DCS: freddie prinze

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Frederick Pruetzel realized he had a knack for making his classmates laugh while a student at LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. He ditched his career aspirations of becoming a ballet dancer in favor of stand-up comedy. He started performing at small clubs alongside future stars David Brenner and Jimmie Walker. Freddie chose the stage name “Prinze” as both homage to comedic idols like Alan King and a nod to his Puerto Rican heritage. He told audiences that he was “HungaRican” — part Hungarian, part Puerto Rican — although he had no Hungarian ancestry.

In 1973, Freddie appeared on The Jack Paar Show and later on the Tonight Show, where he was asked by Johnny Carson to take a seat on the couch following his well-received stand-up routine. This was a rarity — and a honor — for young comedians. He made more television appearances including several stints on the late-night music series The Midnight Special.

Hoping to capitalize on Freddie’s whirlwind popularity, NBC tagged the young comic to costar with veteran actor Jack Albertson in the sitcom Chico and the Man. The series was an instant hit and led to Freddie’s appearances on a few Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and the release of a comedy album. He also appeared on his friend Tony Orlando’s variety show. Freddie even sang back-up on a few of Tony Orlando’s recordings. By the end of 1976, Freddie had signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with NBC.

But the fame affected Freddie’s personal life. He was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. His wife of just over a year filed for divorce. His life-long battle with depression deepened. He purchased a gun and would often play Russian Roulette in front of his friends for his own amusement. On January 28, 1977, Freddie was visiting with his business manager. As the evening progressed, Freddie produced his handgun and shot himself in the head. He was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support following surgery. His family made the difficult decision to remove Freddie from life support and he passed away on the afternoon of January 29. He was just 22 years old.

Freddie had made several “farewell” phone calls and left a note explaining his plans of suicide. However, the results of a 1983 civil case brought against the Crown Life Insurance Company determined Freddie’s death to have been accidental. His mother, estranged wife and his son, Freddie Prinze Jr., collected $200,000 in life insurance payments. They also received a one million dollar settlement in a malpractice suit against Freddie’s psychiatrist for allowing the comedian access to a gun and over-prescribing Quaaludes.



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