posted by brileyforever77
"Nothing Could Stop Me But Me"
By Dotson Rader
"I WAS ALWAYS ON THE OUTSIDE looking in," Freddie Prinze Jr. said of his childhood. "I was never accepted anywhere. People thought I was weird. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't fit in."
By the time Freddie Prinze Jr. was 18, he was a self0described loner - unhappy, unpopular, a bad student. Then, in 1994, shortly after graduating from La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, N.M. he decided to drive across the desert to Los Angeles and become an actor.
"I had to do something with my life," Prinze admitted. "I couldn't get into any college. I didn't have any grades, and I didn't have any cash. I wasn't good at anything except make-believe."
Seven years later, Prinze, now 25, is among the most successful and popular actors of his generation, earning more than $2 million a picture. His latest film, Summer Catch - the story of a young baseball pitches hoping to enter the Major Leagues - is due out on Friday.
I visited Prinze in L.A., where he owns a $3 million hacienda that he shares with his fiancée, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Star of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wanted to learn how this once deeply troubled boy became a movie star.
"I was raised by my mother and my maternal grandparents," he began. "My granny is the closest person in the world to me. The sun rises and sets on her. I grew up with just my grandparents until my mother eventually bought a house, and I moved in with her."
Freddie Prinze Jr. spent his boyhood in Northeast Heights, a middle-class area of Albuquerque. His parents - Katherine Cochran, a real estate agent, and Freddie Prinze, a stand-up comic and star of '70s TV sitcom Chico and the Man - filed for divorce soon after he was born. His father died violently a few months later, and for years his family tried to shield Freddie Jr. from learning the circumstances of his dad's death.
"I had a happy, normal childhood," Prinze said, "until one day I realized I didn't have a regular family. About age 8, I started getting really angry, because everyone had a father, and I didn't. Everybody else knew what happened to my dad, and nobody wanted to tell me.
"One day, this kid Justin got me mad, and I said something to him. And he goes, 'Oh, yeah? Well, my dad told me your dad was a junkie and shot himself!' I looked him dead din the face, and he said it again. I didn't believe him. I went inside and talked to my mom, and she started crying. Later, Ron DiBlasio, my dad's former manager, let me know exactly what happened. He didn't pull any punches."
In Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 1977, Freddie Prinze, despondent and intoxicated with sedatives, had a .32-caliber pistol against his temple and blown a hole in his head. He left behind a handwritten note: "I can't take it any longer." He was 22. His son was 10 months old.
"After learning that, I hated my dad for what he'd done," Prinze admitted, his voice breaking. "I felt like I didn't get a chance to be his son. If only he had known how great a son I could have been, there's no way he'd have done that!
"For years I couldn't talk about my feelings," he continued. "I didn't trust anybody, I withdrew from everybody, becaise it seemed to me that my whole life had been lies. I didn't pay attention in class. I got into fights. Kids called me 'wierdo, homo, crazy.' I could not relate to anybody, and I didn't know why.
Prinze was sent to see child psychologists and group therapists, but his schoolwork and social isolation worsened as he retreated into a kind of intense, adolescent, comic-book fantasy world of his own making.
"At 12, I just said, 'I'm going to make up my own world and live there,'" Prinze recalled. "I created a place in my mind where I was strong and people never let me down. I made up my own friends, my own house, my own father figure who took care of me like I was his real son." He smiled, adding: "I still think about those people. I still talk to them."
During Prinze's senior year in high school, his English teacher got him interested in acting. "She had you read Shakespeare and encouraged you to act out lines," Prinze recalled. "Her passion became your passion. After graduation, I wanted to act, and I moved to L.A."
His decision was not supported by his mother at first, but he went anyway, staying with a friend until he landed a job as a cashier and got his own apartment. After four months of acting classes and auditions, he snagged a small role on an episode of Family Matters, but it led to nothing more.
"I'd made a choice," he noted. "I'd gone to L.A. because I had to find a challenge. I believed that, as long as I didn't quit on myself, I couldn't fail. Nothing could stop me but me."
Despite his diligence, nearly two years passed with little acting work. Prinze grew discouraged, lonely and scared, and he suffered increasing bouts of depression. He feared ending like his father - until, he said, he had an epiphany.
"One day I felt this hand of God," he explained. "I started doubting myself, questioning what I was doing. I was sitting in my car, and I suddenly started crying - heavy, aching sobs, like someone turned on a faucet. I was terrified. I felt this huge weight just crushing me. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw my own eyes. Suddenly, everything was cool. I knew I wasn't going to end up like my dad. It was as if God said, 'You don't have to worry anymore.' From then on, everything fell into place."
In 1996, Prinze made his movie debut with a minor part in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. The next year he starred in The House of Yes and the box-office hit I Know What You Did Last Summer, a teen thriller co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. That film, and its 1998 sequel, established Prinze as a teen heartthrob.
In 1999, he appeared for the first time as a romantic lead in She's All That, which earned more than $100 million and brought him genuine movie stardom. Since then, Prinze has starred in a trio of light romances and just finished filming Scooby Doo, a big-budget comedy scheduled for release next summer.
In person, Prinze displays the qualities that define his appeal as a movie star: He is tall (6 feet 1) and lanky, with a handsome, boyish face featuring dark, gentle eyes and a soft, almost feminine mouth. But what draws people to him is his unusual expressiveness of feeling - a sensitivity and an emotional vulnerability he seems helpless to disguise. He appears innocent and thus makes a claim on an audience's affection and concern. He seems too good to be true.
"The majority of my audience is my age or younger," said Prinze, explaining his immense popularity. "They haven't a clue who my father was. All they want is to see me struggle for a little while and then succeed, so that they believe it can happen to them. I want them to know that good people exist. I'm trying to be the best person I can possibly be.
"I don't use drugs," he went on. "Drugs embrace weakness, and weakness embraces defeat, and there's no way out. Drugs killed my dad. In L.A., the situation has come up a million times, but I've stayed true to myself every single time."
What does he most want out of life now? "To be a father!" he exclaimed. "I'd be the best you've seen in your whole life. I'd win Father of the Year every time!" Prinze thought on that a moment, smiling to himself.
"Did you know I pray every day?" he asked. "I get in the shower every single day, get on my hands and knees and pray. I feel the need to thank God for everything. I have friends I can trust and a woman I love. I'm not a drug addict. I wasn't in a gang. I'm just a normal man who thanks God for every single thing He's done for me."
Copyright © 2001 Parade Magazine. All Rights Reserved.