Jonathan Frid died peacefully in his sleep last week on April 13, aged 87. The news was unleashed early this morning, led by Kathryn Leigh Scott’s tribute to Mr. Frid on her blog. As fate would have it, yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of a stranger, introducing himself as a cousin from England, arriving at the great house of Collinwood.
“Oh, madam–if you would, you may tell her that it’s Barnabas Collins.”
Jonathan Frid will always be best remembered for his portrayal of the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins, a role intended to last only a few weeks in a last-ditch attempt to boost the ratings of a failing show. Just as that hand–with its signature black onyx ring–grasped Willie Loomis by the throat, however, Frid too grasped us all and held us there for the duration of the show. He was the show’s undisputed star. He was the reason so many kids ran home to watch Dark Shadows. He was the reason so many people fell in love with the show through re-runs, VHS tapes, and finally DVD sets. He was the reason I wanted to hop on bus to New York as an 8-year-old to attend a Dark Shadows Festival at which he would be appearing. (Guess who didn’t let me go? That’s right. Mom and Dad thought I was a little young to be going to New York by myself. Oh well, we will meet on the flip side, Jonathan.)
Starring Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, just as it should be.
This is not to disregard all the other talented actors who appeared on the show (and there were many), but Barnabas Collins was the heart of the show. His cruelty and kindness drove the show’s storylines. And he was played to perfection by Jonathan Frid. There were, of course, technical mishaps, flubbed lines, and wandering flies, all of which endear rather than taint the show, yet the performances of the actors–most of all Frid–transcend those imperfections. The audience fears Barnabas, pities him, and ultimately loves him as if he were a member of their own family–all because of the great skill and conviction with which Frid portrayed him.
I started re-watching the 1795 storyline this week. It breaks my heart every time to see Barnabas robbed of happiness and mortality. Mr. Frid was, I think, blessed with both of those things. He leaves behind a remarkable, unforgettable body of work and legions of dedicated fans whose lives he indelibly touched. May he rest in peace.
Love ya, JFrid. Always.