Freddie Prinze

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Freddie Prinze, Sr.
Freddie Prinze 1975.JPG
Prinze in 1975
Born Frederick Karl Pruetzel
(1954-06-22)June 22, 1954
New York, New York, U.S.
Died January 29, 1977(1977-01-29) (aged 22)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Suicide
Spouse(s) Kathy Elaine (Barber) Prinze (1975–1977; his death)
Children Freddie Prinze Jr.
Comedy career
Medium Stand-up, television
Years active 1973–1977
Genres Observational comedy
Subject(s) Race relations, racism, recreational drug use

Freddie James Prinze, Sr. (born Frederick Karl Pruetzel; June 22, 1954 – January 29, 1977) was an American actor and stand-up comedian. Prinze was the star of 1970s NBC-TV sitcom Chico and the Man. He was the father of the actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Early life[edit]

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. as a youth in 1934.[1][2]

Prinze was raised in a mixed neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York City.[3] 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.[citation needed] (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 September 1974 until his death in January 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 before his death, Prinze had signed a multi-year deal with NBC worth US$6 million over five years.

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.

In 2004, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honored Prinze's contribution to the television industry with a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Personal life[edit]

Prinze married Kathy Elaine (Barber) Cochran in October 1975, with whom he had one son, 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 infant son.

He was romantically linked to actress Pamela Grier. She recalls their relationship in chapter 19 of her autobiographical memoir, My Life in Three Acts.


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 Snyder looking on, Prinze put a gun to his head and shot himself.[4] 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.[citation needed]

In 1977, the death was ruled a suicide. In a civil case brought years later, a jury found that his death was accidental.[5] Prinze had a history of playing Russian roulette to frighten his friends for his amusement.[6] However, Prinze had left a note stating that he had decided to take his life.[7][8]

His son, actor Freddie Prinze, Jr., who was a year old at the time of his father's death, had not spoken publicly about it until he discussed it in detail for the first time in the 2015 documentary, Misery Loves Comedy, directed by Kevin Pollak.


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.

Prinze also received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame a few decades after his death. Actor/Comedian George Lopez has acknowledged that he personally paid for the $10,000 induction fee for Prinze's Star. In 2001, TV Land began showing reruns of Chico and the Man.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Freddie Prinze Jr. - Articles". Retrieved 2013-05-20. 
  2. ^ "Freddie Prinze Jr . com". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Freddie Prinze: Too Much, Too Soon". Time. February 7, 1977. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  5. ^ Snauffer, Douglas (July 23, 2008). The Show Must Go on: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television, McFarland press. p. 74. Archived at Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  6. ^ Appelo, Tim (January 27, 1995). "The tormented soul of Freddie Prinze". Entertainment Weekly. 
  7. ^ "The Museum of Broadcast Communications". Retrieved 2013-05-20. 
  8. ^ Wilkins, Frank. "The Suicide Death of Freddie Prinze". Reel Reviews. Retrieved May 23, 2015.

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