Sam Shepard, beloved playwright and actor, passed away on Sunday following a battle with ALS. As one of the great American writers of our generation, Shepard found himself in the company of some equally cherished artists over the years. One of those close confidants, Patti Smith, has now penned a tribute for the New Yorker.
Smith fondly recalled the late-night, often random, coversations she’d have with Shepard as he called her from various places around the globe. “Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere,” Smith wrote. “I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.”
(Read: I’ll Be Missing You: A History of Tribute Songs)
Apparently, she had been helping Shepard with what would be his final manuscript as he battled his illness, forcing him to stay home in Kentucky. She would visit him in his home where the two would work hard at his table before sitting outside and enjoying the view without a word said between them. “Laboring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him,” she said. “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.” According to Smith, they managed to finish the manuscript, so “nothing was left unsaid.”
When she learned of her friend’s passing, she was in Lucerne, Switzerland, standing in the rain in front of a colossal lion carved into the rocks of a low cliff. Remembering a letter Shepard once sent her about his favorite dream, she said, “‘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.'”
Read the entire moving letter here.
Below, watch Smith sing “Until the End of the World” at a 2012 event staged by Smith and Shepard: