Prime Minister David Cameron, one of the first public figures to send condolences, called Frost “both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.” BBC executives lauded him as “a titan of broadcasting” — both for beginning a tradition of satirizing politics and for establishing a more confrontational interview style.
Frost began his career almost fresh out of college as the host of an early 1960s BBC satirical news show “That Was The Week That Was,” then a pioneering program that ruthlessly lampooned politicians. The show gained a wide following, and Frost’s signature greeting, “Hello, good evening and welcome,” was often mimicked.
Frost was popular in Britain and was gaining a foothold on U.S. television, but it wasn’t until 1977, when he secured the interviews with Nixon, that he became internationally known.
The interviews were groundbreaking for both Frost and the ex-president, who was trying to salvage his reputation. At the time, they were the most widely watched news interviews in TV history.
“That was totally off-the-cuff,” Frost later said of his question that prompted Nixon’s contrite comments. “That was totally ad-lib. In fact, I threw my clipboard down just to indicate that it was not prepared in any way. ... I just knew at that moment that Richard Nixon was more vulnerable than he’d ever be in his life. And I knew I had to get it right.”
In the end, Nixon relented.
“I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
The face-off went on to spawn a hit play and in 2008, a new generation was introduced to Frost’s work with the Oscar-nominated movie “Frost/Nixon,” starring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon.
Frost was born on April 7, 1939, in Kent, England, the son of a Methodist preacher.