RIP Jonathan Frid: His Final Barnabas Collins Performance

A mere three weeks before the opening of the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of Dark Shadows, the original melancholy bloodsucker Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) has passed away. He was 87.

Frid and several other original cast members are said to play cameos in the new movie (judging by the ghastly trailer, those cameos may be the only thing worth seeing in the reboot).

Not long ago, I picked up a copy of a new audio play, The Night Whispers, featuring Frid finally playing Barnabas again, for the first time in nearly 40 years. The show also features John Karlen as Willie and 1990s revival series cast member Barbara Steele.

I have to admit I was quite startled at how ravaged Frid's voice was: not quite Jack Klugman-ravaged, but somewhat akin. It took almost half the show before my mind was able to reconcile that it was actually Jonathan Frid I was listening to.

That said, his performance is quite stellar – even the cadence sounds different than his younger self, but he eventually drew me into the story, or rather his series of reflective monologues, which is mostly what the CD contains. Karlen’s Willie is mainly there just to bounce dialogue off, and it’s comical when poor ol’ Willie tries to interject one of his own flashbacks (“Yeah, that reminds me of….”), only to have Barnabas cut him off with the impatience of someone who has very little time left to “share.”

At least he didn't resort to whacking Willie with his wolfhead cane yet again (nobody, but nobody, could beat their Willie like old Barney!)

Barbara Steele's character is basically a narrative utility here, albeit one lovely to listen to, especially compared to the hoarse (night)whispers of Karlen and Frid.

As Frid spoke, I couldn’t help but picture in my mind the rapidly-aged Barnabas of the FIRST DS feature film, House of Dark Shadows. Which was all the more off putting because his character here doesn’t appear to be late in his mortal life. He speaks of many hopeful things for the future, even tho he sounds for all the world like a man practice-reading his last will and testament.

All in all, it was a thrill to finally hear Jonathan Frid as Barnabas one more time. Though I’ve never felt the full weight of those 40 years quite so much as I did listening to him.

I'm hit even harder today after hearing news of his passing.

Here's my favorite fan-made "trailer" for the original Dark Shadows TV show, set to "Time is Running Out" by Muse:

More like this:


I don't think that is a "fan made" trailer... you can clearly see the SciFi logo on the bottom right corner. It's a shame that Frid passed a mere 3 weeks before the opening of the movie... I feel he probably would have been a Guest-of-Honor of some sort at the premiere.

It's fan-made, compiling clips from the Sci-Fi channel screenings of the show - that's why the network logo jumps around and zooms in and out, from assembling shots from different episodes and sometimes zooming in and out, to make the motions fit the beats of the music. The same fan posted several other DS vids, but this particular one is (IMHO) the best of the batch!

I've been a huge fan of Jonathan's Frid's Barnabas since I was a child. I even wrote a song looking to capture the deep and complex character of Barnabas. Let me know what you think. You can hear that here:

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