Sam Shepard in "Midnight Special" (2016). Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884697p)

Last Thursday in his Kentucky home, legendary playwright Sam Shepard passed away at the tender age of 73. A family member spoke to the press, saying Shepard’s death was due to complications stemming from an incredibly destructive illness: Lou Gehrig’s disease.

While Shepard has been battling the illness for the majority of his adult life, the news of his passing still comes as a shock for the world of theater – a world Shepard made his own by penning some of the most touching plays ever written.

He was many things throughout his career, but Sam Shepard really made his bones as a playwright – and a critically-acclaimed one at that. In 1979, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Buried Child, a play depicting the trauma of mental illness and alcoholism in a classically-American family. For most, this award would be their pinnacle: but not for Sam Shepard.

After winning the Pulitzer, Shepard became one of the pioneers for off-Broadway plays, bringing theater to new creative heights with his incredibly surrealist masterpieces.

From Curse of the Starving Class to Fool For Love to True West, Shepard made his mark on American theater with every single play he wrote.

When Shepard wrote, he gave voices to the voiceless with each and every play. He truly knew how to empathize with everyone, no matter their status in life. This might explain why, on top of being a phenomenal playwright, he was also a stellar actor.

After breaking out in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven in 1978, Shepard went on an acting tear. He earned an Oscar nomination for Right Stuff and starred in several other critically acclaimed projects, including Black Hawk DownAugust: Orange County, and the Netflix series Bloodline.

He may be gone, but Shepard lives on – not only through his work, but through the people he’s inspired and the lives he’s changed.