Dear Sam Shepard,
In the past few years, popular culture has been wracked with celebrity deaths that many feel strongly about. And rightfully so – Robin Williams, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher, several very high profile artists and actors that have caught the public eye and imagination. But I don’t think there will be such a widespread heartache for you, sir. Which is a shame, because you have been hailed several times as the greatest American playwright of your time.
When I first started acting and playwrighting I had the usual fan favorites; musicals like Chicago or Guys and Dolls, some Shakespeare works caught my eye, and I’ve always been a huge fan of just good writing. But no one demanded my attention quite like your work. It was my first real taste of ‘dark’ writing. Yeah, Chicago and Cabaret introduced a grittier taste to my musical favorites… But they weren’t brutally honest about people, or not on the same level.
I read True West about halfway through High School and fell in love with the characters. They weren’t necessarily likable, not in the normal sense. But they didn’t have to be because they were so irresistibly interesting. And it perplexed me at the time that you created such a strong, absorbing play with really only two characters for most of the dialogue. It was just a story about two brothers who were screwed up on different levels. And the contrast between a good and bad brother… It was so… human.
So I started picking up your other plays at my school library. They didn’t have all of them, but they did have a few and I devoured them. Then I went to the local library and searched for more. I read your work every chance I got and I loved it – and I am not ashamed to admit that I tried to emulate you when I started attempting to write plays.
Don’t get me wrong, they were awful and tried too hard to be something they weren’t. But I wanted so badly to be like you – and at first I didn’t precisely understand how talented you really were. Not only did you write these gorgeously depressing plays… You also acted. You also directed. You weren’t a triple threat like the other aspiring actors around me kept babbling about – you didn’t sing and dance. Screw that, you made your own work. You owned the entertainment and art that you created and I fell deeply in love with the idea. Still to this day I feel more drawn to those three crafts you conquered than to becoming a full-fledged Actor-who-sings or dances.
So when I logged on to my computer to start my day’s work on a new script and saw on my news feed that you had passed… I was distraught. No, more than that. I was heartbroken. Deep down I had always dreamed and prayed that I’d get to work with you on something with you. Hell, even just to sit down and discuss work with you would have made me the happiest man on earth. I am sad that I will never get that chance. I hope that your family is okay… I hope they know and appreciate that you
had driven at least one person in the world, and likely more than that, on with a fiery desire to accomplish what you have. To aspire for the rawness of your art and genuine nature of your work.
The world has lost one of its most talented artists, and by far one of the most gifted stage presences in the world. You won’t be mourned as badly as Robin Williams, but I hope you know – wherever you are – that you allowed one stupid kid to keep trying.