Freddie Prinze was only 22 when he died, but he made his mark and then some, with a successful stand-up career and a hit sitcom. We remember Prinze’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
Freddie Prinze was only 22 when he died, but he made his mark and then some, with a successful stand-up career and a hit sitcom. Known on the stand-up circuit for his jokes about his “Hungarican” ancestry (half Hungarian, half Puerto Rican – in reality, Prinze’s father was German, not Hungarian), Prinze took his act to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Midnight Special. These breakthroughs led to his starring role in Chico and the Man for three seasons until his untimely death. Prinze’s legacy continues with his son, actor Freddie Prinze Jr., a ’90s teen idol who continues to work as an actor, voice actor and producer. We remember Prinze’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2015: Rod McKuen, U.S. singer-songwriter, musician and poet who was one of the best-selling poets in history, dies at 81.
McKuen was an extremely successful and prolific personality in popular culture, turning out hundreds of songs, poems and records, including the Academy Award-nominated song “Jean” for the 1969 film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” Read more
2015: Colleen McCullough, Australian author known best for her novel The Thorn Birds, dies at 77.
2012: Camilla Williams, U.S. operatic soprano who was the first African-American to receive a regular contract with the New York City Opera, dies of complications of cancer at 92.
In her 1946 City Opera debut, Williams sang what would become her signature role, Cio-Cio-San, in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. She displayed “a vividness and subtlety unmatched by any other artist who has assayed the part here in many a year,” according to a New York Times review of the performance. She also appeared with the City Opera that season as Nedda, in Leon Cavallo’s Pagliacci. The following year she performed the role of Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, and in 1948 she sang the title role of Verdi’s Aida. Read more
2009: Hélio Gracie, Brazilian martial artist who along with his brother created the martial art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, dies of pneumonia at 95.
2008: Raymond Jacobs, U.S. Marine who was in the first group of soldiers to raise the U.S. flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima, dies of natural causes at 82.
Jacobs spent his later years working to prove that he was the radio operator photographed gazing up at the American flag as it was being raised by other Marines over Mount Suribachi Feb. 23, 1945, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. Newspaper accounts from the time show he was on the mountain during the initial raising of a smaller American flag, though he had returned to his unit by the time a more famous Associated Press photograph was taken of a flag-raising re-enactment later the same day. Read more
2005: Eric Griffiths, English guitarist who was an original member of John Lennon‘s first group, the Quarrymen, which eventually became the Beatles with a different lineup, dies of pancreatic cancer at 64.
2002: Harold Russell, Canadian-born U.S. actor who was one of only two nonprofessional actors to win an Academy Award, for his performance in The Best Years of Our Lives, dies of a heart attack at 88.
2002: Dick “Night Train” Lane, U.S. NFL Hall of Fame defensive back who still holds the record for most interceptions in a season, dies of a heart attack at 73.
1999: Lili St. Cyr, prominent U.S. burlesque dancer known for her onstage bubble baths, dies at 80.
1994: Nick Cravat, U.S. actor who appeared in many of his friend Burt Lancaster‘s films, dies of lung cancer at 82.
1992: Willie Dixon, U.S. blues singer who was highly influential in the Chicago blues sound with songs including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Little Red Rooster,” dies of heart failure at 76.
1986: Leif Erickson, U.S. actor who appeared in Roustabout and The Carpetbaggers, dies of cancer at 74.
1984: Frances Goodrich, U.S. screenwriter who wrote with her husband, Albert Hackett, and whose movies include The Thin Man and Father of the Bride, dies of lung cancer at 94.
1980: Jimmy Durante, U.S. pianist, singer and actor who was one of the most popular entertainers in the 20th century and was known as the Great Schnozzola, dies of pneumonia at 86.
1978: Tim McCoy, U.S. actor who was popular in early Western movies, dies of heart failure at 86.
1977: Freddie Prinze, U.S. comedian and actor who was the star of the TV series Chico and the Man and was the father of actor Freddie Prinze Jr., takes his own life at 22.
Prinze’s onstage success led to an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he was discovered by TV producer James Komack. Komack was creating a new show and thought Prinze would be perfect for one of the title roles – and so began Prinze’s three-year stint on what would be his final gig, Chico and the Man. Read more
1976: Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller, U.S. blues musician known as the one-man band who wrote “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which was covered by Eric Clapton and others, dies at 79.
1964: Alan Ladd, U.S. popular actor who had leading roles in This Gun for Hire and Shane, dies of cerebral edema resulting from an accidental overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills at 50.
Ladd held a variety of odd jobs growing up – picking fruit, delivering newspapers and sweeping floors. While making his way in Hollywood, he worked as a carpenter, radio actor, lifeguard and gas station attendant. But the job that eventually suited him most was playing bad guys in a new way – winning instead of threatening: handsome, elegant, well-dressed and smooth talking. Read more
1963: Robert Frost, U.S. poet who was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed bards of the 20th century, dies of surgical complications at 88.
1933: Sara Teasdale, U.S. poet who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, takes her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills at 48.
1899: Alfred Sisley, French painter who was an important impressionist artist, dies at 59.