Jonathan Frid Remembered
Written by Jessica Dwyer
Jonathan Frid has left us. It’s hard for those of us left behind when we lose an icon or a hero because we don’t understand how they are in fact gone. Legends and characters don’t ever truly disappear or leave us…so when we hear that one has we don’t believe it. We can turn on a TV or look at a screen of some kind and see them walking and talking and alive. And yet we know the source of that wonder, of that magic has been taken away, and we are left with only that magic. And that is truly a gift, even if right now it’s a bittersweet one.
Jonathan Frid didn’t care for vampires or the horror genre particularly. But don’t hold that against him. He was an actor who had been trained in Shakespeare. He took the role of Barnabas Collins to fund a move from New York to Hollywood where he hoped to get some major roles and to show his ability to its fullest. But thanks to that very ability Frid was bound to Dark Shadows and the vampire which he wasn’t himself a fan of forever. A few week stint wound up lasting a few years and longer in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere.
Frid didn’t go into the role of Barnabas knowing much about the mythology or preconceived notions of what the creatures should be like. And so he created something unique along with series head Dan Curtis, a heroic vampire…a tortured and sympathetic man who only wanted love and acceptance. He brought a gothic grand style with the tragedy of a major Shakespearian character to daytime soaps. And he pulled it off with elegance and a voice that still held the power to hypnotize, right up towards the end of his life. I dare you to listen to the audio drama of “The Night Whispers” and not say I’m right.
Johnny Depp himself said today that Frid’s influence over him as a child helped shape him into the actor he is today. The way he carried himself and the character he brought to that role had never really been seen before, and all the romanticized and tortured vampires and dark heroes to come after owe more than a little to the man with the caped coat and cane.
Jonathan Frid had a distinction among many of the Dark Shadows cast as he only played two characters in the series. The second was one of the very last to be seen on the show, and Frid was the motivator for the part which was the Dark Shadows equivalent of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. It allowed Frid to show more of his talents and was his last hurrah with the series as it came to a close.
He left the world of film and TV not long after, filming one TV movie (a horror one) called The Devil’s Daughter (which he didn’t speak in) and a feature horror film, Seizure directed by Oliver Stone (Stone’s first feature length directorial debut.) Frid went back to the stage, his home, and would stay there for the rest of his career and enjoy much success.
Even as he grew older Jonathan Frid never slowed down, keeping his website filled with dramatic readings, chats with fans, and all his comings and goings. For a long while he fought against the power of Dark Shadows and its influence on his life, Jonathan Frid did embrace it. He loved his fans and attended numerous Dark Shadows events. He was funny, kind, sometimes sarcastic, witty and a true character.
I like to think that Jonathan Frid knew exactly how much of an impact he had on a genre that might not have been his cup of tea, but meant so much to those of us that love it. Without Barnabas we wouldn’t have had all of those beautiful and amazing works that have come after him. The film Bram Stoker’s Dracula would never have been the tragic love story it was. Angel and Spike would never have been. Lestat would never have been dreamed into being. The list goes on and on.
It hurts right now. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. The man who helped inspire all of this is gone. But look at all that came after him, just think about it. We’ve got all that magic and all those memories and those aren’t ever going to fade. So tonight I’m going to curl up on the couch and I’m going to watch Jonathan Frid do what he did best. I’m going to watch him bring to life a character that will never ever die. And thanks to that magic, in a way, neither will he.
Thank you sir, you were a true gentleman.
The little girl in front of the TV.