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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 sitcom Chico and the Man. He is the father of actor Freddie Prinze, Jr..

Early life

Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel at St. Clair's Hospital in New York City, 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 Washington Heights a very mixed neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York City. He began his education at a private Lutheran school, in a religious compromise by his parents (his mother took him to Catholic Mass on Sundays). 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.

Career

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 The Jack Paar Show. 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 show to perform his comic routine. From 1974 to 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 prior to his death, Prinze had signed a multi-year deal with NBC worth US$6 million over five years.

Upon 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.

Personal life

Prinze married Katherine Cochran in October 1975, with whom he had one son, future actor Freddie Prinze, Jr. In 1976, after his arrest for driving under the influence of quaaludes, his wife filed for divorce on the grounds that his escalating drug dependence was endangering their son.

Death

Prinze suffered from depression, and on January 28, 1977, shot himself with a small semi-automatic pistol after talking on the telephone with his estranged wife. His business manager, Marvin "Dusty" Snyder, tried to intervene, but Prinze shot himself in the head, and 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. He was 22.

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 with attempts to frighten his friends for his amusement. He had left a note stating that the decision to take his life was his alone.

Legacy

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, 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 Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and 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. In 2001, TV Land began showing reruns of Chico and the Man.

See also

Biography portal

Puerto Rico portal

List of Puerto Ricans,

German immigration to Puerto Rico