Jonathan Frid
Credit: Getty Images

UPDATED: Johnny Depp comments below …

Just a few weeks before his most famous character was to be reborn, the original Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows has died.

Jonathan Frid, the Canadian actor who brought the suave bloodsucker to life on the 1966-71 gothic soap opera, passed away from natural causes on April 13 in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, according to MPI Home Video, which releases the Dark Shadows DVDs.

Dark Shadows inspired a generation of boys — Tim Burton and Johnny Depp among them — to become obsessed with a show originally aimed at their mothers. On May 11, Burton and Depp will debut their passion project: a big-screen version of the tale, with Depp taking on the role Frid originated.

Frid’s final screen role was a cameo as a party guest in the upcoming movie. “It’s a sad day,” Burton said in a statement. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan on the set this past spring. He left an indelible impression. Barnabas lives on!”

Depp recalled his affection for Frid’s performance, going back to when he was a kid. “His elegance and grace was an inspiration then and will continue to remain one forever more,” Depp said in a statement. “When I had the honor to finally meet him, as he so generously passed the torch of Barnabas to me, he was as elegant and magical as I had always imagined. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. The world has lost a true original.”

Before shooting last year, Depp told EW: “I do remember, very vividly, practically sprinting home from school in the afternoon to see Jonathan Frid play Barnabas Collins. Even then, at that age, I knew — this has got to be weird.

Frid’s costar on the series, Kathryn Leigh Scott, posted a heartfelt appreciation of the late actor. “I’m so grateful to have worked with Jonathan, and to have known him as the charismatic, entertaining, complex, and plain-spoken man that he was,” she wrote. “What fun we had working together! He was irascible, irreverent, funny, caring, lovable, and thoroughly professional.”

She described this encounter on the set of the movie, where she and other original Dark Shadows castmates reunited for the party scene: “I won’t ever forget the moment when the two Barnabas Collinses met, one in his late 80s and the other in his mid-40s, each with their wolf’s head canes. Jonathan took his time scrutinizing his successor’s appearance. “I see you’ve done the hair,’ Jonathan said to Johnny Depp, ‘but a few more spikes.’ Depp, entirely in character, replied, ‘Yes, we’re doing things a bit differently.'”

Born John Herbert Frid, the late actor served in the Canadian Navy during World War II, and enrolled in London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949. According to his official bio, he would go on to receive a master’s of fine arts degree in directing from the Yale School of Drama in 1957, though his career would focus mainly on acting. For many years before Dark Shadows, he worked doing theater and small TV roles.

Barnabas Collins was to be another one of those brief guest appearances, but the character became so popular that he evolved into the central focus of the program. For decades after, Frid would appear at conventions celebrating what has become known as one of the weirdest shows on television.

Frid did occasional theater work after the soap opera was canceled, and he appeared in the 1973 TV movie The Devil’s Daughter and starred in Oliver Stone’s directorial debut, 1974’s Seizure, but his next return to the screen would be his last — the cameo in Burton and Depp’s Dark Shadows.

(Additional reporting: Jeff Labrecque.)

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Dark Shadows
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