Suzanne Shepherd, Actress Known for Playing Mothers, Dies at 89
By Alex Williams, The New York Times
Published Nov. 23, 2023Updated Nov. 28, 2023
Suzanne Shepherd, an influential New York acting teacher who found success in midlife as a character actress, including memorable turns as the mothers of Edie Falco’s character on “The Sopranos” and Lorraine Bracco’s character in “Goodfellas,” died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89.
Her daughter, Kate Shepherd, said the cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney failure.
After establishing herself as a stage actress and director, Ms. Shepherd became well known as an acting instructor — her students included Gregory Hines, Bebe Neuwirth and Christopher Meloni — before she began acting in film and on television when she was in her mid-50s.
She began her big-screen career with two 1988 romantic comedies: “Working Girl,” in which she secured a role from its director, her old friend Mike Nichols, appearing alongside Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford; and “Mystic Pizza,” playing an aunt of the Julia Roberts character’s boyfriend. She would accumulate about 40 film and television credits in the decades to come, with maternal roles a signature.
Early in her career, she gained invaluable experience by performing with Alan Alda, Diana Sands and others as a member of the Hyannis Port, Mass., company of the influential Chicago improvisational troupe the Compass Players. One of the company’s founders was David Shepherd, whom she married in 1957.
Ms. Shepherd worked as both a stage actress and a director in the ensuing years. She developed a long and fruitful collaboration with the South African playwright Athol Fugard starting in the 1970s. She directed several of his plays, including “Blood Knot,” starring Danny Glover, at the Roundabout Theater in New York in 1980, and “A Lesson From Aloes,” starring Mr. Glover and Joan Allen and presented by the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago in 1985.
Along the way, Ms. Shepherd earned an outsize reputation in acting circles as a protégée of her old teacher Sanford Meisner, one of the most celebrated acting instructors of the 20th century.
She was an exponent of the Meisner technique, which trains actors to respond viscerally and not intellectually, paying particular attention to the performances of the other actors. She taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York, where Mr. Meisner was the director for decades, as well as at the New York University film school and elsewhere.
“You’ve got to look at the material as if you’re filleting a fish,” she said in the 2016 video, voicing one of her acting tenets. “You’ve got to take off the words and see what’s at the bones underneath.”
After graduating from Bennington College, Suzanne Shepherd studied with Larry Arrick, Herbert Berghof and Sanford Meisner. For the past 43 years, Suzanne has been teaching and coaching actors and has been on the faculty of Trinity Square Conservatory, Hartman Conservatory, the Berghof Studio and her own studio in New York City.
Suzanne has directed at the Nederlander Theatre, Dallas Theatre Center, Trinity Square Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf, Ensemble Studio Theatre, the Whole Theatre and at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. As an actress Suzanne has played leading roles at The Roundabout, Yale Repertory, Long Wharf, Berkeley Repertory, Vineyard Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and many more major regional theaters.
“Suzanne is so sensitive and so intuitive and so empathic toward people, that it takes her a very short amount of time to figure out how to talk to any individual person. You know there are teachers who come in and teach their class. Suzanne just lasers in and understands what to say to you.”
— Bebe Neuwirth
Suzanne Shepherd, ‘Goodfellas’ And ‘The Sopranos’
The actor was best known for portraying rightfully protective mothers in both of the iconic gangster dramas.
by Marco Margaritoff
Huffington Post, November 21, 2023
Suzanne Shepherd, an actor best known for portraying protective mothers in “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos,” has died. She reportedly passed away peacefully in her sleep Friday at her New York City home. A cause of death has not been disclosed. She was 89.
“My mom died Friday,” her daughter, Kate Shepherd, wrote Monday on Instagram. “God bless her. Nobody will replace her magnitude. I’m grateful to have spent a lot of the summer together knowing it would be our last (although she was planning the next garden).”
Suzanne Shepherd starred in 20 episodes of “The Sopranos” as Mary DeAngelis, the mother of Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano. She had notably portrayed the rightfully concerned mom of Lorraine Bracco’s Karen Hill in Martin Scorsese’s iconic “Goodfellas” only nine years earlier.
Suzanne Shepherd had also starred in other classics, including Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem For A Dream” and Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Lolita” — but was a classically trained actor who taught at numerous schools and ran her own studio.
“While she was Edie Falco’s mother on the Sopranos and wore a huge wart in Uncle Buck being brilliant and had horns growing out of her scalp in Jacob’s Ladder, her focus was so much on teaching Meisner technique (she was his protege.),” Kate Shepherd wrote Monday.
Suzanne Shepherd was born Oct. 31, 1934, and graduated from Bennington College, according to her website. She studied under Sanford Meisner and founded the Compass Players with Alan Alda and Alan Arkin in the 1960s, Deadline reported.