Jonathan Frid, 1924-2012

On April 14th, the world lost a great actor. Jonathan Frid, perhaps best known as Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, died at 87. Frid’s magnetism managed to bolster the sagging ratings on the daytime soap, enough to make the character a permanent part of the cast. Barnabas Collins quickly took over the show, easily becoming the entire face of the franchise.

Whatever personal failings or scandals the man had are not known to me and I’ll not bother trying to find them. There is a strange habit of both elevating and condemning the recently deceased so to be contrary I’ll do neither.

Having recently undertaken the task of reviewing Dark Shadows from its very beginnings, I found Mr. Frid’s portrayal of the vampire Barnabas to be brilliant. Indeed, it’s not hard to see where future writers had the idea to show the vampire as a suave modern day figure. There was a tortured conflict about Barnabas, yet he could still be menacing and charming.

Mr. Frid’s passing signifies the end of an era. Soap operas were well known for using mostly Broadway actors or those accustomed to stage acting. Frid was both. Staring in both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions of everything from Arsenic & Old Lace to Roar Like a Dove, Mr. Frid was an accomplished actor. His interactions with fans struck me the most. After doing a genre program, there is a habit of actors to try and distance themselves from the trappings: doing ‘serious’ films, playing the opposite type of character, etc. Mr. Frid, on the other hand, toured Dark Shadows conventions and gave readings. He was, by all accounts, warm, funny, and grateful for the fans. He viewed himself as a working actor, and worked on one project or another until his health began to decline.

Jonathan Frid left no spouses or children. He is survived by his nephew Donald Frid.