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Prinze in 1975
|Birth name||Frederick Karl Pruetzel|
June 22, 1954|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 29, 1977
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Subject(s)||Race relations, racism, recreational drug use|
|Spouse||Kathy Elaine (Barber) Prinze (1975–1977; his death; 1 child)|
|Notable works and roles||Chico Rodriguez
on Chico and the Man
Freddie James Prinze (born Frederick Karl Pruetzel; June 22, 1954 – January 29, 1977) was an American actor and stand-up comedian. Prinze was the star of 1970s sitcom Chico and the Man. He was also the father of the actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel in New York City, the son of Edward Karl Pruetzel and his wife Maria Graniela Pruetzel. His mother was Puerto Rican and his father was a German immigrant who had arrived in the U.S. in 1934. Prinze identified himself as Puerto Rican, and for comedic purposes called himself a "Hungarican."
Prinze was raised in a mixed neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York City. When Prinze was a small child, his mother enrolled him in ballet classes to deal with a 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 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 Jack Paar Tonite. 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 to perform his comic routine. From 1974 until his death in 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.
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 Kathy Elaine (Barber) Cochran in October 1975, with whom he had one son, the future actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.. On November 16, 1976, Prinze was arrested for driving under the influence of Quaaludes. A few weeks later, his wife filed for divorce on the grounds that his escalating drug dependence was endangering their son, who was only nine months old.
Prinze suffered from depression, which deepened in the weeks following his divorce. On the night of January 28, 1977, after talking on the telephone with his estranged wife, Prinze received a visit from his business manager, Marvin "Dusty" Snyder. With his manager looking on, Prinze put a gun to his head and shot himself. He 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 p.m. on January 29.
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 russian roulette to frighten his friends for his amusement. However, Prinze had left a note stating that the decision to take his life was his alone.
Prinze's mother wrote a book about her son, The Freddie Prinze Story, which was published in 1978. In September 1979, the TV movie Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze, was premiered.
Prinze's life and death were a focal point of one of the storylines in the movie Fame set in Prinze's alma mater, LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. The character 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 Prinze with inspiring his own career; he says he is doing it "for Freddie". Later, as Garcy's stand-up career shows similar promise, he falls into a depression and drug use as Prinze had, nearly destroying himself. The character Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy) in one scene screams at Garcy that he is not Freddie, and he does not have to be self-destructive just because Freddie was.
- "Freddie Prinze Jr. - Articles". Ilovefreddie.com. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- "Freddie Prinze Jr . com". Freddieprinzejr.com. Retrieved 2010-03-18.
- Nordheimer, Jon (1977-01-29). "Freddie Prinze". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
- "Freddie Prinze". The Fresno Bee Republican. 1975-07-25. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
- Lester, David (1993). Understanding Suicide: A Case Study Approach. Michigan: Nova Science Publishers. p. 103. ISBN 1-56072-149-9.
- 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.
- "Freddie Prinze: Too Much, Too Soon". Time Magazine. February 7, 1977. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
- The Show Must Go on: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television By Douglas Snauffer, Joel Thurm. McFarland press. p. 74.
- Appelo, Tim (January 27, 1995). "The Lost Prinze of Comedy – EW.com". Entertainment Weekly.
- "The Museum of Broadcast Communications". Museum.tv. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
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