Jonathan Frid, Dark Shadows’ Original Barnabas, Dies at 87

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Jonathan Frid

Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins was only meant to be a visitor to Collinsport, Maine, the town depicted in gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. His enthralling portrayal turned Barnabas from a supporting character into the show’s star and Frid into a somewhat reluctant heartthrob.  He got more than 5,000 fan letters a week at the peak of the show’s popularity. The Canadian actor died April 13th at age 87,  just a month before Johnny Depp will take on the role of Barnabas in a big screen adaptation.

Frid has a cameo in the movie, officially passing the torch on to Depp. Like most soap operas, Dark Shadows‘ target audience was supposed to be women. But the show’s fantasy, horror and sci-fi trappings attracted a dedicated legion of male fans as well.  The upcoming film happened because Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were among those fans. Depp told Entertainment Weekly he would sprint home to see each day’s episode.

In addition to vampires, the show dealt with parallel universes, time travel and numerous otherworldly circumstances. Because it ran in the format of a daytime drama, the ABC show was able to do far more episodes than any other fantasy or sci-fi show would have been given.

Even more mainstream soaps would come to mix the supernatural into their cycle of kidnappings and paternity tests. Days of Our Lives featured a demonic possession storyline with its popular Marlena Evans character. One Life to Live (perhaps not coincidentally on ABC) took its love story between Clint Buchanan and Victoria Lord on a time-traveling jaunt through the Old West.

Much of this is thanks to Frid. Trained in the Shakespearean style, he brought a tragic vulnerability to Barnabas Collins. The vampires previously seen in pop culture were hideous creatures about as likely to play the romantic lead as The Wolfman would be. Barnabas was seeking a way to reincarnate his lost love Josette.  Along the way he realized that without love, eternal life is more curse than blessing. Frid’s Collins was the cultural bridge that took us from Nosferatu to characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Angel or Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

Nothing quite like Dark Shadows had ever appeared on TV before, and there’s been nothing quite like it since. Attempts are remaking the show for TV have stalled, again proving just how unique Frid and his Barnabas Collins were. The Depp-Burton remake, featuring Frid’s cameo as a party guest, opens May 11, 2012.

Read [Entertainment Weekly]


Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series (Deluxe Edition)
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