LONDON – British TV giant David Frost, 74, who interviewed the world’s great and good in a half-century broadcasting career, has died of a heart attack on board the Queen Elizabeth cruise liner, his family said Sunday.
Frost, celebrated for his 1977 talks with Richard Nixon that coaxed an unexpected apology from the disgraced US president over the Watergate scandal, died Saturday.
“Sir David Frost died of a heart attack last night aboard the Queen Elizabeth where he was giving a speech,” his family said in a statement.
“His family are devastated and ask for privacy at this difficult time,” the statement added.
Operator Cunard said the ship left its British home port of Southampton on Saturday on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise.
A ship steward told the Daily Telegraph that the alarm was raised soon after the ship left Southampton and that Frost was found dead in his suite.
His body is expected to be flown home when the boat makes a scheduled stop in Lisbon on Tuesday, the paper reported.
Those interviewed by the veteran broadcaster read like a who’s who of the rich and famous, from big names in show business to world leaders, including South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Frost was the only person to have interviewed the last eight British prime ministers and the last seven US presidents before Barack Obama, as well as the last person to have interviewed the last shah of Iran, the late Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Pivotal 20th century leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin, Yasser Arafat, F. W. de Klerk, Jacques Chirac and Benazir Bhutto were among others who faced his congenial grilling.
“Hello, good evening and welcome” became his catchphrase, starting off his incisive interviews with a friendly veneer that belied a blunt determination to extract information.
“His scrupulous and disarming politeness hid a mind like a vice,” said Menzies Campbell, former leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats.
BBC director general Tony Hall said: “From satire to comedy to the big political interviews, for more than 50 years he brought us the history of the world we live in today, that’s the mark of the man.”
The lengthy interviews with Nixon were crucial for both men — Nixon hoping to salvage his place in history while Frost aiming to add another feather in his cap of notable interviews.
In the end, Frost wrung a mea culpa from Nixon over Watergate, the dirty tricks scandal that prompted his resignation in 1974 and left a scar on the US political landscape.
“I let down my friends, I let down the country,” the former president said.
Frost told BBC television in 2009: “At the end of that I think we were aware that something sort of historic had happened and we’d gone further than expected.”
The encounter was turned into a play entitled “Frost/Nixon”, which was adapted into a 2008 film with Michael Sheen playing Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon. It was nominated for five Oscars.
Outside world affairs, Front’s roster included Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Elton John, Woody Allen, Muhammad Ali, the Beatles, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Norman Mailer, Warren Beatty among countless others.
British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Frost as “an extraordinary man – with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure” who made “a huge impact on television and politics.”
Britain’s newspapers carried his photograph on their front pages on Monday and paid glowing tributes.
The Daily Telegraph celebrated “an extraordinary, four-dimensional career” while the Guardian’s Mark Lawson called Frost a “visionary tycoon”.
The son of a Methodist minister, David Paradine Frost was born in Kent, southeast England, on April 7, 1939.
Fresh out of Cambridge University, he presented the BBC’s groundbreaking “That Was The Week That Was”, which took an unprecedented satirical look at the week’s news between 1962 and 1963.
In 1983, he married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, second daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. They had three sons.
Frost was knighted in 1993, becoming Sir David, and his accomplishments went beyond his broadcast interviews. A successful businessman, he also wrote 17 books, produced several films and started two British television networks, London Weekend Television and TV-am.
He began working for the Al Jazeera television channel in 2006.