For the positive impact he had on the state, Josef Meier is recognized as one of South Dakota’s Great Faces.
Meier began his acting career with the passion play in his hometown of Lunen, Germany, eventually becoming the seventh in his family to play the role of Jesus Christ. To escape the restriction on religious expression in Germany, Meier and his cast moved to the United States in 1932 to find a permanent home for their production. After a 1938 performance in Spearfish, Meier decided to stay put and built a permanent set the next year in Spearfish’s natural outdoor amphitheater.
The Black Hills Passion Play eventually became a popular tourist attraction. Meier was able to use his influence as both the play’s founder and star to have U.S. Highway 14A paved through Spearfish Canyon and to help build Lookout Memorial Hospital. Meier continued to be active in the community, even after his 1991 retirement from the cast.
During his career, Meier was honored by three popes, the German government, and the State of South Dakota. He was also honored in 2000 by the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Tourism Association as a Black Hills Tourism Pioneer.
By the time of his death in 1999, Meier portrayed the life of Jesus Christ more than 9,000 times to an audience of more than 10 million people.
The Black Hills Passion Play was a dramatization of the last days of Jesus Christ, presented at the Spearfish Amphitheater. The production ran for nearly 70 years before its final performance Aug. 31, 2008.
South Dakota’s Great Faces weekly press release series is a project of the South Dakota Office of Tourism, designed to highlight people who have had significant impacts on South Dakota, particularly in the visitor industry. Click on the special “South Dakota’s Great Faces” link at www.MediaSD.com
to access the complete list of articles.
Information for this release was obtained from the South Dakota State Historical Society.