Pop Culture

Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins in 'Dark Shadows' show, dead at 87

Everett Collection / Today
Jonathan Frid in "Dark Shadows."

Actor Jonathan Frid, who played imposing and elegant vampire Barnabas Collins on the gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows," has died at 87. Frid passed away on April 14 from natural causes in his native Ontario.

"Dark Shadows" ran from 1966 to 1971, drawing 20 million viewers at its peak. Frid joined the show in 1967 and his character, an elegant vampire recently freed from his chained coffin and returning to his family's estate, Collinwood, quickly became the unquestioned star.

Frid's "Dark Shadows" co-star, Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans and Josette du Pres, remembered Frid on her website.

"May Jonathan Frid, 'our reluctant vampire,' live on in our hearts!" Scott wrote. "How blessed I am to have known this dear man and to have such wonderful memories of him, both on screen and off."

"He was irascible, irreverent, funny, caring, lovable and thoroughly professional, and in the end became the whole reason why kids ran home from school to watch 'Dark Shadows,'" Scott wrote.

As recently as Feb. 7, Frid was posting photos and diary entries on his website.

Frid also starred in "Dial M for Murder" and "Murder in the Cathedral," among other movie roles, and he starred on Broadway and on tour in a popular revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace." But it was as Barnabas that he is best known, thanks in large part to the show's undeniable cult status and regular fan conventions that also serve as cast reunions.

The show originally ran in black and white, and was noted for its mix of gothic romance, supernatural horror elements, and occasional camp. Classic flubs often made it on the air, including boom microphones or stagehands visible in scenes.

Frid makes a cameo in the big-screen comedy based loosely on the series. That film, which stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas, will be released May 11.

Scott, who also cameos in the film, writes on her website about the June 2011 filming: "I won't ever forget the moment when the two Barnabas Collinses met, one in his late 80s and the other in his mid-40s, each with their wolf's head canes. Jonathan took his time scrutinizing his successor's appearance. 'I see you've done the hair,' Jonathan said to Johnny Depp, 'but a few more spikes."

Photos revealing Depp's face smeared with white makeup and a trailer where he delivers comedic lines about finding himself in the 1970s upset some fans, who wanted a more serious homage to the show.  

But Scott said Frid and the other original cast members had no problem with the film's take.

"(We all understood that) Johnny Depp and (director) Tim Burton would make what we originated 45 years ago their own -- as well they should," she wrote. "But what a treat that those of us who were part of creating the world of 'Dark Shadows' should be invited to participate in the new film and to carry on the legacy."

Were you a fan of Frid and the original "Dark Shadows"? Will you see the film? Tell us on Facebook.

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