The Tragic Life and Suicide of "Chico and the Man" Star Freddie Prinze, the father of Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Herbie J Pilato

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He was handsome, funny, young, and talented, but actor/comedian Freddie Prinze, the father to actor Freddie Prinze, Jr., just couldn't hold it together.

Prinze Jr., married to actress Sara Michelle Gellar (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), continues to live a successful and happy life. Prinze, Jr. is best known for his roles in movies like She's All That and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and for playing Fred in the big-screen, live-action Scoob-Doo series of films.

But his dad, Prinze, Sr., star of the classic TV hit, Chico and the Man, which originally aired on NBC from 1974 to 1978, did not make it past 22 years old.

According to what journalist Jon Nordheimer reported in The New York Times, the father, Prinze, Sr. died on January 29, 1977, at the University of California‐Los Angeles Medical Center, 33 hours after firing a 32-caliber bullet in his head in front of his business agent.

"The entertainment world was still stunned by the suicide," Nordheimer revealed, "and no one could explain what personal desperation drove a young, gifted man to commit suicide at the pinnacle of his career. Most often heard was the explanation that the breakup of his 15‐month marriage had been too much for the star to withstand, despite the success of his public life."

Paul Wasserman, the publicist for Prinze, Sr., told The New York Times, “It's happened before in the past year and a half. “The people who saw it didn't take it quite as seriously as perhaps they might. They thought it was an attention‐getter, or maybe an overdramatic act. They couldn't believe it when Freddie, who seemed to have everything to live for, told them life wasn't worth living.”

Nordheimer observed that such despondency in his "final months contrasted sharply with the image of the carefree young Latin‐American" he portrayed in Chico and the Man.

Prinze, Sr. won the ground-breaking part after various TV stand-up comic performances, specifically on NBC's The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.

Although Prinze, Sr. was cast as a Chicano in the Man sitcom, which also starred veteran actor Jack Albertson (and later, Gabriel Melgar, who replaced Prinze, Sr.), as Nordheimer documented, "his ancestry actually was equal parts Puerto Rican and Hungarian, and he jokingly called himself a 'Hungarican.' He grew up among Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups on West 157th Street in a poor neighborhood of Manhattan, and much of his humor was based on ethnic characterization."

But as Nordheimer further documented, mere hours before Prinze, Sr. shot himself in the presence of Marvin Snyder, his business agent who visited him at his hotel to try and cheer him up, Prinze, Sr. "had frantically called another agent, Ron Deblasio, four times at his office."

"An office worker," Nordheimer wrote, "detecting the depth" of Prinze, Sr.'s depression, also attempted to raise the young actor's spirits by quoting lines from one of the comic's stage routines, specifically an impression of boxing champ Muhammad Ali.

“You be dancing in the ring again,” she told him.

“Yeh, yeh,” the forlorn voice at the other end of the phone responded.

“Don't let it get you down,” she continued. “Don't let it get you.”

But as Nordheimer concluded, "This time there was only silence at the other end. Within twelve hours Freddie Prinze had shot himself."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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