The world was rocked yesterday when the news hit that Sam Shepard, one of the greatest actors and playwrights of his generation, had died. He was 73 years old. During the 1970s, Shepard ran with some of the coolest and most culturally impactful figures of that era. That included poet and rock icon Patti Smith, with whom he shared a romantic relationship for a brief period.
In the wake of his passing Smith penned a truly touching tribute to her one-time paramour in the pages of the New Yorker, sharing memories of their time together in her own, ethereal, dream-filled style.
We had our routine: Awake. Prepare for the day. Have coffee, a little grub. Set to work, writing. Then a break, outside, to sit in the Adirondack chairs and look at the land. We didn’t have to talk then, and that is real friendship. Never uncomfortable with silence, which, in its welcome form, is yet an extension of conversation. We knew each other for such a long time. Our ways could not be defined or dismissed with a few words describing a careless youth. We were friends; good or bad, we were just ourselves. The passing of time did nothing but strengthen that. Challenges escalated, but we kept going and he finished his work on the manuscript. It was sitting on the table. Nothing was left unsaid. When I departed, Sam was reading Proust.
She described him as a wanderer. “Sam liked being on the move,” she wrote. “He 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 would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.”
Then she ended her missive with the memory of a cherished note that Shepard has sent to her. “A long time ago, Sam sent me a letter. A long one, where he told me of a dream that he had hoped would never end. ‘He dreams of horses,’ I told the lion. ‘Fix it for him, will you? Have Big Red waiting for him, a true champion. He won’t need a saddle, he won’t need anything.’ I headed to the French border, a crescent moon rising in the black sky. I said goodbye to my buddy, calling to him, in the dead of night.”
You can read Smith’s entire letter over at the New Yorker.