The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Freddie Prinze

Freddie James Prinze, born as Frederick Karl Pruetzel, was an iconic actor and comedian who lived a tragic life. He played a major part on the show, Chico and The Man, and had a short but memorable career as a stand-up comedian and an actor. According to his IMDB profile, he had a rough childhood, fending off bullies, but he also excelled at extracurricular activities. 

Prinze wanted to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry and wasn't afraid to chase his dreams. Interestingly, while he was born as Frederick Pruetzel, he changed his name to Prinze to imply that he was the prince of comedy. The journey to fame was thorny and full of hurdles. Unfortunately, Prinze battled mental health issues, which he succumbed to at a young age. He died by suicide in January 1977. His son, Freddie Prinze Jr., eventually made his way to Hollywood years later, becoming a popular actor and a Hollywood heartthrob.

Here's looking at some of the most significant moments from Freddie Prinze Sr.'s life, including his struggle to the top, his childhood, his battle with drugs and depression, his career goals, and more.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Freddie Prinze was of mixed heritage

According to the book, The Freddie Prinze Story, written by the actor's momMaria Pruetzel, and John Barbour, Prinze did not have an easygoing childhood. His mom wrote that as he was growing up, he often felt out of place among other children. As a kid with mixed heritage born to immigrant parents, Prinze would find it tricky to blend in and couldn't help but feel lonesome. His dad was Hungarian, and his mom was from Puerto Rico.

Born in 1954 in New York City, Prinze was a frail kid who had asthma and could't adjust to physically demanding activities like sports. While Prinze was close to his mom, he didn't get along as well with his father, who was a taskmaster. 

Despite the hardship he endured as a kid, Prinze once said that he was still grateful for his past and would not want to change anything. "But I would not have traded my childhood for anything," he said. "If it had been any different, I would not have become what I did. I might not have the ambition and the desire to get out of it." 

Freddie Prinze discovered his aptitude for performing as a child

Freddie Prinze was meant to be an actor and a performer. Even as a child, he showed aptitude for the performing arts. In fact, a teacher predicted that Prinze would stand out because of his talent. According to The Freddie Prinze Story, the teacher wrote about his promising future in an autograph album that Prinze had purchased. "I wish you success in everything. I know you won't get lost in the crowds," the note read.

Prinze decided to throw caution to the wind and applied to the High School of Performing Arts in New York without telling his parents. He was called for an audition and was eventually accepted into the program, something he was immensely proud of. He spilled his secret to his mother, who was surprised that he held onto it for so long. He said that he didn't want to say anything in case he didn't make it into the program. His mom was happy for him but terrified of her only son going away and being on his own. Prinze knew he was on his way to fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a star. He was finally doing something his idols had done and was set to take the world by storm.

Freddie Prinze started off his career with stand-up comedy

After graduating from the High School of Performing Arts,  Freddie Prinze started working hard on getting gigs. He worked at a showcase club called Catch a Rising Star without pay and was comfortable performing even through he was barely 18 and still learning the ropes. According to Vulture, the club's owner, Rick Newman, said that Prinze started performing at the club early on after it opened. It was obvious that he was talented. Newman said, "You knew what he had right from the start. He was good from the get-go. Great poise. He used to go up and work out. I put him up in prime time."

Prinze's mom wrote in The Freddie Prinze Story that her son knew he could make others laugh. Even when he was a student and didn't quite know what stand-up comedy was, he stood out in crowds because of that. His mimicry skills were remarkable, and he'd often crack jokes or put up impromptu performances in the washroom. Other students were undeniably amused by their enterprising and talented classmate. 

He was so popular that the other students would skip class just to be around for Prinze while he put on a fun show for his peers. They'd  often gather in the bathroom to catch Prinze "do his stuff."

Freddie Prinze's big break was with Johnny Carson

Freddie Prinze was only 19-years-old when he got a chance to be a part of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. As explained by Vulture, Prinze only spent 325 seconds performing on stage on Dec. 6, 1973. Just nine months after that first appearance, he managed to become a name to reckon with in the entertainment industry. 

When the young Prinze was poised to perform, Carson welcomed him with a sweet introduction."We have a new young comedian with us tonight, and, as you know, it is a hard commodity to find in this business are young guys who can come out in front of an audience and do not have a great deal of exposure and try to find people who accept what they do," Carson said.

Prinze left no stone unturned and spent those precious seconds taking the stage by storm, putting up a set that was brilliant enough to earn him lasting applause. Carson spoke with him after the performance, and all Prinze could say in that moment was, "This is sumthin." It was a momentous occasion in the comedian's life as he got appreciation from the audience and the legendary Carson himself. 

Freddie Prinze battled drug addiction

According to the Independent, Freddie Prinze's downward spiral involved a whole lot of alcohol and drugs, like cocaine. While he was definitely struggling, he didn't hurt others around him, as per The Freddie Prinze Story. Stand-up comedian David Brenner was one of Prinze's close friends. He said that he didn't preach or tell Prinze what he should be doing because Prinze seemed to be under control. However, when Prinze asked him for advice, Brenner gently reminded him to stay on the path he was supposed to be on. "You have to hold onto your values," he told him. "You can't let the Hollywood life get to you. It doesn't matter where you live. Be your own man!"

Prinze was feeling the pressure to do everything he was asked to, including being active with promotional engagements. Brenner reminded him that he should not take things lying down, and if he felt like someone was trying to take advantage of him, Prinze should put his foot down and refuse to accept it. "There is nothing worth giving up your own self for," Brenner told Prinze. 

The actor and comedian was on quaaludes, which was prescribed to him by his doctor. Prinze's mom wrote that it made her cry when she found out how her son was relying on prescription drugs day after day. 

Freddie Prinze was charming on television

The show, Chico and the Man, was a big deal for Freddie Prinze (via Entertainment Weekly) and his acting career. The NBC show ran for four years and basically made Prinze rather famous. He starred on the show with actor Jack Albertson and charmed his way into the hearts of viewers with his charisma, acting talent, and good looks. 

As illustrated by Rolling Stone, when talk show host Mike Douglas asked Prinze what it felt like to achieve success so quickly, Prinze said it was wonderful. "I can buy my folks a house now, I'm not the only one in the family who's escaping the ghetto," he revealed candidly in the conversation. 

Douglas described Prinze as someone with a lot of talent and potential. "I have never met anyone this young with this much ability," Douglas remarked before adding that he was probably someone's reincarnation because he was so gifted. 

Freddie Prinze was troubled

Freddie Prinze was no stranger to depression and struggled to feel at ease. The fact that he achieved fame rather quickly didn't help when it came to dealing with his inner demons. According to Entertainment Weekly, he didn't quite get the chance to process everything that was happening around him. "His judgment was impaired by his age, drugs, and the incredible success," said Peter Greenberg, producer of the film, Can You Hear the Laughter?: The Story of Freddie Prinze. Prinze's addiction issues were at an all-time high, and he was consuming cocaine and quaaludes regularly. He even managed to avoid trouble with the cops with his charm and didn't get speeding tickets for driving under the influence.

Prinze was depressed and struggling to cope. His personal life was falling apart, and he didn't quite know how to raise himself up and get back on his feet. As explained by Entertainment Weekly, he once held a gun to his head and was knocked backwards by the force of the blast. His downward spiral was undeniable.

Freddie Prinze was lonely

Despite achieving success, Freddie Prinze suffered from loneliness. According to Entertainment Weekly, his broken marriage made things even harder to bear. As per Prinze's mother, when his son was born, the comedian told his mom, "You see, Ma. I don't have to feel lonely anymore."

Prinze, according to his mom, had mentioned several times that he struggled with loneliness often, feeling very lonely at the top. In "The Freddie Prinze Story," the actor's mom wrote that there were times he felt so alone even when his professional journey was looking extremely bright. He would call her and talk to her for long periods, trying to feel less distraught. He'd also call his friend, David Brenner, but nothing seemed to really bring him peace. He struggled with the way he felt and wasn't quite sure how to stop feeling this way.

Freddie Prinze couldn't adjust to fame

Freddie Prinze may have fared better if he had time to adjust to his fame and popularity. He was grateful for finding success. According to Rolling Stone, he said he loved giving autographs and achieving what he dreamed of as a child. "This is what I dreamed of, man, prayed for, since I was five. And I knew then it was gonna happen to me, also truth. Everything I say in my routines is truth," Prinze said. 

To put things into perspective, Prinze was 17 when he first started doing odd jobs at a theater in 1972. He was fired from there and also went through a tough breakup, which made him attempt suicide. By 1973, he was already on his way to becoming a star and had appeared on Johnny Carson's show. A year later, he bagged the television role on Chico And The Man that propelled him further into the limelight. He became famous in a short period of time and never got the chance to make sense of it all.

Freddie Prinze's marriage didn't last

Freddie Prinze found it difficult to accept that his marriage with a former cocktail waitress, Kathy Cochran, was on the rocks. Cochran felt like he was too much to cope with and filed for divorce. She also asked for a restraining order against her husband. Prinze was struggling and driven by narcotics at the time. When Prinze told his mom that his marriage was in trouble, she was taken aback (via The Freddie Prinze Story). 

When his mother probed further, asking why they decided to end it so soon, he simply replied, "I have to take care of myself, Ma." He added that he didn't need advice but wanted to ensure that he let her know. She gently urged him to think about the fact that there was a baby in the picture, and he almost teared up. "That's my biggest concern, Ma," he said. The drug abuse seemed to be one of the primary reasons his marriage wasn't working out at that point. 

Freddie Prinze made a farewell call to some of his loved ones

Freddie Prinze was falling fast, and it looked unlikely that he would pay any heed to those close to him. According to Amo Mama, the comedian was so depressed that he decided to make phone calls to loved ones, a farewell of sorts. He was just 22 years old at the time. When his business manager, Marvin Synder, got the call, he raced to get to his friend and talk to him. Prinze was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel Plaza, previously known as the Beverly Comstock Hotel.

While Snyder did speak to Prinze at the hotel and tried to get him to change his decision, the comedian seemed to have made up his mind. He continued calling his closest friends, as well as his mother. He told her, "Mom, I love you very much, but I can't go on. I need to find peace." He also called is ex-wife, Kathy Cochran, and told her he loved her and their child, Freddie Prinze Jr., but said he was looking for peace and that he couldn't go on any longer.

Still holding the phone, Prinze shot himself as Snyder tried to take the weapon away from him, asking him to think about his family and his toddler. Nothing made an impression, and before Snyder could do anything further, Prinze had hurt himself. He was rushed to the hospital, but he never regained consciousness, according to a piece by The New York Times. He reportedly died at the University of California‐Los Angeles Medical Center 33 hours after the shooting.

Freddie Prinze's death led to tributes

Freddie Prinze died on Jan. 28, 1977. This news was painful for many, as they remembered the extraordinarily talented man who went all too soon. At the time of his death, he'd lost a major chunk of his money but had active contracts with NBC and Caesar's Palace that were worth over $7 million, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Actor George Lopez called Prinze his icon. "Think Robin Williams in the eighties or Chris Rock today, and that was Freddie Prinze Sr. in the early 1970s. Words like 'creative genius' get tossed around a lot in my business, but they're actually on target when it comes to the comedic talents of one Frederick Karl Pruetzel...," Lopez said. After his death, the comedian was remembered with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Also, while his death was initially called a suicide, it was later determined that it was accidental considering the fact that the comedian liked playing with guns (via CBS News).

His untimely death was a shock that his mom struggled to deal with. She wrote that she couldn't sleep when her son died and had trouble accepting that he'd left. At his funeral service, Jimmy Komack paid tribute to his friend and called him a genius, adding that many struggled to understand him because he was unconventional and didn't fit into any molds. "He was driven to make us laugh; and he did," he said. "Have a good trip, Freddie."