Actor Freddie Prinze's famed television role as a devil-may-care mechanic on NBC's "Chico and the Man" series had, in the weeks before his suicide, belied his 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 his 1977 suicide, on one occasion going so far as to carry around the medium-caliber automatic pistol that ended his life.
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. "It just wasn't a fun-and-games kind of thing," the friend said.
Prinze was 22. He left behind a son, Freddie Prinze Jr., who became an actor.