It is with tremendous sadness that we report that Dark Shadows legend Jonathan Frid has died. As television's first reluctant vampire, Barnabas Collins, Jonathan brought a faltering Dark Shadows runaway success, giving the show its most enduring character.
Jonathan passed away peacefully in the early hours of April 14 in his native Hamilton, Ontario, at the age of 87. Nephew Donald Frid, in a statement from the family said that: "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." It was a characteristically modest exit for a man who had so often shunned the spotlight.
A gathering of family and friends took place yesterday on April 18 – 45 years to the day from Jonathan's debut appearance on Dark Shadows. Donations in his memory may be made to Hillfield-Strathallen College, the school where he first began acting. To visit them online, click here.
Like so many pop culture stars, Jonathan had an conflicted relationship with the role that made him famous. While he was justifiably proud of the character of Barnabas, he was left disenchanted by the violent depiction of the vampire in the House of Dark Shadows movie. His perfectionist streak left him ambivalent about many of his performances and he was undoubtedly typecast by the time Dark Shadows was finally cancelled.
As a performer, Jonathan's heart truly belonged with the theatre, and in the years that followed, he carved out a niche presenting a series of successful one-man shows. With these, he could indulge his love of storytelling in its purest form, performing his favourite pieces of writing on his own terms. Television may have brought him peak audiences of 20 million, but it was undoubtedly these small, intimate productions that gave him the greatest professional satisfaction.
In time, Jonathan came to appreciate the lasting popularity of his Dark Shadows work, attending many conventions, right up until last year's 45th Anniversary celebrations in Brooklyn. Now in his 80s, he had taken to using his original wolf's-head cane from the show as a walking aid, no longer a memento, and though he tired easily, was happy to make the long journeys and oblige those original fans, still in awe of him four decades later.
Last July, Jonathan and some of his Dark Shadows co-stars flew to England, to film a cameo scene alongside Johnny Depp for the new Dark Shadows feature film. As Jonathan stood in the cavernous new Collinwood set built at Pinewood Studios, the new Barnabas – himself a schoolboy viewer of the original show – maybe summed it up best when he told his childhood hero "None of this would be here if it wasn't for you." Dark Shadows will be released in cinemas in a few short weeks, and it's truly fitting that Jonathan's final screen appearance both affirms and celebrates his most enduring role.
Jonathan was a humble man, at times self-effacing to the point of appearing brusque. I suspect he was baffled by the affection he commanded from his fans, and the reaction his death has received today would have probably astonished him. But quite simply, Jonathan Frid was adored. As a powerful figure in the childhoods of so many viewers – sometimes scared of him, but always entranced – those viewers held him dear long after Dark Shadows left the airwaves, making Jonathan and the character of Barnabas immortal.
In the coming days we'll be celebrating Jonathan's life and career with tributes and personal remembrances from friends and colleagues. In the meantime, on behalf of Dark Shadows fans worldwide, we would like to extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends.