A round-the-clock medical struggle to save the life of Freddie Prinze ended Saturday when the 22-year-old actor-comedian died after shooting himself in the head early Friday.
Doctors at UCLA Medical Center pronounced Prinze dead at 1 p.m. Saturday.
A respirator which had been handling his life functions since the unconscious Prinze entered the hospital shortly after 4 a.m. Friday was turned off when Prinze’s brain activity ceased, a hospital spokesman said.
The young star’s famed television role as a devil-may-care Chicano mechanic in NBC’s Chico and the Man series had, over the last few weeks, belied Prinze’s personal despondency over a marital split, a pending trial on misdemeanor drug charges and previous legal proceedings, friends said.
Prinze had been “distressed, disturbed and frustrated,” according to one close associate, in the weeks before Friday’s suicide attempt, on one occasion going so far as to carry around the medium-caliber automatic pistol that ended his life.
The actor’s agent, Paul Wasserman, said that the belief among some friends that Prinze’s shooting might have been accidental was because Prinze had so often talked of suicide offhandedly, “even pretending to attempt it, holding the gun in his hand, pretending to pull the trigger when it was on safety.”
Prinze’s death came at the dawning of a promising career for the versatile young actor of Puerto Rican and Hungarian ancestry. Scarcely 10 days before, Prinze had performed before President Carter in a pre-inaugural gala.
“People don’t seem to be able to understand that you can be talented, good-looking, healthy, that you could have fame and fortune and still have a problem,” said one friend who asked not to be identified.
The friend discounted speculation that Prinze might have been joking when he pulled the trigger Friday. “It just wasn’t a fun-and-games kind of thing,” the friend said.
Police said that in the hours before he shot himself, Prinze had made several phone calls from his West Los Angeles apartment, including calls to his recently estranged wife, Kathy Cochrane, 26, and to his parents.
The young star’s psychiatrist and personal secretary had visited Prinze and left around 2 a.m. Friday—shortly before Prinze’s friend, business agent Marvin Snyder came in answer to a phone call from the distraught actor.
It was during Snyder’s visit, police said, that Prinze called his parents and his wife. He hung up, pulled the pistol from beneath a cushion and fired into his right temple.
Police said that a note from Prinze was found that declared, in effect, “I can’t go on.”
Prinze’s wife and parents were summoned to the hospital after the early-morning suicide attempt. They waited for word of his condition during two hours of surgery—which doctors said Prinze “tolerated well”—and sources said his family and best friend, singer Tony Orlando, were in a room nearby when he died.
Private services were set for Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the Old North Church at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills. The Rev. Stanley Unruh of Las Vegas, who married Prinze and his wife 16 months ago, will officiate. Orlando will be chief eulogist.
In addition to his wife and parents, Prinze leaves his 10-month-old son, Freddie Jr.
NBC President Herbert S. Schlosser said he was “stunned and saddened” by Prinze’s death. “He was one of the brightest stars in the world of entertainment and yet, at 22, he had only begun. We shall never know how far he could have gone, how much laughter and pleasure he could have given us in the years ahead.”
James Komack, executive producer of the television series, said four more episodes were to have been taped this season. He said he did not know what the future of the program will be.