Punk star Patti Smith has recalled the heartbreaking final days of her friendship with her one-time lover Sam Shepard in an emotional tribute to the late actor and playwright.
The Oscar nominee passed away last Thursday (July 27) following complications from neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an illness he had secretly battled at his home in Kentucky.
The news of his death was made public on Monday (July31), and on Tuesday (August 1), editors at The New Yorker published an online essay written by Patti in memory of her longtime pal and collaborator.
Titled My Buddy, the article details the rocker’s lifelong friendship with Shepard, revealing he would often call her late at night, while on the road, to catch up and share thoughts about “writers and their books”.
They often met up when their paths crossed in various cities across the globe, and Shepard once promised to show Patti, the co-writer of his 1971 play Cowboy Mouth, the beauty of their American homeland.
“Sam promised me that one day he’d show me the landscape of the Southwest, for though well-travelled, I’d not seen much of our own country,” Patti writes. “But Sam was dealt a whole other hand, stricken with a debilitating affliction. He eventually stopped picking up and leaving.”
She began making frequent visits to his Kentucky home, where he continued to write despite his debilitating disease.
“From then on, I visited him, and we read and talked, but mostly we worked,” she shares. “Laboring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him.”
Patti goes on to recall a sad apology Shepard had made to her as he neared the end of his life, as he realized he would no longer be able to honor their travel promise.
She continues, “Going over a passage describing the Western landscape, he suddenly looked up and said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t take you there.’ I just smiled, for somehow he had already done just that. Without a word, eyes closed, we tramped through the American desert that rolled out a carpet of many colors…”
She also touches on his passing, explaining she was in Europe when she heard the tragic news, but she was at peace with the way he had moved on.
“Sam walked to his bed and lay down and went to sleep, a stoic, noble sleep,” she explains. “A sleep that led to an unwitnessed moment, as love surrounded him and breathed the same air. The rain fell when he took his last breath, quietly, just as he would have wished. Sam was a private man. I know something of such men. You have to let them dictate how things go, even to the end.”