The American sitcom “Chico and the Man” (1974-1978) was the first U.S. television series set in a Mexican-American neighborhood. However, it had its tragedies…including the death of it’s lead actor Freddie Prinze, who played the lead character Chico Rodriguez.
After struggling with depression and drug use, Prinze shot himself on January 28, 1977 and was taken off life support and died the following day at the age of 22. Sadly, the last episode to star Prinze, titled “Ed Talks to God”, was taped several hours before Prinze’s death. This led to what would be the decline of the show.
To write Chico out of the script, the producers had the other characters comment that he had gone to visit his father in Mexico and the third season finished out with episodes focusing on the other characters in the show. Then, early in the fourth season, a replacement for Chico was introduced. However, instead of an adult, the producers brought in the twelve-year-old character Raul, played by Gabriel Melgar.
Then, a two-part episode ran in the final season in which Raul discovers Chico’s belongings in a closet. The co-lead character Ed (Played by Jack Albertson) catches Raul playing Chico’s guitar and Ed smashes it on the van in anger. Raul believes Ed does not love him anymore and runs away to Mexico but then Ed goes after him and finally explains to Raul that Chico died, but did not say how, putting a measure of closure on the fate of Chico in the series.
It happens more than you think were a beloved actor and co-star of a show commits suicide and the producers face the challenge of either ending the show or somehow continuing it. The decision becomes about whether going on or not would be worth it. This show faced the challenge of continuing its story and honoring the former lead character and the actor behind him. I feel, with that two-part episode, Prinze was honored correctly by letting his absence fuel the show in a way that made you realized the show wouldn’t be the same without him. And once his character was put to rest, the show was then cancelled after that fourth season. I suppose this works. Prinze was honored and his character was honored…that was all that needed to be done to move on in my opinion.