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Charles Lynn Frost, Utah thespian who brought Sister Dottie S. Dixon to life, dies at 67

Through Dottie, Frost called attention to LGBTQ issues within the LDS faith, using humor to heal.

(Tribune file photos) Charles Lynn Frost, seen at left in 2018, played Sister Dottie S. Dixon as a recurring character — first with Pygmalion Productions, then with Salt Lake Acting Company.

Charles Lynn Frost, the Utah actor and playwright who created the irrepressible Sister Dottie S. Dixon — a Latter-day Saint mom with a big mouth and a bigger heart — has died.

Frost died Wednesday, May 19, after a battle with colon cancer, his friend Babs De Lay, a Salt Lake City real estate agent and LGBTQ activist, wrote in a Facebook post. He was 67.

“A lot of people probably think they’re the most special people in the whole world, because they were his friend,” his oldest son, Ryan Frost, said Thursday.

Frost and Troy Williams first created the character of Sister Dottie in 2007 for a weekly half-hour radio show, “What Not, What Have You and Such as That with Sister Dottie S. Dixon,” on community station KRCL, where Williams was the station’s public affairs director.

Dottie was a loyal, casserole-making member of the Spanish Fork (she pronounced it “fark”) Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but sometimes found the church’s shunning of the LGBTQ community contrary to Jesus’ message to love thy neighbor.

Frost worked with Williams, now the director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah, to expand Dottie’s story into a play. Pygmalion Theatre Company (now Pygmalion Productions) premiered “The Passion of Dottie S. Dixon” in May 2009.

In the play, which parodied the life of Joan of Arc, Frost reenacted scenes from Dottie’s life: marrying her husband Don and going on their honeymoon in “romantic Panguitch”; taking a road trip through Nevada, when her RV broke down at the Burning Man festival; raising her son, Donnie Jr., who comes out as gay; becoming an LGBTQ advocate and being “burned at the stake center” in her “discommunication” trial; and her triumphant entry into the celestial kingdom, which “looks just like Spanish Fork.”

“Not everything that has to do with LGBT life has to be so tragic and so dramatic,” Frost told The Salt Lake Tribune when the play premiered. “Not all has to end up in sadness and death.”

Dottie, Ryan Frost said, was “an incredible outlet” for his dad to deal with his upbringing as a closeted gay Latter-day Saint man in Utah County. “He was able to find comedy in it,” his son said.

“You could put that [show] in Oklahoma or Florida, and nobody would think it was funny,” Ryan Frost said. “But in Utah, everybody’s like, ‘Holy crap! This is ridiculous!’ It’s spot on. Everybody can relate to it.”

(Al Hartmann | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Charles Lynn Frost in character as Sister Dottie Dixon in 2009, when "The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon" premiered at Pygmalion Theatre Company.

Barbara Bannon, in her May 2009 review for The Tribune, called the play “a strange fusion of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Mormon church, a focus on the serious issue of ostracism faced by gay LDS children and their families, and the call for Mormon women to be leaders.” It worked, Bannon wrote, because of “the force of Dottie’s personality as portrayed by Frost. He has the audience’s complete attention from the opening moments when he offers cushions and snacks to make sure everyone is comfortable.”

Frost’s portrayal of Sister Dottie “was sharp, witty, but always imbued with compassion,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who befriended Frost a decade ago over a shared interest in social justice. “He was incredibly gifted and had a wicked wit about him, and he used that wit to pop pretension and arrogance. Through his satire, and thoughtful criticism, he really allowed us to be better.”

The play was such a hit that Frost, Williams and director Fran Pruyn updated it for a second run in the fall. A companion book, “The Mormon Kama Sutra,” followed, with illustrations by Tribune editorial cartoonist Pat Bagley.

Frost, as Dottie, made regular appearances for several years on X96′s “Radio From Hell” show, dispensing etiquette advice and brownie recipes. Frost and his friend Christopher Wixom wrote a sequel, “Dottie: The Sister Lives On,” for Salt Lake Acting Company in 2012, which Wixom directed.

“Art is one of the most powerful tools we have,” Frost said in 2009, “and comedy and parody is one of the most powerful parts of theater.”

Frost was born May 11, 1954, in Payson, Utah — which had the nearest hospital to Spanish Fork, where he grew up, his son Ryan said. He earned his master’s degree in fine arts from Brigham Young University.

Frost married Kelli Allred in 1975, and together they had four children: Ryan, twin boys Aaron and Joel, and daughter Rachel.

“I went to my [Latter-day Saint] bishop and said a woman was in love with me and I loved her but didn’t know what to do,” Frost told the Tribune in 2014. “He knew I was gay. He told me that if I married her, it would go away. And if I had children, it would go away faster.”

Frost said he stayed in the marriage for 20 years, but the knowledge that he was gay didn’t go away.

Both Frost and his wife were teachers; Frost taught drama at Payson High School and later at Mountain View High School in Orem. Ryan Frost said his dad’s students won statewide drama competitions frequently at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He also directed community theater in Payson and Provo, including the first community productions in Utah of the musicals “Annie” and “Big River,” according to his son.

Once, Frost and his wife attended a production of Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America,” in which one of the main characters was, like Frost, a Latter-day Saint trying to hide his homosexuality.

“At both intermissions I said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom,’ but really I went out on the streets and took deep breaths of air,” Frost told The Tribune in 2010, noting that it felt like Kushner was writing about him. “It was frightening. Seeing the play was torturous for me but also magnificent.”

When the marriage ended, “I decided I wouldn’t live a lie like that ever again,” he said in 2014.

“It was a hard place to be, growing up in LDS culture, knowing he was gay, and having to hide that,” said Ryan Frost, who was graduating from high school at the time.

After leaving teaching, Frost worked for a while at Franklin Covey, and freelanced as a consultant and life coach, his son said.

And Frost took on impactful work as an actor, beyond Sister Dottie. He was one of the lead actors in Plan-B Theatre’s 2001 production of “The Laramie Project.” In 2006, he played the dad of a recently deceased gay man in Carol Lynn Pearson’s drama “Facing East,” which started at Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre and made a brief run off-Broadway and in San Francisco. And when SLAC staged a 2010 production of “Angels in America,” Frost played lawyer and political fixer Roy Cohn.

(Photo courtesy of Salt Lake Acting Company) Charles Lynn Frost, left, portrays Roy Cohn, and Alexander Bala plays Joe, in Salt Lake Acting Company's 2010 production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America."

In 2011, Frost’s portrayal of Sister Dottie earned him the Mayor’s Artist Award at the Utah Arts Festival. The same year, Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church gave him the Fairly Free Thinker Award, and Sister Dottie was the grand marshal of Moab’s first-ever Pride festival.

In 2018, Frost directed Jim Dabakis, then a state senator, in “Stories From My Soul,” a one-man play in which Dabakis portrayed himself, telling stories of his colorful life. Frost worked with Dabakis to build a dramatic arc out of the former radio host and politician’s stories.

Frost married Doug Lott, a truck driver, in New York in 2011, and again in Utah on Dec. 26, 2013 — during the 17-day window when a judge’s ruling in the Kitchen v. Herbert case made same-sex marriage suddenly legal in Utah, before the Utah Attorney General’s office filed for a stay pending an appeal. That marriage also ended in divorce.

Frost was a fierce advocate for gay issues in Utah. He was one of the original board members of Equality Utah. He produced events to support gay teens. He worked for a time at the Utah Pride Center, organizing programs for elderly LGBTQ people.

Frost is survived by his four children — Ryan, Aaron, Joel and Rachel — and 10 grandchildren. One grandchild, Tobin Frost, died previously.

Memorial services are pending.

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