Sam Shepard, the acclaimed playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, has passed away at the age of 73.

The actor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for playing US pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983's The Right Stuff, died on Thursday at his home in Kentucky surrounded by his children and sisters.

A spokesman for the Shepard family said the cause of death was complications of Motor Neurone Disease, reports the New York Times.

Shepard, who was born in 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, made recent screen appearances as Robert Rayburn in the Netflix drama Bloodline. He also played Father Judge in six episodes of gold rush drama Klondike.

Sam Shepard was one of the giants of American theatre

His film appearances in the past few years included August: Osage County in 2013, Killing Them Softly in 2012 and Mud, also in 2012.

His play Buried Child won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979, and he won huge acclaim for Curse of the Starving Class and A Lie of the Mind. His plays True West and Fool for Love also received Pulitzer nominations.

Shepard had a long association with Ireland's Abbey Theatre. His plays Kicking a Dead Horse and Ages of the Moon received their world premieres at the Abbey in 2007 and 2009 respectively. 

Shepard wrote 44 plays, several books, essays, and memoirs. His other screen credits included Midnight Special, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Notebook, Black Hawk Down, Days of Heaven and Irish director Jim Sheridan's 2009 drama Brothers

He is survived by his children, Jesse, from a relationship with O-Lan Jones; and Hannah and Walker, from his relationship with Jessica Lange.

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Actors, directors and writers have been among those paying tribute: