World News

09.01.13

Legendary Interviewer David Frost Dead at 74

Sir David Frost died on Saturday night on board the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship where he was booked to give a speech. Nico Hines reports.

Sir David Frost, the man who held President Richard Nixon to account in a series of blockbuster television interviews, has died at the age of 74 after suffering a suspected heart attack.

The British broadcaster, sometimes described as the finest interviewer of all time, was best known for his extraordinary 1977 meeting with Nixon in which the former president admitted for the first time that he had "let the American people down" during the Watergate affair.

Despite a remarkable skill in extracting secrets from his interviewees, he retained an unparalleled ability to secure the biggest subjects throughout his career. He was the only person to interview all seven U.S. presidents who served between 1969 and 2008 and every British prime minister since 1964.

Frost died on Saturday night on board the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship where he was booked to give a speech. A statement released by a spokesman read: "His family is devastated and have asked for privacy during this difficult time.”

David Cameron, the British prime minister, said he was "an extraordinary man—with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure."

"The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments—but there were many other brilliant interviews," Cameron said. "He could be—and certainly was with me—both a friend and a fearsome interviewer."

Frost was a legendary figure in Britain where he first became a household name as a presenter of the satirical television show That Was The Week That Was, which was broadcast on the BBC from 1962 and in the U.S. between 1964 and 1965.

In a career that spanned the Atlantic, he claimed to have flown "somewhere between 300 and 500 times" between London and New York by Concorde, he was able to switch effortlessly between Hollywood stars, sportsmen, and statesmen in interviews including Muhammad Ali, Clint Eastwood and Henry Kissinger.

Stephen Fry, an actor and fellow broadcaster, was a friend of the television veteran. "Oh heavens, David Frost dead? No!!" he wrote on Twitter. "I only spoke to him on Friday and he sounded so well. Excited about a house move, full of plans ... how sad."

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He was undoubtedly a well-known figure by the 1970s but the interview with Nixon, the president's first inquisition since Watergate, catapulted him to global stardom. Securing the interview was a Herculean feat. Nixon had withdrawn from public life after resigning from the White House and had never publicly discussed his role in one of America's greatest political cover-ups.

Through a combination of sheer determination and financial inducement, he convinced Nixon to take part in a series of five interviews in which the president would not be given prior knowledge of the questions. Because Frost agreed to pay a fee of $600,000, American broadcasters refused to cooperate with the venture.

Frost’s battle to secure the funding and agreement of Nixon was chronicled in a play, which was later adapted into the 2009 Oscar-nominated movie Frost/Nixon. On the last day of filming, Frost elicited that famous apology from Nixon, who appeared to have been broken down by his well-informed and incessant line of questioning.

Recalling a moment spent with close aides soon after he resigned, he said he suddenly realized what he had done. "And then I blurted it out. And I said, 'I'm sorry. I just hope I haven't let you down.' Well, when I said: 'I just hope I haven't let you down,' that said it all. I had: I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest," he told Frost.

Years later, a British politician who had been subjected to Frost’s style of questioning revealed the secret. "[He has a] way of asking beguiling questions with potentially lethal consequences," said former Labour leader John Smith.

After returning to predominantly British television screens, Frost presented a relaxed panel program called Through the Keyhole in which he showed clips from inside people's houses and invited celebrity guests to guess "who lives in a house like this." In a long-running series Breakfast with Frost, he also revolutionized the way morning television was broadcast in Britain.

Since 2006, he worked for for Al Jazeera English.