His long career saw him work - with equal acclaim - as playwright, director, and actor; he was both a Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, for his 1979 play Buried Child, and an Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor for playing pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983's The Right Suff.
His writing career saw him pen 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Some notable works include his Family Trilogy (which includes Curse of the Starving Class (1976), Buried Child, and True West (1980)), as well as Fool for Love (1983) and A Lie of the Mind (1985), sometimes included with the trilogy to form a quintet of esteemed works.
His work has been so admired, in fact, that New York once named him "the greatest American playwright of his generation".
Shepard's approach was often characterised by its bleak nature and focus on characters at the outskirts of American society, though intermixed with moments of a poetic, darkly comic, and even surrealist nature.
When it came to acting, he's perhaps best known for his role in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978); other roles featured in Resurrection (1980), Steel Magnolias (1989), Black Hawk Down (2001), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), and last year's Midnight Special. He also starred in the 1986 adaptation of his own work Fool for Love, directed by Robert Altman.
Shepard died peacefully on 30 July at his home in Kentucky, surrounded by his children and sisters. He had been ill with ALS for some time.