Utah Shakespeare Festival founder dies at 89

The founder of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Fred C. Adams, died at age 89 in Cedar City Thursday. (Photo courtesy of SUU)

The founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Fred C. Adams, died at age 89 in Cedar City on Thursday.

Adam started the festival in 1961 and was its director for 42 years. The festival is considered one of the most prestigious theatres in the United States and has received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, an Emmy Award, and the Utah Best of State Award, among other accolades.

“Fred was a genius,” Gov. Gary R. Herbert stated in a press release.

He truly was the visionary behind the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is beloved by both our state and our nation. Fred was one of a kind, and he will be sorely missed. We join with all Utahns in expressing condolences to his family.

Under Adams' direction, the festival grew from a budget of $1,000 and $3,00 paid admission in 1962 to a budget of $8 million and 100,000 attendees, according to a statement on

He directed all three plays during the festival's first season: "Taming of the Shrew," "Hamlet" and "The Merchant of Venice." He was instrumental in building the Randall L. Jones Threatre in 1989 and worked to have the festival's first permanent building constructed.

He was also a theater professor at SUU from 1959 to 1997. He received several prestigious awards, including SUU Presidential Medallion of Service (2019), Shakespeare Theatre Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2015), Burbage Award for Lifetime Service to the International Shakespeare Community (2010), the Utah National Guard Bronze Minuteman Award (2010), and many more.

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“Fred is the most creative, passionate and tireless person I have ever known,” Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt stated in a press release. “In the Utah arts world he was without equal. No one has elevated the reputation of Southern Utah University and Cedar City more than him."

Without doubt, he will remain in the hearts of thousands who knew him and countless others who were blessed by the art he created.

Adams retired in 2005 and spent the remainder of his life raising money for the festival and the arts.

President of the Utah Senate J. Stuart Adams said, "Utah has lost a state treasure and beloved friend. Fred Adams contributed significantly to Utah arts and culture and brought thousands of visitors to the state.

He was an unparalleled innovator, leader, mentor and role model, influencing actors, patrons and members of his community. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Sen. Evan Vickers echoed Stuart Adams' words.

“Fred Adams is a true hero, not only to me personally but to the state of Utah as a whole. He has done the work of ten men and managed to accomplish it in just one lifetime. We are all indebted to Fred Adams for the amazing things he has done for us. He will truly be missed. His memory and legacy will last forever.”

RELATED: Fred Adams on Shakespeare's relevancy

Gail Miller, owner and chairwoman of Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, issue the following statement regarding Adams' passing:

Fred elevated the arts for Utah and our nation. The impact of his talent and creativity are unmeasured. He was a good friend, and we enjoyed experiencing the thrills and entertainment of the Utah Shakespeare Festival with him on a number of occasions. I am very sorry to hear of his passing and join his family in mourning. He will be forever remembered and greatly missed.

Adams was born in Cedar City on Jan. 30, 1931. Shortly after, his family moved to Delta, Utah, where he graduated from Delta High School, according to SUU's website.

He served in the United States Army during the Korean War and finished a 3-year mission in Finland for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Adams earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Brigham Young University in theater arts and Russian. He completed his pre-doctoral degrees at Catholic University in Washington D.C. and the University of Utah.


Viewings take place on Thursday, Feb. 13 from 5 to 8 p.m., and the next morning from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Southern Utah Museum of Art.

The funeral is Friday, February 14 at 11 a.m. in the Randall L. Jones Theatre, with overflow seating and video broadcast in the Auditorium Theatre. The funeral will also be live-streamed on YouTube here.

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