Jonathan Frid, Original Barnabas Collins In ‘Dark Shadows,’ Dead At 87

Actor's cameo in Tim Burton's big-screen adaption of soap opera will be his last onscreen appearance.
By John Mitchell

Jonathan Frid in 1988
Photo: Getty Images

Actor Jonathan Frid, best known as the man who brought vivid life to one of the most iconic undead characters in TV history, vampire Barnabas Collins in the soap opera "Dark Shadows," died on Friday at the age of 87.

He died of natural causes after a fall at his home in Ancaster, Ontario, though his family chose not to release the news until now.

Frid was a classically trained stage actor, who began his stage career after a tour with the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London before going to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing from Yale in 1957.

His talents were a strange match for "Shadows," but Frid's training brought an unexpected subtly to his performance, capturing the imaginations of viewers, including Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, both of whom were rabid fans of "Shadows" when they were young and labored for years to turn the soap into a feature film.

Playing a 200-year-old vampire who is unearthed in the late-1960s, Frid's Barnabas was not a villain but a complex and often sympathetic antihero, who through the soap's 1966-71 run continued to mourn the loss of his true love while trying to crave his bloodlust and protect his descendents from the evil witches and monsters that plagued their beloved family mansion, Collinwood.

The big-screen version of "Shadows" is set to open on May 11 and is easily one of the most anticipated films of the summer. Frid shot a cameo for the film, marking his first film role since 1974's "Seizure" (Olive Stone's feature-directing debut). While on set in London, he got to spend time with Depp, who plays Barnabas, and as Frid's "Shadows" co-star Kathryn Leigh Scott told The Wrap, both Depp and Burton were effusive with their praise for the actor and his most famous character.

"Both Johnny Depp and Tim Burton looked at Jonathan and said, 'We wouldn't be here without you,' " Scott said.

After being based in New York City for more than 40 years and working to great acclaim both on and off Broadway, Frid retired to Canada in 1994, though he continued to act, performing one-man shows for charities in both Canada and the U.S., and appearing at "Dark Shadows" conventions, which have only grown in popularity over the years. He reportedly always felt a close connection to "Shadows" fans and maintained a website so they could follow what he was up to.

Frid's cameo in Burton's "Shadows" will be his last onscreen performance.

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