On this day in comedy on January 29, 1977 Comedian, Actor, Freddie James Prinze, Sr. died.
Born Frederick Karl Pruetzel on June 22, 1954 in New York City, the Puerto Rican / German was raised in a mixed neighborhood and took those diverse experiences to the stage as a comic. Prinze dropped out of school in his senior year, altered his Germany heritage to Hungarian and introduced himself to audiences as a “Hungarican” in New York comedy clubs like Catch A Rising Star and The Improv. He adopted the stage name of “Prinze” as a compromise to his original wish moniker of being the “King of Comedy”. Since that title was already taken (by Alan King) he settled for being known as the prince.
1973 was the year of Freddie Prinze. He made a memorable appearance on Jack Paar’s Tonite as the show was making its swan song and at the end of that year Prinze made history on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. After his rousing stand-up set he was bestowed with every young comedian’s dream – he was invited to sit down on the couch and chat it up with Johnny. Wow!!! This was on his very first appearance. He knocked it out of the park on The Midnight Special right after that and the industry took notice.
Freddie Prinze was cast by NBC to star in their new sitcom, Chico and the Man. His co-star was veteran entertainer, Jack Albertson. The show was another NBC hit and Prinze was another NBC star; that carried perks. Prinze was hired numerous times for The Dean Martin Roasts (Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis, Jr.), starred in the TV movie, The Million Dollar Rip-Off and since they liked him NBC signed Prinze to a five year deal worth $6 million. He also dropped his comedy album, Looking Good, during this time.
The career side of Freddie Prinze’s life was outwardly ideal and it was assumed his personal life was as well. He was rich, had a new bride and a healthy baby son (future actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.). What wasn’t known outwardly was that Prinze suffered from depression and was addicted to drugs. This put a strain on his erstwhile perceived storybook existence and the marriage ended abruptly following an arrest (Prinze was driving under the influence of Quaaludes). So with his wife and child out of his life Prinze sunk further into a depressed funk and on January 28, 1977 he put a revolver to his head and committed suicide; dying 33 hours after the fatal wound. He left a note behind blaming no one but himself. He also left an unfulfilled promise and a legacy of brief comedy brilliance.
The life and times of Freddie Prinze have been explored in a book (The Freddie Prinze Story) and film (Can You Hear the Laughter? – the Story of Freddie Prinze). In 2004, the Hollywood Walk of Fame recognized his contributions with a star for Prinze on Hollywood Boulevard.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Take a look at this clip of Prinze: