David Frost, Famous for Nixon Interview, Dead at 74

His meetings with the president inspired a play and an Oscar-nominated movie in 2008

Last Updated: July 16, 2014 @ 3:19 PM

British journalist David Frost, best known for his interview with former U.S. President Richard Nixon, died of a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 74, the BBC said 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 BBC quoted from a family statement.

Frost’s 1977 interview with Nixon represented a rare moment of candor for a man who spent much of his post-presidential life trying to massage the Watergate scandal that drove him from office.

Also read: Hollywood’s Notable Deaths of 2013

Initially the interviews were derided as an example of check-book journalism, as Nixon only agreed to participate in return for a $600,000 fee and a share of the profits, but Frost’s hard-hitting questions and exhaustive examination of Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up of the bugging of Democratic National Committee headquarters proved of lasting historical value.

In the tête-à-tête’s most quoted line, Nixon responded to questions of the legality of his actions by saying, “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

His meetings with Nixon were the basis of a 2006 play by Peter Morgan, and turned into 2008 movie, “Frost/ Nixon.” He was played by Michael Sheen in the Ron Howard-directed drama, which was nominated for five Oscars.

Frost was a pioneer of broadcasting for more than half a century, and hosted the program “That Was The Week That Was,” which cast a satirical eye over the week’s news. “The Frost Report” brought together John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in a sketch show which would influence many comedy writers, including the Monty Python crew.

He has been working for several British programs recently, as well as Al Jazeera America.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to him on Sunday.

“My heart goes out to David Frost’s family. He could be – and certainly was with me – both a friend and a fearsome interviewer,” Cameron said on Twitter.