Playwright, actor and director who exposed the gap between myth and reality in American life

Sam Shepard, who has died aged 73 from complications of ALS, a form of motor neurone disease, excelled as an actor, screenwriter, playwright and director. In each of those disciplines he challenged and reimagined mythic American archetypes. He wrote nearly 50 plays; the most coruscating of them, such as the Pulitzer prize-winning Buried Child (1978), True West (1980) and Fool for Love (1983), established him as one of the visionaries of US theatre and created a fresh vernacular for exploring the disparity in American life between myth and reality, past and present, fathers and sons.

He took flawed macho heroes who might have staggered out of an Anthony Mann western, and broken, overheated families redolent of a Tennessee Williams clan, and forced them into claustrophobic hothouse scenarios; the result was like Beckett performed in cowboy duds. He found in the process a large audience receptive to this blend of stormy psychodrama, pitiless analysis and bruised romanticism. By the age of 40, he had become the second most widely performed US playwright after Williams.

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