LONDON — David Frost had sparred with Richard Nixon for hours, recording a series of interviews with the former president three years after he stepped down in disgrace over Watergate. But as the sessions drew to a close, Frost realized he still lacked something: an acknowledgement by Nixon that he had been wrong.
Nixon had admitted making mistakes, but Frost put down his clipboard and pressed his subject on whether that was enough. Americans, he said, wanted to hear him own up to his misdeeds and acknowledge abusing the power of the White House.
“Unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life,” the British broadcaster told Nixon.
What came next were some of the most extraordinary comments ever made by a politician on television. For Frost, who died Saturday, it was the signature moment of an illustrious television career that spanned half a century and included interviews with a long list of the world’s most powerful and famous, including virtually every British prime minister and U.S. president of his time.
A natural at TV hosting, he seemed to effortlessly inhabit the worlds of entertainment and politics. As a satirist, a game show host and a journalist, he disarmed others with unfailing affability and personal charm.
“He had an extraordinary ability to draw out the interviewee, knew exactly where the real story lay and how to get at it,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. Frost, he added, “was also a thoroughly kind and good-natured man.”
Blair’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, added on Twitter that Frost was one of the best interviewers “because his sheer niceness could lull you into saying things you didn’t intend.”
Frost, 74, died of a heart attack Saturday night aboard the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, where he was due to give a speech, his family said in a statement sent to the BBC. The cruise company Cunard said its vessel left the English port of Southampton on Saturday for a 10-day cruise in the Mediterranean.