Born in Hornell, New York, United States, Freas (pronounced like the English word "freeze") was the son of two photographers, and was raised in Canada. He was educated at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, where he received training from long-time art teacher Elizabeth Weiffenbach. Following college and the United States Army Air Forces, he went back to school at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and began work in advertising. He married Pauline (Polly) Bussard in 1952; they had two children, Jacqui and Jerry. Polly died of cancer in January 1987. In 1988 he married (and is survived by) Dr. Laura Brodian.
For Weird Tales (November 1950), Freas did his first fantasy magazine cover, illustrating H. Russell Wakefield's "The Third Shadow" with his painting "The Piper." With his illustrating career underway, he continued to devise unique and imaginative concepts for other fantasy and science fiction magazines of that period. In a field where airbrushing is common practice, paintings by Freas are notable for his use of bold brush strokes, and a study of his work reveals his experimentation with a wide variety of tools and techniques.
Over the next five decades, he created covers for numerous books and magazines, notably Astounding Science Fiction both before and after its title change to Analog; Mad magazine (for whom he painted many early covers featuring the iconic character, Alfred E. Neuman) from 1958 to 1962 (he started at Mad in February 1957 and by July 1958 was the magazine's new cover artist; he painted most of its covers until October 1962); cover art for DAW, Signet, Ballantine Books, Avon, all 58 Laser Books, and over 90 covers for Ace books alone. He was a participant in one of the all-time great literary hoaxes, I, Libertine (Ballantine Books, 1956), along with Jean Shepherd, Ian Ballantine and Theodore Sturgeon, incorporating several hidden jokes and references into his cover painting for that book. That same year he drew cartoon illustrations for Bernard Shir-Cliff's The Wild Reader, also for Ballantine.
Freas was commissioned to paint the Skylab I insignia design and posters promoting the space program (used by NASA and now hanging in the Smithsonian Institution); pinup girls on bombers while in the United States Army Air Forces; comic book covers; and many others, such as more than 500 saints' portraits for the Franciscans executed simultaneously with his portraits of Alfred E. Neuman ("What? Me Worry?") for Mad. His cover of Queen's album News of the World (1977) was a pastiche of his much-admired sad robot cover illustrating Tom Godwin's "The Gulf Between" for Astounding Science Fiction (October 1953).
Freas published several collections of his artwork and frequently gave presentations. His work appeared in numerous exhibitions. Among many other awards, Freas was the first person to receive ten Hugo awards. He was nominated 20 times. No other artist in science fiction has consistently matched his record. His smooth and luminous images, amiable aliens and sexy women have become part of today's science fiction visual language.