Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 19, 2012

Jonathan Frid (1924-2012)

Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, who played the charismatic undead Barnabas Collins in the original Dark Shadows, may have been the only person unable to fall under the charms of a vampire. Upon hearing the news of his peaceful passing at age 87, my first reaction was to think “He’s free at last.”

Initially hired for a short span, the actor portrayed a famously “reluctant vampire” converted to his dark existence by a jilted witch. He only took victims out of dire need and constantly mourned his lost love Josette. This was a man on the verge of marriage, a victim of betrayal and loss who must now suffer his ungodly destiny and unfulfilled love for all eternity. Is it any wonder the romantic teenagers and housewives of America were captivated?Jonathan Frid

Frid, who considered himself a serious actor, was more inclined to read Shakespeare than act in a super-heated Gothic revival–yet he needed the money. Here was a reluctant vampire in more ways than one. As he once famously said during a 1960s game show appearance, he knew “upon which side (his) bread was buttered” and would continue to “bite whomever they (told him) to.” Yet he did have his limits, refusing to appear in the second Dark Shadows feature film for fear of being typecast. This was far too late, of course. Frid’s Barnabas Collins had already reached iconic status, featured on posters, bubblegum cards and in teenybopper magazine cover stories. He was shutting the crypt door long after the hearse had gotten out. Jonathan Frid was forever Barnabas Collins.

In later years, he came to terms with this. Beginning in the late 1980s, he slowly embraced the character. As the series repeats became a draw on public television, he would appear on pledge drives. He would soon make personal appearances at the annual Dark Shadows Festival reunions.

The last time I saw him was August 21, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York, at the 45th Anniversary Dark Shadows Festival banquet. Aged and infirm, walking so hesitantly with his familiar wolf’s head cane, he could hardly eat once he had settled at his table because so many fans stopped by to say hello, to photograph him, to touch him or let him know how his moving performance had touched them. Frid’s family always seemed a bit bemused by all the attention Jonathan received. The show did not play in Canada, so the prophet was never really famous in his hometown. On the road, however, kindly old Uncle Jonathan was a Beatle.

Loved by his castmates, adored by his fans, yet somewhat hampered by unfulfilled hopes, lofty ambitions and the infirmity of age, Jonathan Frid is finally free of Barnabas and unbidden fame at last. May he rest in peace.

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Responses

  1. I barely remember the show from my childhood…I used to go to my Aunt Pat’s house after school until my mother came home from work, and my uncle would often watch Dark Shadows. I remember the opening credits and some images from the show, but it never really appealed to me so I have no memories of plot lines or most of the characters. But I did remember Barnabas – his character was so compelling that his presence is just about the only memory I have from the show today (other than the opening credits, of course). But your piece on Jonathan Frid is so beautifully written that I feel like I’ve gotten to know the actor just a little bit.

  2. Oh how my heart aches for our Jonathan. Thank God I was allowed to meet him and speak with him…We love you Jonathan Frid! Be at rest as your character never could!

  3. “Frid’s family always seemed a bit bemused by all the attention Jonathan received. The show did not play in Canada, so the prophet was never really famous in his hometown. On the road, however, kindly old Uncle Jonathan was a Beatle.”

    I really loved this. I’ve always wondered what his family thought about his selective celebrity.

  4. What a lovely written piece, thank you for it.

  5. Well said. I wonder if Adam West will feel the same of Batman whenever his time to depart comes around. Still, knowing Frid for a brief time in the 1980’s was akin to winning the lottery. Though not as financially remunerative, the memories it produced are priceless. R.I.P., though you, and your most famous character are both blessed with a certain immortality.

  6. Additional information via Marcy Robin and Shadowgram:

    In Memoriam – Jonathan Frid
    December 2, 1924 – April 13, 2012

    Donald Frid, Jonathan’s nephew, who assisted Jonathan at many of the recent Festivals, has informed us that Jonathan passed away at the age of 87 on April 13, 2012, in Hamilton, Ontario.

    His health had been declining in recent weeks and he died peacefully in his sleep in a local hospital.

    At Jonathan’s request, there was no funeral and there will be no memorial service.

    Donations in the memory of Jonathan Frid may be made to Hillfield-Strathallen College, the school where he got his first taste of acting.

    http://www.hsc.on.ca/advancing-hsc/tribute-program.html

    Or a charity of your choice.

    Donald and the other members of the Frid family are grateful for all the support and appreciation Jonathan received from the Dark Shadows community over these many years.

    At a gathering of family and friends on April 18, the family remarked on John’s passing on Friday, April the 13th, and the fact that they were remembering him on April 18, the 45th anniversary of the broadcast of his first appearance at the door of Collinwood.


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