Veteran British interviewer David Frost dies of heart attack

British journalist David Frost (above), best-known for interviewing former US president Richard Nixon, died of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 74, the BBC reported on Sunday. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
British journalist David Frost (above), best-known for interviewing former US president Richard Nixon, died of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 74, the BBC reported on Sunday. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - British journalist David Frost, best-known for interviewing former US president Richard Nixon, died of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 74, the BBC reported on Sunday.

"Sir David died of a heart attack last night aboard the Queen Elizabeth, which is a Cunard (cruise) liner where he was giving a speech. His family are devastated and ask for privacy at this difficult time," the family said in a statement read on BBC television.

Immortalised in the 2008 film Frost Nixon, he was a pioneer of broadcasting for more than half a century, including the satirical programme That Was The Week That Was, and appeared in several British television programmes in recent years.

Mr Frost secured his broader reputation with the Nixon interviews of 1977, three years after the president retreated into silence after quitting in disgrace. In those encounters, the British talk-show host sparred with the former US president for hours before eliciting a moment of historical drama: Mr Nixon apologised for the bugging of Democratic rivals at Washington's Watergate building and the later cover-up.

"I'm sorry," Mr Nixon finally confessed to Mr Frost. "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."

Mr Frost, the son of a Methodist minister from Kent outside London, launched his career while still at Cambridge University as a leading figure in the Footlights Dramatic Club, a hotbed of innovative comedy that also produced members of Monty Python.

Speaking for a generation that grew up in a Britain shorn of its imperial power - if not pretensions - after World War Two, That Was The Week That Was mocked an indignant establishment, enjoying huge ratings and making the youthful Mr Frost a star.

He went on to become best known as an interviewer of world leaders, sitting opposite virtually every US president and British prime minister of the age. He showed a rare talent for extracting intriguing and revealing information.

An engaging personality off-screen, and made wealthy by his interests in a string of successful television ventures, Mr Frost's celebrity-studded contact book - and his lavish parties - were the stuff of legend in politics and showbusiness.

That his own style and a catchphrase became themselves much mimicked only underlined his status as a fixture on the small screen. He continued to pursue the art of the interview, presenting a weekly conversation on Al Jazeera International.

His recent guests included Israeli President Shimon Peres and British racing driver Lewis Hamilton.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke for many with his comment on Twitter: "He made a huge impact on television and politics. The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments - but there were many other brilliant interviews.

"He could be - and certainly was with me - both a friend and a fearsome interviewer."