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Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died at home in Kentucky at age 73. USA TODAY

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Sam Shepard’s prize-winning plays and stories define a certain slice of America, an almost lone cowboy ethos, bleak and stark, sometimes surreal. His best-known plays came in the 1970s and ‘80s, but he never stopped writing — he published a work of fiction, The One Inside, earlier this year.

Here are five essential Shepard works.

1. Buried Child (1978)

Shepard proved his writing chops by winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama with this play, which launched his career. A dysfunctional farm family in the Midwest sees the American Dream disappear, their lives shattered by alcoholism and incest. A wooden leg has an unforgettable cameo.

 

2. True West (1980)

Shepard brings us another unhappy family (no two are alike). Two estranged brothers — one a screenwriter, the other a drifter and a thief — meet at their mother’s house. Arguments, heavy drinking and a murderous rivalry fuel the tension.

 

3. Fool for Love (1983)

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Fool for Love takes place in a favorite Shepard setting, the desert. It has echoes of other Shepard works, an alcoholic father called the Old Man, and two former lovers, reunited in a motel, who share a shocking family secret.

4. A Lie of the Mind (1985)

More bleakness from Shepard in this play which won the Drama Desk Award. An alcoholic father has abandoned his family. His son has tried to kill his wife. Two brothers attempt to come to terms with it all.

 

5. The One Inside (2017)

Featuring a foreword by Patti Smith and published in February, this work of fiction features an actor and writer who sounds a lot like Shepard, along with his estranged wife of 30 years, and their two children. In a review in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said the narrator’s memories of women, acting jobs and travels “are woven together … along with dreams, fantasies and Bosch-like hallucinations. The overall effect recalls Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece , in which the real, the surreal and the imagined converge, as its film director hero thinks back upon the women in his life.”

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