Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Looking Good! Freddie Prinze


"If people would only think of my father's gift of comedy instead of his death, I would love it.  He was so sharp and spontaneous, so fast!"
  -- Freddie Prinze, Jr, discussing his late father

Freddie Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel in New York City on June 22, 1954. His mother came to America from Puerto Rico and his father immigrated from Germany.  

As a child, he suffered from obesity.  His mother adopted a novel approach to weight loss, enrolling her son in ballet.  It inspired in him an appreciation for the arts, which he would pursue as a student at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts.  There he discovered drama, but he also realized he had a gift for comedy, dropping out his senior year to become a stand-up comedian. 

He worked the New York comedy club scene, including the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.  It was at this point in his career that he adopted the stage name of Freddie Prinze, later explaining "Bob Hope is the king of comedy.  Everyone knows that.  I'd just be content with being the prince."

Prinze's big break came in 1973, when he performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.  Unlike other young comedians of the time, Prinze was invited to have a sit-down interview with Carson following his stand-up routine.  The host was so impressed that he would later invite Prinze to guest host The Tonight Show in his absence. 

In 1974, Prinze was cast in a new sit-com on NBC entitled Chico and the Man (right).  It was the role that would define his career. The series, which saw him cast against veteran actor Jack Albertson, was an overnight success for the network.  Like his friend Jimmie Walker, Prinze was known for a catchphrase on the series, often uttering "Looking good!"  You can watch the series intro on YouTube.

It led to a number of new projects for Prinze, including multiple appearances on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.  You can watch him zing Muhammad Ali (3:00-6:00) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (10:47-14:52) on YouTube.  These are not for the woke.  He also starred in the 1976 made-for-TV movie The Million Dollar Ripoff, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube.

In 1975, Prinze married Katherine Elaine Cochran (below), with whom he'd have son Freddy Prinze, Jr.  The marriage lasted just one year before she filed for divorce.  Prinze was later romantically attached to both Pam Grier and Lonette McKee.

Prinze was already suffering from depression prior to the divorce, for which his doctor had given a prescription for Quaaludes.  It didn't help, and he grew more and more despondent. 

It all came to a head on the evening of January 28, 1977.  After speaking with his estranged wife by phone, Prinze received a late night visitor, his business manager Marvin Snyder.  

According to Snyder, Prinze put a gun to his head, something the comedian had done several times before, as he often shocked his friends by playing Russian Roulette.  On this night however, his luck would finally run out.  He shot himself once in the head and ultimately died on January 29.  He was 22 years old. 

Freddie Prinze was interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Location: Court of Remembrance, Sanctuary of Light
West Wall Elevation, Wall Crypt #2355

Rest in peace, Chico.

  • Following his death, Prinze's mother, Maria Pruetzel, published a biography of her son's life entitled The Freddie Prinze Story.  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • As an up-and-coming comedian, Prinze was roommates with fellow newbie Jay Leno, who, not surprisingly, taught Prinze how to drive.

  • Prinze dropped by The Tonight Show to discuss Chico and The Man with host Johnny Carson.  You can watch that interview in its entirety on YouTube.

  • In 1975, Prinze turned his catchphrase "Looking Good!" into a comedy album of the same name.  You can hear it in its entirety on YouTube.

  • According to Jimmie "JJ" Walker," Prinze became infuriated with John Travolta over his growing popularity after the Welcome Back, Kotter star appeared on his first magazine cover.  In response, Prinze, with Walker in tow, showed up on Travolta's doorstep and fired three arrows into his door.  Travolta was not at home at the time.

  • Prinze's final public performance was one week before his death, entertaining senators and congressmen alike at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.

  • Twenty-seven years after his death, Prinze was a awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It is located at 6755 Hollywood Boulevard.

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