Patti Smith penned a moving and evocative tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator Sam Shepard for The New Yorker. The writer and actor died at his home in Kentucky Sunday due to complications from ALS at the age of 73.
As Smith detailed in her 2010 memoir Just Kids, she and Shepard met in the early Seventies when he was drumming for a folk group called the Holy Modal Rounders – though at the time Smith did not know that Shepard was also already an acclaimed playwright. The pair became fast friends and collaborators, working on a play called Cowboy Mouth, while Shepard also encouraged Smith to try pairing her poetry with music.
In her remembrance for The New Yorker, Smith recalled her lengthy late-night chats with Shepard, who would call from all over the world to talk about art, family, history, books and writers. Smith remembered her friend as a willing adventurer who “liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west. He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but where he could wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.”
Smith shared memories of Shepard sending her a note from the mountains of Bolivia while shooting Blackthorn and of him walking over a Dublin bridge, reciting lines from Samuel Beckett off the top of his head. Smith also wrote how Shepard promised that he would one day take her across the American Southwest – but was forced to give up his travels after being diagnosed with ALS.
“He eventually stopped picking up and leaving,” Smith wrote. “From then on, I visited him, and we read and talked, but mostly we worked. Laboring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him. His hand, with a crescent moon tattooed between his thumb and forefinger, rested on the table before him. The tattoo was a souvenir from our younger days, mine a lightning bolt on the left knee.”
Smith said that she was in Lucerne, Switzerland when she learned of Shepard’s death. In an elegant final passage, Smith recalled how she found herself imagining the Kentucky hills outside of Shepard’s home, her friend’s packed bookshelves and “sitting at the kitchen table reaching for that tattooed hand.”
Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died Sunday at the age of 73. Watch here.