Hear the name Freddie Prinze and you might assume it refers to the teen hunk who starred in I Know What You Did Last Summer and She's All That. But that actor's name is followed by "Junior".
Yet the handsome hunk's father has a story no less interesting than the teen icon. The young Freddie Prinze Senior's performances in local talent nights at Manhattan's Improv Club earned him several appearances on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. Impressed by Prinze, one of the programme's producers signed him to co-star in a new TV sitcom, Chico and The Man, with veteran Jack Albertson. The show was a huge success, and Prinze, who wrote all his own material, took his comedy act on the road.
Two further seasons of the show followed but, by the time the third was due to be premiered, the cracks in Prinze's seemingly ideal life – he was occasionally appearing as a guest host on The Tonight Show and had recently signed a new multi-million-dollar contract with NBC – had began to appear.
Prinze's wife, whom he had married less than 18 months earlier and with whom he had a 10-month-old son, had initiated divorce proceedings, and his old manager had successfully sued him for breach of contract. On 28 January 1977, terrified he would lose access to his son, and under the influence of quaaludes – prescribed to him by his doctor – cocaine and alcohol, which he had been abusing, Prinze shot himself in a hotel room in front of his manager.
The remainder of the third and penultimate season of Chico and the Man was filmed without Prinze, and a newcomer, Gabriel Melgar, was drafted in for what became the final series.
Despite leaving a suicide note which read: "I must end it. There's no hope left. I'll be at peace. No one had anything to do with this. My decision totally," the death was ruled to be a prank that went awry. And, although Prinze had spent all the earnings on drink and drugs, his widow and young son received close to a million dollars in settlements after winning malpractice suits filled against Prince's doctor, for over-prescribing quaaludes, and his psychiatrist, for letting Prinze handle the gun which eventually killed him.
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