That single line let loose from the wide grin of a handsome and lanky kid from New York City’s Washington Heights, cemented Freddie Prinze as a cultural icon and comic legend.
Frederick Karl Pruetzel was born in 1954 to a Puerto Rican mother and Hungarian father. The Hungarican’s single goal was to be famous. But fame comes hard for a biracial youngster growing up in a working class enclave. Comedy was Prinze’s weapon of choice against barrio hoods that picked on the overweight, bespeckled adolescent.
Prinze chased his dream to LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and studied drama and ballet. But he honed his real gift — comedy — by telling jokes in the boys’ restroom. By the time he was a senior, Prinze was a regular at New York comedy clubs like The Improv and To Catch a Rising Star. His world would open wide at the end of 1973 when he landed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Hollywood soon called and Prinze won the title role of Francisco “Chico” Rodriguez, the main character on NBC’s sitcom, Chico and the Man. For three years, Prinze played Chico, a Chicano mechanic in East L.A., and shone like no other.
Although he had unparalleled success in comedy, movies, television and even became a father to Freddie Prinze Jr., Prinze was overwhelmed and escaped from his instant fame through drugs.
Prinze’s curtain call came when at just 22, crushed by the end of his marriage, legal problems and under the influence of drugs; he shot himself in the head. Despite his shortcomings Prinze was respected by his peers, adored by his fans, and left an indelible impression on generations of funny men that followed in his footsteps. On this, the 35th anniversary of his untimely passing, we salute Freddie Prinze — a true Don.
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