Influential New York acting teacher Suzanne Shepherd, who in later life became a successful character actress, passed away in her Manhattan home on November 17 at the age of 89, the New York Times reported.
According to her daughter Kate, Shepherd died from kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Before launching a film and television career in her mid-50s, Shepherd was a well-known acting teacher whose students included Gregory Hines, Christopher Meloni, and Bebe Neuwirth.
She began her big screen career with the two 1988 films “Working Girl” and “Mystic Pizza” before going on to appear in around 40 films and television shows. Shephard, who was known to play maternal characters, was best known for starring as Edie Falco’s mother in the HBO series “The Sopranos” and the mother of Lorraine Bracco’s character in the film “Goodfellas.”
Other film credits include the 1989 John Candy classic “Uncle Buck,” the 1990 thriller “Jacob’s Ladder,” and the 1997 version of “Lolita” starring Jeremy Irons.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on October 31, 1934, as Sadie Gertrude Stern, Shepherd was the youngest of three children. Her father, David Stern, was a vending machine and jukebox distributor. Her mother Dora, a skilled cook, later prepared dinners for the cast and crew of Shepherd’s productions.
According to her daughter Kate, Shepherd adopted the name Suzanne when she was 13 because she thought it sounded better than Sadie.
Shepherd graduated from Battin High School in Elizabeth and went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English from Vermont’s Bennington College in 1956.
Early on in her career, Shepherd gained valuable connections by working with award-winning director Mike Nichols and actors Elaine May and Alan Alda as a member of the Compass Players, an influential Chicago improv group.
One of the founders of the Compass Players was David Shephard whom the actress married in 1957.