Freddie Prinze (June 22, 1954 – January 29, 1977) was an American actor and stand-up comedian. He was best known as the star of Chico and the Man. He was the father of actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel at St. Clair's Hospital in New York City, the son of Maria Graniela Pruetzel and Edward Karl Pruetzel. His mother was Puerto Rican, and his father, a Hungarian of Lutheran and Jewish backgrounds, immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1934. He identified himself as Puerto Rican, and for comedic purposes called himself a "Hungarican."
Prinze was raised in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York City. He began his education at a private Lutheran school, in a religious compromise by his parents (his mother took him to Catholic mass on Sundays). When Prinze was a small child, his mother enrolled him in ballet classes to deal with his weight problem. Without telling his parents, Prinze successfully auditioned for the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, where he was introduced to drama and continued ballet—and where he discovered his gift for comedy while entertaining crowds in the boys restroom. He was also a small time hustler and drug dealer in his neighborhood of 157th Street and Broadway. He dropped out of school in his senior year to become a stand-up comedian.
Prinze worked at several comedy clubs in New York City, including The Improv and Catch a Rising Star where he introduced himself to audiences as a "Hungarican" (part Hungarian, part Puerto Rican). For the sake of his budding comedic career, he changed his surname to "Prinze," which he chose because, according to his friend David Brenner, he originally wanted to be known as the King of comedy, but Alan King already had that last name, so he would be the Prince of comedy instead.
During 1973, he made his first television appearance on one of the last episodes of The Jack Paar Show. In December 1973, his biggest break came with an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Prinze was the first young comedian to be asked to have a sit-down chat with Carson on his first appearance. (Prinze appeared on and guest hosted The Tonight Show on several other occasions). He also appeared on the Midnight Special show to perform his comic routine. From 1974 to 1977, Prinze starred as Francisco "Chico" Rodriguez in the NBC TV series Chico and the Man with Jack Albertson. The show was an instant hit.
Prinze made several appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, most notably at the roasts for Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali. In 1975, he released a comedy album that was taped live at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago titled Looking Good—his catch phrase from Chico and the Man. In 1976, he starred in a made-for-TV movie, The Million Dollar Rip-Off.
Prinze had a little-known talent for singing, examples of which could be heard in the background of the title song of the Tony Orlando and Dawn album To Be With You, in his appearances on their variety show, and on rare occasions on his own sitcom.
About four months prior to his death, Prinze had signed a multi-year deal with NBC worth $6 million over five years. In the months before he died, he had a strong fixation on how John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He also developed an obsession with the film Taxi Driver, viewing it repeatedly.
Upon becoming wealthy, Prinze took martial arts lessons from Robert Wall, a student of Bruce Lee who appeared in Enter the Dragon and Return of the Dragon. Soon after, Wall became godfather to Prinze's newborn son Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Prinze married Katherine Cochran in October 1975, with whom he had one son, future actor Freddie Prinze, Jr. In 1976, after his arrest for driving under the influence of quaaludes, his wife filed for divorce on the grounds that his escalating drug dependence was endangering her and their son.
During the early morning hours of January 28, 1977, after receiving a restraining order from his ex-wife the previous evening, Prinze, who occasionally told friends that "life isn't worth living," made a series of farewell phone calls to family, friends and management from his hotel room at the Beverly Comstock Hotel (above, renamed Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel). His business manager, Marvin "Dusty" Snyder, was alarmed after receiving one of the calls and rushed over to Prinze's room. When Snyder arrived, Prinze continued his rueful phone calls, telling his mother "Mom, I love you very much, but I can't go on. I need to find peace." Snyder called Prinze's psychologist from the next room about what was happening, but the psychologist insisted that Prinze was in no actual danger. Snyder returned to Prinze, who supposedly called his ex-wife and said "I love you, Kathy. I love the baby, but I need to find peace. I can't go on."
After the call, Prinze pulled out a gun from the sofa. Snyder tried to intervene, but Prinze shot himself in the head, and was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center to be placed on life support following emergency surgery. Prinze's family removed him from life support, and he died at 1:00 pm on January 29. He was 22 years of age.
In 1977, the death was ruled a suicide. In a civil case brought years later, a jury found that his death was accidental. Prinze had a history of playing with guns, faking suicide attempts to frighten his friends for his amusement. He had left a note stating that the decision to take his life was his alone, but because he pulled the trigger in the presence of a witness —it gave enough weight to the argument that he really was not planning to take his own life that night.
Freddie Prinze is entombed at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills in the Court of Remembrance, Sanctuary of Light.
Freddie Prinze was a focal point of one of the storylines in the movie Fame set in Prinze's alma mater Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. The character of Ralph Garcy (stage name for Raul Garcia) played by Barry Miller speaks often of growing up with Prinze and seeing him as the local neighborhood hero. Prinze's death affects him profoundly, and Garcy credits the event with inspiring his own career. He says he is doing it "for Freddie." Later, Garcy's stand-up career shows similar promise, followed by depression, drugs, and ultimately near self-destruction. The character of Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy) in one scene screams at Garcy, saying he is not Freddie, and he does not have to do (self-destructive behaviors) just because Freddie did them.
Prinze also received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame a few decades after his death. In 2001, TV Land began showing reruns of Chico and the Man.
1.^ Nordheimer, Jon (1977-01-29). "Freddie Prinze". The New York Times.
2.^ Maeder, Jay (1999-06-09). "FREDDIE PRINZE EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD". New York Daily News.
3.^ "Freddie Prinze". The Fresno Bee Republican. 1975-07-25.
4.^ Lester, David (1993). Understanding Suicide: A Case Study Approach. Michigan: Nova Science Publishers. pp. 103. ISBN 1560721499.
5.^ Nordheimer, Jon. "Freddie Prinze Wounded in Head; Police Say TV Star Shot Himself; PRINZE, THE TV STAR, IS WOUNDED IN HEAD", The New York Times, January 29, 1977. Accessed June 11, 2008.
6.^ "Freddie Prinze: Too Much, Too Soon". Time Magazine. February 7, 1977.
7.^ The Show Must Go on: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television By Douglas Snauffer, Joel Thurm. Mcfarland press. p. 74.