Prinze's mother was Puerto Rican and his father was of Hungarian Jewish descent, but Freddie self-identified as Puerto Rican--although for his comedy he invented the designation Hungarican.
Born Frederick Karl Pruetzel and raised in the Washington Heights section of New York City, he later changed his name to Frederico Carlos, the Spanish derivative of his name, and went by the name of Freddie Prinze. He chose the last name Prinze 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 this 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 LaGuardia High School of the 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 Club. In 1973, he made his first television 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 an 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 a score of different ladies including actresses Lisa Farringer, Raquel Welch and Pam Grier. 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.
In October 1975, he married Katherine Cochran, with whom he had a son, Freddie James (after James Komack, the producer of Chico and the Man)—now known as Freddie Prinze Jr.—in March 1976. He 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 television appearances as well, including on the Tony Orlando and Dawn Show. In 1975, he starred in a television movie, The Million Dollar Rip-Off. Also in 1975, he released a comedy album that was taped live at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago, Illinois, titled Loooking Goood—his catch phrase from Chico and the Man.
Because Freddie was juggling his television show and numerous guest appearances, including a successful stand-up career in nightclubs—particularly in Las Vegas—his doctors had prescribed Methaqualone 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 to Quaaludes 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, Freddie'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 didn't 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 wasn't planning on taking 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 at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery. 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 TV Land cable television 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.
Freddie Prinze Facts
|Birth Name||Frederick Karl Pruetzel|
|Birthday||June 22, 1954|
|Birthplace||New York, New York, USA|
|Date of death||January 29, 1977 (age 22)|
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