Freddie Prinze June 22,1954–January 29,1977 was a American comedian and actor.
He was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel at St. Clair's Hospital in New York New York, the son of Karl Pruetzel and Maria.
Freddie was raised in the Washington Heights section of New York. His father was of Hungarian Jewish descent and his mother was Puerto Rican Catholic. Ever the comic, Freddie invented the designation "Hungarican." But he self-identified as Puerto Rican.
For his budding career as a comedian, he changed his name to Prinze. He chose that because, according to his friend David Brenner, he 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. Although he came to view comedy as his calling, from an early age Freddie was interested in music. He took piano lessons and taught himself the guitar and drums (the latter he played in a band as a young teen).
His mother enrolled him in ballet classes because as a small child he was chubby. In addition, he had a little-known talent for singing, examples of which were heard in the background of the title song of the Tony Orlando and Dawn album "To Be With You" and in his appearances on their variety show, as well as on rare occasions in Prinze's own sitcom. He also wrote music, being paid--according to his mother's biography of him--$200 for one composition.
Freddie was educated first in a private Lutheran school (a religious compromise by his parents, though his mother took him to Mass on Sundays). Then, without telling his parents, he auditioned for and was accepted to Fiorello H.La Guardia High School of the Music and Art and Performing Arts, where among other subjects he was introduced to drama and continued to study ballet. This was also where he really found his gift for comedy--he would entertain crowds in the boys' restroom--and he quit school in his senior year to become a stand-up comedian.
He worked at several comedy clubs in New York City, including Catch a Rising Star and The Improv. In 1973, he made his first TV appearance on one of the last episodes of the Jack Paar Show. In December 1973, he had his biggest break on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Freddie was the first young comedian to be asked to sit down and chat with Carson on his first appearance. He was to appear on, as well as guest host, The Tonight Show on numerous occasions after that.
From 1974 to 1977, he starred as Francisco "Chico" Rodriguez in the NBC TV series Chico and the Man with Jack Albertson. Both Prinze and the show were an instant hit. Popular with the ladies, he dated actresses Lisa Farringer, and Pam Grier, among others. He was also good friends with Kitty Bruce, daughter of the late Lenny Bruce. Freddie admired Lenny Bruce's style of comedy. He and Kitty Bruce were reported to have been engaged to be married at one time, but the rumor was never substantiated.
He married Katherine Cochran in October 1975. They had one son, Freddie James Prinze (born March 8, 1976), who received his middle name for James Komack, producer of Chico and the Man, and is now known as actor Freddie Prinze Jr.
Freddie Prinze made several appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, most notably at the roasts for Sammy Davis Jr and Muhammad Ali. He made a few other TV appearances as well, including on the Tony Orlando and Dawn Show.
In 1976, he starred in a made-for-TV movie, The Million Dollar Rip-Off. Also in 1975, he released a comedy album that was taped live at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago titled Loooking Goood—his catch phrase from Chico and the Man.
Because Freddie was juggling his TV show and numerous guest appearances, including a successful stand-up career in nightclubs—particularly in LasVegas—his doctors had prescribed Methaqualude to help him cope with the pressure.
In 1976, he was arrested for DUI for being under the influence of Methaqualone. His wife, Kathy Cochran, filed for divorce on the grounds that his escalating dependence on the drugs was endangering her and their son. Friends were to have said later that this hurt him very deeply.
After his split from Cochran, his addiction toQuaaludes and Cocaine spun out of control. On January 28,1977, under the influence of Quaaludes and despondent over his impending divorce and a failing lawsuit with a former manager, he put a gun to his head in the presence of his business manager, Dusty Snyder, and pulled the trigger. After 33 hours in a coma with irreversible brain damage, Prinze's family made the decision to take him off of life support. He died moments later, at the age of 22.
Years later, with the help of the Los Angeles county coroner, his mother, Maria Pruetzel, was able to have the verdict of suicide overturned and changed to "accidental shooting due to the influence of Quaaludes". This change in verdict was due in large part to the fact that Freddie was in the habit of playing with a gun, often faking suicide attempts to frighten his friends to his amusement. It is speculated by some people that the night he took his own life, he was either not thinking straight, due to the influence of the drugs, and did not realize what he was doing, or that he thought the safety on the gun was on, as in his other attempts at fatalistic humor.
He did leave 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, something suicides rarely do, it gave enough weight to the argument that he really was not planning on to take his own life that night.
His death still remains a mystery, if not in the fact of the death, at least in the motive. He had just signed a large deal to perform in Las Vegas and his TV show was still garnering good ratings. Weighing against that was the depression brought on by his failing litigation with his former manager and the pending divorce with his wife. The Quaaludes only served to heighten that depression. The true motive appears to be buried with Freddie in his crypt atForest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetary . One thing is for certain, according to those who knew him, Freddie's fast track to fame was his eventual undoing.
He was mourned by all who knew him, family, friends and fans alike. Today, his son Freddie Prinze Jr carries on the family name with a successful career as a movie actor.
In 2001, the TVLand Cable network began showing reruns of Chico and the Man. The show became popular once more and gained a whole new generation of fans for Prinze and the show, as well as rekindling the interest of old fans. Later the show was canceled, although it still shows up occasionally on TV Land specials.
A possible motive for Prinze's suicide (despite the later court ruling to the contrary) was because the night before Freddie died, a temporary restraining order had been issued preventing him from seeing his child. Early the next morning he began making a series of goodbye phone calls indicating his intent to take his life.
Freddie phoned his mother and stasted "I love you very much, but I can't go on. I need to find peace." He then phoned his wife Kathy Cochran and stated "I love you, Kathy, I love the baby, but I need to find peace. I can't go on." A suicide note found at the scene stated "I must end it. There's no hope left. I'll be at peace. No one had anything to do with this. My decision totally-Freddie Prinze. P.S. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Dusty's here. He's innocent. He cared."
In 1982, Prinze's widow and son received a settlement of nearly one million dollars to settle malpractice suits against Freddie's psychiatrist and internist for overprescribing quaaludes.
In 1983, the Prinze family received a life insurance payout was issued after a jury decided that Freddie was acting under the influence of drugs when he was playing with the gun, and it accidentally went off, 9 years after he died.
Correction: the Prinze life insurance lawsuit was settled six years later. Sympathy may have played a greater part in the jury's decision, considering the circumstances.
Noted: Prinze was alive after the shooting, and evidently conscious, before the decision to remove life support. (Freddie gripped his mother's hand strongly after surgery, Page 34, the Freddie Prinze Story, by Maria Pruetzel and John A. Barbour, 1978, Master's Press)
Also noted: Jack Albertson (Ed Brown on 'Chico and the Man') gave the eulogy at Freddie Prinze's funeral, "We will see Freddie again," finishing his speech in tears, at Old North Church, Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills. Freddie is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Tony Orlando also gave a eulogy at the funeral. (Feb. 1, 1977)
Last Appearances January 19, 1977 Presidential Inaugural Ball (Televised) January 27, 1977 Chico and the Man Episode # 62 Ed Talks With God (Airdate: March 4, 1977. 3 Following Episodes Were Without Prinze).
In January 2001 TVLand began airing episodes of Chico and the Man after a Fandamodium weekend honoring the hit 70's comedy Chico and the Man.
November of 2004 Freddie was honored on the Hollywood Walk of fame. Family, friends and fans of Freddie Prinze paid tribute to Freddie on that special day as Freddie Prinze Jr emotionally accepted the Hollywood Walk of Fame award on behalf of his father. Also in November of 2004 The GoodLife Network began to air uncut episodes of Chico and the Man each week every Saturday night