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Dark Shadows 'vampire' Jonathan Frid dies at 87

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TORONTO -- Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, who starred as the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins in the enduring campy gothic TV soap series Dark Shadows and its 1970 spinoff film, has died.

He died in the early morning of April 14, his nephew, Donald Frid, said Thursday. He died of natural causes in his sleep at Juravinski Hospital in his native city of Hamilton, said Frid's former colleagues, noting his health had been declining recently. He was 87.

"Jonathan brought the whole vampire thing to the masses in a vulnerable way for the first time," said Jim Pierson, who knew Frid and represents Dan Curtis Productions, which created and produced the Dark Shadows series.

At Frid's request, there was no funeral and there will be no memorial service, said Pierson.

"He really was kind of a no-fuss guy," he said.

"He just loved acting. He was definitely more into the art than the fame but he was very good with the fans."

As blood-sucker Barnabas on ABC's cult classic Dark Shadows, Frid brought a new dimension to the role of the vampire in popular culture. Instead of portraying him as a marauding, monstrous creature, a la Dracula, Frid injected him with depth and a tragic sense of regret for his immortal existence.

"Now that idea has been taken many times since -- Twilight uses it, shows like True Blood, Buffy -- which again I think shows the influence Dark Shadows has had," said Stuart Manning, editor of the online Dark Shadows News Page who worked with Frid as a writer on the 2010 Dark Shadows audio drama spinoff, The Night Whispers.

"Jonathan said many times during his life that he really wanted to play against the evil when they wrote Barnabas. He didn't want him to be just a thug ... and he, I think, invested him with shades of regret, a great deal of emotion, and I think that's really why the character affected particularly the young audience so much."

His portrayal of Barnabas even had an impact on Johnny Depp, who plays the same character in the upcoming Dark Shadows film that's directed by Tim Burton and features a cameo from Frid.

The youngest of three sons, Frid served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. After graduating from McMaster University, he got a degree in directing at the Yale School of Drama and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

Frid starred in various theatre productions with illustrious actors including Katharine Hepburn. But it was his turn in Dark Shadows and its first feature film adaptation, House of Dark Shadows, that made him a commercial success and kept him busy throughout his career with reunions, fan events and dramatic readings.

"The show reached 20 million people at its peak in 1969," said Pierson. "A lot of kids watched the show after school, as well as the housewives."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2012 G2

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