Matthew Shepard Remembered: A Look Back at 'The Laramie Project,' 'The Matthew Shepard Story'

5:37 PM PST 10/12/2011 by Sofia M. Fernandez
HBO

The 21-year-old Wyoming student died 13 years ago after being beaten and left for dead during a hate crime.

Wyoming student Matthew Shepard died 13 years ago on Oct. 12 after being beaten and left for dead during a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming. The 21-year-old was openly gay: his attackers, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney are serving life sentences in prison for the Oct. 7, 1998 crime.

Shepard's death was the basis for a number of television, film and theater projects, among them, NBC's The Matthew Shepard Story, HBO's The Laramie Project (based on a play of the same name) and MTV's Anatomy of a Hate Crime.

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Stockard Channing won a supporting actress Emmy in 2002, among other accolades, for her portrayal of Shepard's mother Judy in NBC's The Matthew Shepard Story. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote at the time that NBC "should have called its film The Judy Shepard Story because much of its focus is on Shepard's mother." Goldie Hawn was a producer of the project.

Anatomy of a Hate Crime premiered Jan. 10, 2001, and starred Cy Carter and pre-Lost Ian Somerhelder as one of Shepard's assailants. MTV followed the broadcast with more than 12 commercial-free hours of celebrities reading accounts of hundreds of hate crimes from across the country.

HBO's The Laramie Project was based on Moisés Kaufman's off-Broadway play of the same name and unlike most depictions of Shepard's attack, did not use the victim himself as a character. Instead, all of the dialogue was taken from actual interviews with Laramie residents conducted by members of the Tectonic Theater Project and Kaufman, notes Entertainment Weekly.

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The TV film had the highest-profile cast of the Shepard TV projects, including Peter Fonda, Steve Buscemi, Laura Linney, Christina Ricci, Jeremy Davies and Camryn Manheim.

Shepard's mother Judy marked his death Wednesday with a statement that read in part:

"Thirteen years ago this week his father, brother and I were at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., with our firstborn son, Matthew Shepard. He was 21, and dying. Just days before, he had been just like millions of American college students whose names are not known to the world -- getting the hang of his new classes, adapting to a new campus, making friends. His father and I thought his biggest challenges were keeping money in his checking account and getting his homework in on time.

"But here he was in intensive care, the victim of a terrible, senseless attack at the hands of two other young men who, at some point in their lives, learned it was OK to hate others for being different, to victimize them, to disregard their humanity.

"Matt passed away quietly in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 1998, with his family at his bedside. He died because of violence fueled by anti-gay hatred. For a lot of reasons, some of which we will probably never quite understand, the world had been watching, praying for him, and voicing their outrage.

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