Freddie Prinze, 22, who went from the sidewalks of New York to television stardom in the comedy series, "Chico and the Man," died yesterday in Los Angeles about 33 1/2 hours after shooting himself in the head.
Mr. Prinze died about 1 p.m. at the UCLA Medical Center where he had been listed in critical condition and on life-support systems since he fired a bullet into his brain in his hotel room at 3:30 a.m.
In his television role as a Latin American garage mechanic, Mr. Prinze, a man with laughing eyes and an infectious, crooked, grin, was known to millions of viewers for his irrepressible good humor.
Police said that he had left a handwritten, unaddressed note. It said: "I can't take it any longer."
A friend said he had been depressed over his impending divorce and child custody hearings.
Mr. Prinze's wife, the former Katherine Cochran, 26, whom he married in October, 1975, filed last month for divorce. After the shooting Friday she joined the comedian's parents in a vigil at the hospital.
Doctors pronounced Mr. Prinze dead when his central nervous system ceased functioning. He had not regained consciousness after the shooting.
Afterward, "a doctor brought the wife and mother into a room and broke the news," said Paul Wasserman, Mr. Prinze's agent and friend. "They fell on the bed . . . crying."
Herbert S. Schlosser, president of NBC, which had broadcast "Chico and The Man" since its premiere on Sept. 13, 1974, called Mr. Prinze" one of the brightest stars in the world of entertainment . . ."
Noting that the comedian had only begun, Schlosser said, "We shall never know how far he could have gone, how much laughter and pleasure he could have given us all in the years ahead."
A swaggering six-footer who described himself as "this street punk," Mr. Prinz blended a natural comic gift with keen observation to create what he called an "all-purpose Latin" image on the air.
To a great extent he drew for his comic inspiration and invention on his own upbringing and ethnic heritage.
A native New Yorker, he grew up on Manhattan's West 157th Street, on the northern edge of Harlem.
His mother, Maria, a Puerto Rican, worked in a shoe factory. His father, Karl, a tool and die maker, is of Hungarian background.
Mr. Prinze was bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English.
For show business purposes, his Hispanic background was transmuted into what he called his "crazy" "Rican" accent.
Before he achieved television stardom, he had employed this thick patois as an increasingly successful standup comedian, in such favorite roles as that of a work-avoiding New York building superintendent.
The well received tag line to this comic turn was invariably: "Eeets not my job."
Mr. Prinze also created comic material out of some of the afflictions of life in less affluent sections of the city.
He related, for example, some of his imaginary conversations with cockroaches, who would say: "Hey, Freddie, where you going, man? Hey, you don't bring back some potato chips, we shut the door on you, man."
A deft and libber and a skilled impressionist, Mr. Prinze seemed to have inherited some of his cosmic gifts from his father, whose principal stage was the family's lively living room.
By the age of four, it is reported, Mr. Prinze was memorizing and repeating his father's jokes.
Although there is little indication that he was determined from childhood on a career in comedy, Mr. Prinze showed an early interest in other performing arts.
His father played the piano. Several relatives played other instruments. Mr. Prinze, while growing up, learned to play piano, drums and guitar and to compose music. In addition, at his mother's urging, he took ballet lessons.
After attending parochial elementary schools he enrolled in the High School of Performing Arts, a special New York public school. "I always thought my future would be drama or ballet," he once recalled.
By his own account, a turning point for him came when he had a small part in his school's production of "Barefoot in the Park." He played Harry pepper, a Jewish telephone repairman.
Changing the character's name to Jose Perez. Mr. Prinze played him as a Puerto Rican. "'Hell.'" he recalled himself thinking, "'that's what I know.'"
"I went out and did it in my mother's accent and there were roars from start to finish," he said. "It was the first time I had ever gone into myself and thought I was a comedian."
Deciding on a career in comedy, he began performing at two Manhattan nightclubs that offered would-be comedians a nonpaying chance to perform.
After finishing his after-school job as an usher, he would go to the clubs, remaining until 3 a.m., studying others as he waited his own turn.
On result was that he missed many early classes. "Instead of a diploma," he once said, his school gave him a certificate "saying I went to school every day."
After Mr. Prinze had achieved stardom, he told an interviewer with what appeared to be uncharacteristic bitterness, the school sought to make amends.
"Now," he said, "they want to give the diploma to me . . . Well, they're not going to claim credit for me."
What might be seen as a hint of bitterness emerges occasionally from Mr. Prinzes other recollections.
As a child, he said, while studying ballet to please his mother, he also ran with street gangs for his own protection.
"I wasn't the funniest guy" in the neighborhood, he said once. "The funniest guys are in jail."
While still in school, Mr. Prinze was discovered by David Jonas, a talent manager who got him bookings in small clubs, resort hotels and on television.