Critically acclaimed playwright and actor Sam Shepard has died aged 73 at his home in Kentucky of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

A family spokesman for the Shepard family confirmed his death today (31 July) and fans are expressing their devastation on social media as they remember one of the most important and influential Off Broadway writers.

Shepard captured and chronicled the ominous sides of American family life in plays including Buried Child – which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979 – along with Curse of the Starving Class and A Lie of the Mind.

His body of work spanned over half a century and he was the author of 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays and memoirs. They are famed for their often bleak, poetic and surrealist elements with black humour and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society.

Shepard also appeared in movies including Cold in July (2014), Savannah (2013) and most recently popular TV series Bloodline as the character Robert Rayburn.

The playwright famously met Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of their film Frances and the pair moved in together in 1983. They were together for nearly 30 years before separating in 2009.

Shepard was widely regarded as one of the most original voices of his generation, winning praise from critics for his raw, authentic works on issues such as failure, the ephemeral nature of the American dream and identity.

He is survived by his children Jesse, Hannah and Walker Shepard, along with his sisters Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.