Why Sam Shepard kept his ALS battle secret for years

Sam Shepard battled ALS for several years — all without the news ever making it to the public.

The famous playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, who died on Thursday at 73 from complications from the disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, continued to commit himself to his work until his final days.

“Sam was very private and shied away from publicity, and hence he was quiet about this too,” his longtime editor at Knopf publishing, LuAnn Walther, told People. “Even in these last years when it was hard, he was just constantly writing.”

His most recent work of fiction, “The One Inside,” was released in February. The star’s final film, “Never Here,” was shot in 2015 and 2016, but the director Camille Thoman said he didn’t appear sick during most of the filming.

Sam Shepard, actor and playwright, is dead at 73

“Shortly after the film wrapped it became clear (that he was sick), but while he was on set I had no idea,” Thoman told People. “He had a tremendous impact on our set and on me personally because he’s such an extraordinary person to be around. He definitely set a bar. Having him around made everyone want to do their very best.”

A source told the mag that it was Shepard’s every intention to keep his disease as private as possible as he intended to live out his days “peacefully in Kentucky.”

“He was walking with a cane, but he looked good,” the source shared with People, adding that he looked “magnetic.”

“He was talking with people, really friendly. He looked like a movie star. He was so charming,” the source continued.

Broadway to dim lights for playwright Sam Shepard

The “Paris, Texas” star alluded to his struggle only in his most recent work.

Actor Sam Shepard died on Thursday at 73.

Actor Sam Shepard died on Thursday at 73.


In “The One Inside,” Shepard writes, “It’s so cold. Something in his body refuses to get up. They won’t take direction — won’t be dictated to — the arms, legs, feet, hands. Nothing moves. Nothing even wants to. The brain isn’t sending signals.”

ALS is a nervous system disease that breaks down the muscles making it difficult to move. There is currently no cure.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer left behind children Hannah, Samuel and Jesse. He shares Hannah and Samuel with his partner of nearly 30 years, actress Jessica Lange.

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