Thursday, April 19, 2012
Vampires are immortal. We are not.
Jonathan Frid has passed away. To say that he'll be missed and that he made an indelible contribution to pop culture goes without saying. But he was also a damn wonderful human being and the light in the world is just a bit dimmer without him. I know that, because I had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions over the last few decades.
A gifted Shakespearean actor, Jonathan had a commanding presence. On stage he was charming, explosive, complex, and yes, even funny at times. On both the small and silver screens, he made audiences cry, shiver, and shake. But to a young geek looking still looking for a way to turn awkward dreams into confident realities, Jonathan--and specifically his portrayal of Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS--changed my life forever.
I can remember identifying with the way Jonathan's character on the show was always an outsider, always looking to connect with his family. With modern times. With the changing world around him. But always doomed to fail. As a quiet African-American kid obsessed with horror, sci-fi, and comic books who moved constantly due to my father's military status, I grew up constantly on the outside of things. I found myself always looking in at the settled lives of those around me, kids who'd known each other since the cradle. Families who were lucky enough to have generation upon generation living within a stone's throw of them. Folks who were part of whole communities that supported each other. But I was constantly the new kid, always feeling out of place. Out of time. Yeah, other kids might have had Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones for heroes, and that's cool. But those icons were never outsiders like Barnabas and me. Which is why their stories never touched me as deeply as those experienced by Barnabas and the rest of the insanely nutty Collins family.
So imagine in 1986 when I had the opportunity to met Jonathan for the first time. I was both elated and terrified. Still just a kid, my DARK SHADOWS obsession was beginning to fully blossom. What would meeting my hero be like? What if he was a jerk? What if he didn't show up? (I was attending my very first DS convention in Dallas, TX at the time). What if he refused to sign my 8 x 10 photo from the 1897 flashback because he hated that storyline and really liked the 1795 flashback better? With all these thoughts rattling in my head, I waited in line several hours until it was time for a brief meeting and quick autograph. Kinda a long wait, right? What was taking so long? Well, to my complete delight, I quickly discovered that the reason for the long wait was that Jonathan was really interacting with the fans, taking his time... getting to know folks as best as you could given the circumstances... and really making us feel welcome.
Wait a minute, making us feel welcome? This guy's the big shot star. Why's he being so nice?
Well, that was Jonathan. He cared about life, about people, about his craft, and most importantly, about sharing his compassion for everything with the world. This was a man who was not just a generous actor, but a generous human being. I only spent about five minutes with Jonathan that first time. And over the years, I was only able to chat with him on brief occasions. But when I did, no matter how much either he or I changed, his compassion and kindness remained. This is how I will always remember Jonathan. Even moreso than my favorite DS episodes or his wonderful dramatic readings at the yearly DS conventions I've now been attending for 26 years. I will just remember his friendly face, and smile, and cool voice, and oh-so-wonderfully-human spirit. So, yes. It's true that unlike the undead, the living are not immortal. But there is another thing I'm also sure of.
The compassion we leave behind in this world surely is.