Nixon Interviewer David Frost Dies

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 1 2013 1:07 PM

David Frost, Famed Nixon Interviewer, Dies at 74

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Journalist Sir David Frost attends the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in London on January 25, 2011

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

British broadcaster David Frost, who gained fame across the world for his interview with former president Richard Nixon, unexpectedly died Saturday when he had a heart attack aboard a cruise, where he was scheduled to give a talk. The 74-year-old had a rich career that included journalism, comedy writing and host of daytime television shows, notes the BBC. Frost became well known in Britain starting in 1962, when, almost fresh out of college, he became the host of the BBC’s That Was the Week That Was, considered a pioneer in political satire. His global fame came more than a decade later, when, in 1977, he hosted a series of interviews with Nixon three years after the former president had resigned from office in disgrace.

The interviews, which later became a play and a 2008 film both named Frost/Nixon, at the time became the most widely watched news interview in the history of TV, notes the Associated Press. Frost sparred with the president and at one point when talking about the abuses of presidential power, Nixon answered with the now infamous quote: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” But, of course, the most memorable part of the interview was the way Frost got Nixon to apologize to the American people with what he later described as a “totally off-the-cuff” series of remarks that warned the former president he would be “haunted” for the rest of his life if he didn’t come clean. "I'm sorry," Nixon finally said, notes Reuters. "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."

Frost was the only person to have interviewed the last eight British prime ministers and the seven U.S. presidents who were in office between 1969 to 2008. Another one of his more famous interviews was with former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in which he confronted her about the Falklands War. Most recently, Frost was a host in Al Jazeera English, which he joined as soon as the channel launched seven years ago, first in a show called Frost Over the World and then The Frost Interview. "His conversations with his guests elicited both news lines, and a unique insight into their lives," Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said.

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"He made a huge impact on television and politics,” British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter. “The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments—but there were many other brilliant interviews.” Cameron went on to call him “both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.”

Watch clips of Frost interviews after the jump:

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.