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While his rugged good looks, sinewy frame, and pleasant drawl seem to make this actor an all-American hero in the Gary Cooper mold, Shepard's background renders him something more than that. He is also a highly regarded playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1979 play "Buried Child." He was one of the writers on Zabriskie Point (1970), and later won critical acclaim for his original screenplay Paris, Texas (1984). As an actor, he made his film debut in Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara (1978), but turned heads in a series of considerably more intereSting pictures to follow, most of which cast him as the "strong, silent type": Days of Heaven (1978), Resurrection (1980), Raggedy Man (1981), Frances (1982, his first with longtime partner Jessica Lange), and especially The Right Stuff (1983), for which he earned an Oscar nomination playing fabled test pilot Chuck Yeager. He reteamed with Lange in Country (1984) and Crimes of the Heart (1986), and played the lead in Robert Altman's adaptation of his play Fool for Love (1985). People who remembered him performing his rock 'n' roll play "Cowboy Mouth" with cowriter Patti Smith may have had a hard time reconciling that image of Shepard with the genial leading man opposite Diane Keaton in Baby Boom (1987) or Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias (1989), or the quiet but determined police detectives he played in Defenseless (1991) and Thunderheart (1992), but the actor/writer has had no problem wearing more than one hat comfortably. He was also well cast in Bright Angel (1991), in Volker Schlondorff's provocative Voyager (1991, as the title character) and as the self destructive law professor (and Julia Roberts' lover) in The Pelican Brief (1993). Shepard made an inauspicious directing debut with Far North (1988, starring Lange) and a Western, Silent Tongue (1994).
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