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|Also Known As:||John Herbert Frid||Died:||April 13, 2012|
|Born:||December 2, 1924||Cause of Death:||Natural Causes|
|Birth Place:||Hamilton, Ontario, CA||Profession:||Cast ... actor|
A classically trained actor and graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Jonathan Frid built an acclaimed theatrical career in Canada, England and the United States. Despite his impressive and varied stage roles, he became most famous for playing the conflicted vampire Barnabas Collins on the Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows" (ABC, 1966-1971). Although he only intended to play the role briefly, Frid's iconic turn as the deadly but desperately unhappy Collins took the world by storm and helped make the series a beloved cult favorite. Yielding a big-screen hit, "House of Dark Shadows" (1970), the series proved so popular that several remakes were later attempted even years later - most notably the Tim Burton big-screen love letter "Dark Shadows" (2012) that cast Johnny Depp as Collins and featured Frid in a cameo. After "Shadows," Frid returned to the quieter life of a stage actor, eventually retiring back to his native Canada, where he died of natural causes on April 13, 2012. Although he built an amazing theatrical career as a working actor, Jonathan Frid was most beloved for his highly influential turn as a vampire struggling with his soul, and the impact of his compelling portrayal remained evident decades later, changing the genre forever.
Born Dec. 2, 1924 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, John Herbert Frid began his acting career in school productions before joining the local Hamilton Players Guild and enrolling in McMaster University to study his craft. After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, Frid returned to McMaster University to head its drama society before graduating in 1948. The following year, he earned acceptance into London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. While in England, he also gained invaluable professional experience with multiple repertory companies, and upon his return to Canada, continued to tour in productions. Building an impressive reputation as a theatrical and radio performer in Canada, Frid moved to the United States in 1954 to enroll in the Yale School of Drama.
Although he earned his master's in directing, he found more success as an actor, performing in many of the school's productions and then in multiple regional productions, including the American Shakespearean Festival in Connecticut, where he played opposite Katharine Hepburn. Honing his craft in productions all around the United States, Frid became an actor-in-residence for Penn State University in 1965 before continuing his journeyman actor life and searching for a fulltime teaching position. Fate intervened, however, when he was cast in the star-making role of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins on the quirky Gothic soap "Dark Shadows" (ABC, 1966-1971). Originally accepting the role on the conditions that it would be a brief turn that would finance Frid's trip to California to accept a teaching post, the actor made such an impression as the tormented Collins that he immediately achieved cult stardom and the role was not only extended but became the very heart of "Dark Shadows" and its most memorable element.
Masterfully playing both sides of Collins - vulnerable and damned as well as menacing and evil - Frid's portrayal revitalized the vampire ideal for a new generation, and it would be felt decades later in the genre's subsequent flashpoints, including the similarly brooding beauty Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) from the "Twilight" (2008) franchise. Such was the charisma of Frid's performance that even non-horror fans fell prey to the dark glamour of Barnabas Collins. The show even spun off a hit feature film, "House of Dark Shadows" (1970). After his run on the hit series ended, Frid returned to Broadway and theatrical productions, but made time to appear in a pair of horror-tinged projects: the made-for-TV movie "The Devil's Daughter" (ABC, 1972) and Oliver Stone's directorial debut, "Seizure" (1974), which cast him in the lead role as a horror novelist tormented by his own creations. As with many cult icons who become so identified with their characters in the public eye, Frid found it difficult to escape the long "Shadows" of Collins, and he attempted to retire from acting for good.
The lure of his trade was too strong, however, and he returned to theatrical productions as well as beginning his own series of touring workshops and one-man shows. He delighted fans by appearing at "Dark Shadows" conventions, embarked on a well-received national tour of "Arsenic and Old Lace," and finally made his directorial debut with a production of "The Lion in Winter," starring his "Dark Shadows" co-star Marie Wallace. He moved back to Canada in 1994 and retired from the public eye, but continued to perform locally and advocate for the theatrical arts, earning induction into his alma mater's hall of fame in 1998. So popular was the pull of "Dark Shadows," however, that over the years several reboots and re-imaginings had been attempted, with Ben Cross and then Alec Newman stepping into the formidable shoes of Barnabas Collins. The afterlife of the series received its biggest tip-of-the-hat with Tim Burton's lavish, campy valentine to the series, "Dark Shadows" (2012). Starring Johnny Depp as Collins, the delightfully shabby original series received the glossy big-screen treatment, as well as gifting Frid (and several of his former castmates) with a cameo.
Sadly, Jonathan Frid died of natural causes on April 13, 2012 in his hometown before the film was released, but his legacy lived on, both for his beloved Collins as work, as well as his lengthy and illustrious career in the theater. On her personal webpage, Frid's "Dark Shadows" co-star Kathryn Leigh Scott eulogized him beautifully: "I am so grateful to have worked with Jonathan and to have known him as the charismatic, entertaining, complex and plain spoken man that he was. What fun we had working together! 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.'"
By Jonathan Riggs
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