Nine Years After His Passing, a Tribute to the One-of-a-Kind Actor Who Became a Soap Sensation
Courtesy of the Everett Collection (3)
He never dreamed that his short-term daytime role would make him a superstar.
Jonathan Frid was, not to put too fine a point on it, the studious sort. The Ontario, Canada, native attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and earned a masters in directing from Yale.
And in 1967, he was preparing to continue down that scholarly path by moving from the East Coast to the West to become an acting teacher. He never got there, though. Instead, he wound up being cast by ABC’s then-struggling gothic soap opera Dark Shadows in what was intended to be the short-term role of vampire Barnabas Collins.
It turned out that the fresh blood — or at least the fresh blood-sucker — was exactly what the show needed. It became, if you’ll pardon the pun, a monster hit. And Frid? With his intensity and presence, he didn’t just become an overnight sensation, he became the kind of megastar whose face you couldn’t buy a basketful of groceries without seeing at the checkout counter.
Heck, though the leading man was in his 40s, he was even on the cover of teenybopper magazines — he was that big!
But as popular as the show was for a time, it was also often a hot mess. (Dark Shadows Every Day, a blog that’s as witty as it is insightful, can tell you all about that.) So it was only four years after Frid was sprung from Barnabas’ coffin that the soap was remanded to the daytime graveyard.
Life After Barnabas
A free agent once again, Frid worked on the stage (in, to name but one show, a Broadway production of Murder in the Cathedral) and screen (in Oliver Stone’s first film, Seizure). However, he’d never fully shake Barnabas’ cloak. Nor would he try to.
In the 1980s, he frequently attended fan conventions. In 2010, he played the ageless ghoul once again in the audio drama The Night Whispers. And in 2012, he made what would turn out to be his final film appearance, a cameo in Tim Burton’s abysmal Dark Shadows adaptation.
Of course, it wasn’t Frid’s fault that the movie was terrible.
One Final Mystery
When Frid passed away at age 87 in 2012 of pneumonia and complications following a fall, there was, perhaps fittingly, some confusion about the date. A number of outlets reported that he died on April 13, but it was actually the 14th. As his nephew told Macleans, a Friday the 13th death for a vampire’s portrayer “makes good press… [but] it’s good to get it right.”
On this bittersweet anniversary, revisit Collinwood, why don’t you, by perusing the below photo gallery, a collection of images from Dark Shadows‘ short but unforgettable run.