Freddie 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 NBC-TV sitcom Chico and the Man. He is the father of the actor Freddie Prinze Jr.
Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel in New York City, the son of Edward Karl Pruetzel (1914-1979) and his wife Maria Graniela Pruetzel (1918-1994). His mother was Puerto Rican and his father was a Hungarian immigrant who had arrived in the U.S. as a youth in 1934.
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 and sobriquet, 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 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 $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.
On December 14, 2004, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honored Prinze's contribution to the television industry with a star, located at 6755 Hollywood Boulevard.
Prinze married Katherine (Kathy) Elaine (Barber) Cochran on October 13, 1975, with whom he had one son, Freddie Prinze Jr., who was born March 8, 1976. Prinze was arrested for driving under the influence of Quaaludes on November 16, 1976. A few weeks later his wife filed for divorce.
Prinze had been romantically linked to actress Pamela Grier according to her as 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 wife's filing for 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. Prinze was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center to be placed on life support following emergency surgery. His 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 he had decided to take his life.
He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, near his father, Edward Karl Pruetzel.
His son, actor Freddie Prinze Jr., who was less than one year old when his father died, had not spoken publicly about it until he discussed it in detail for the first time in the documentary, Misery Loves Comedy (2015), directed by Kevin Pollak.
Prinze's mother wrote a book about her son, The Freddie Prinze Story (1978).
Can You Hear the Laughter: The Story of Freddie Prinze (September 1979) is a TV biopic.
Prinze's life and death were a focal point of one of the storylines in the movie Fame (1980), 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 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 received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on December 14, 2004. Actor/Comedian George Lopez has acknowledged that he personally paid the $10,000 induction fee for Prinze's Star.
In 2001, TV Land began showing reruns of Chico and the Man.