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SYFY WIRE Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows veteran John Karlen dies at 86

By Jacob Oller
John Karlen In Daughters Of Darkness Getty

Prolific TV character actor and recurring Dark Shadows veteran John Karlen has died at age 86. Karlen, who won his Emmy for playing Harvey Lacey on Cagney & Lacey, died of congestive heart failure on Wednesday, the Associated Press confirmed.

The actor’s genre fans likely know him best for his portrayal of Willie Loomis, the catalytic con-man-turned-vampire-servant that kicks off the supernatural events of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. Karlen played multiple characters (like Carl and Desmond Collins and Kendrick Young) over the course of his four-year, 180+ episode run on the show, which even translated into film roles.

Karlen reprised his role as Loomis in the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows and played Alex Jenkins in its sequel Night of Dark Shadows. Between these, however, the actor was the male lead in Harry Kümel’s erotic cult vampire film Daughters of Darkness. Like anybody who's anybody in the world of genre, B-movie host Joe Bob Briggs had an anecdote about him — specifically, one featuring Karlen on the set of Daughters of Darkness:

Not to be typecast, Karlen continued guest starring across various TV shows — like Shazam!, Charlie's Angels, and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries — and films — like 1984 sci-fi Impulse.

Karlen’s final performances were reprising one of his most beloved roles in a series of mid-’90s Cagney & Lacey TV movies.