was.”
Other co-stars and admirers have paid tribute on Twitter.