Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Sam Shepard chose to die in rural Kentucky, where people in Midway respected his privacy

Shepard at the Sundance Film Festival in
2014 for the opening of "Cold in July."
(Photo from
Tonight on Broadway in New York, the lights of theater marquees will go dark for one minute to honor Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, director, author and Oscar-nominated actor, who died Thursday at 73. In one small town in Kentucky, spirits are already dimmer, because folks there remembered Shepard as a good neighbor, and one whose privacy they respected.

Shepard had a home at a small horse farm near Midway, a town of 1,800 halfway between Lexington and the state capital of Frankfort. John McDaniel, a city council member and correspondent for The Woodford Sun, the local weekly, wrote a 1,700-word appreciation of Shepherd for the Midway Messenger, which has the same publisher as The Rural Blog.

"The news did not surprise me, because I had seen him out just a few couple of months ago on Main Street and saw how much different he looked from just a little over a year ago before he found out that he had ALS," McDaniel reports. "Seeing him in his wheelchair, it was easy to surmise that his days left on this earth were few."

"It’s going to be a little bit different not seeing Shepard in town anymore, hanging out on the downtown patios or squirreled away in back of one of the Midway restaurants, writing notes in his notebook or reading a book as he ate," McDaniel writes. "I think a lot of people were intimidated by Shepard. Though they were excited to see him in the flesh, it was very seldom that onlookers would actually stop to ask him for an autograph; most would just stare at him. Midway residents would smile and speak but, I only knew a few who ever bothered him for a picture or autograph. Townspeople made it a point to respect his privacy, and I believe that is why he liked Midway so much."

McDaniel concludes: "There is no doubt that Sam Shepard was a very talented, complex and intelligent person. He could be rude, he could be funny, he could be compassionate, and he had days that he just didn’t give a damn. I liked him for a lot of reasons, but he won me over because during one of our talks he once told me that he really did like Midway and that it had such a quality that even he had a hard time finding the words to describe the area around here. Maybe that’s why he chose to spend his last days here."

UPDATE, Aug. 7: John J. Winters writes on The Conversation that Shepard grew up rural and told Playboy in 1984, “One of the biggest tragedies about this country was moving from an agricultural society to an urban, industrial society. We’ve been wiped out.” Winters adds, "Shepard's characters embody this loss. . . . Shepard’s love of the country and its open spaces would mark all aspects of his career." He also cites Patti Smith's tribute in The New Yorker.

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