Actor and playwright Sam Shepard owned a farm near Midway, and people who knew him said he appreciated the small-town life where he could retreat from the spotlight.
Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and an Oscar-nominated actor, died at his Kentucky farm Thursday from complications related to Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In Midway, he kept a low public profile, but he was known and liked there.
“He lived just outside the city limits, but we claimed him as our own,” Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said.
Shepard might be out of town for months at a time, but he would always return and patronize local restaurants, Vandegrift said.
“It was a thrill to count him as a customer — and sad he won’t pop up around Midway making all our hearts race a little faster,” chef Ouita Michel, whose Woodford County restaurants include Wallace Station and Holly Hill Inn, wrote Monday on Twitter.
“I think he enjoyed that he could be treated in a low-key way and have a little bit of anonymity, but we all certainly appreciated him and all of his many talents,” Vandegrift said. “He didn’t come to downtown to be fawned over by everyone. ... He just enjoyed the fact that people treated him like a regular guy.”
Shepard owned a farm on Fishers Mill Road near Midway. Parts of the 1999 movie “Simpatico,” based on Shepard’s play of the same name, were filmed in Midway, Donamire Farms in Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park and Churchill Downs.
He did not like the celebrity thing. He was never too comfortable with that.
Bobby Miller, consultant to Millennium Farms, remembering Sam Shepard
Bobby Miller, a consultant to Millennium Farms of Lexington, said he met Shepard more than 25 years ago, when Miller was at Walmac Farm in Fayette County. Shepard had mares that he bred to stallions standing at Walmac.
“He was down to earth,” Miller said of Shepard. “He did not like the celebrity thing. He was never too comfortable with that.”
Shepard loved quarter horses and Thoroughbreds, said Johnny Jones, managing partner of Walmac Farm. Shepard grew up on a California ranch, and during his high school days, he was a groom and a hot walker on the backside of Santa Anita Park, the Thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, Calif., Jones said.
Jones said Shepard never tried to “create some sort of business” from his farm.
“He just had a passion for it,” Jones said. “He used to always say, ‘I just stay in the movie business to feed my horses.’”