Broadcaster David Frost Dies at 74

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David Frost (left) with Richard Nixon in Southern California in 1977, before one of their interviews.

UPDATED: The journalist's notable interviews with disgraced President Nixon formed the basis of the 2008 Oscar-nominated drama "Frost/Nixon." Director Ron Howard tells THR: "He was impressive, worldly, entertaining and gracious."

Veteran British journalist and broadcaster David Frost, who won fame around the world for his TV interviews with former President Richard Nixon, has died, his family told The BBC. He was 74.

Frost died of a suspected heart attack Saturday night aboard the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, where he was due to give a speech, the family said. The cruise company Cunard said its vessel left the English port of Southampton on Saturday for a 10-day cruise in the Mediterranean.

Known both for an amiable personality and incisive interviews with leading public figures, Frost's career in television news and entertainment spanned almost half a century. He was the only person to have interviewed all six British prime ministers serving between 1964 and 2007 and the seven U.S. presidents in office between 1969 and 2008. Outside world affairs, his roster ranged from Orson Welles to Muhammad Ali to Clint Eastwood.

His Nixon interviews in 1977 went on to spawn a hit play. And in 2008, a new generation was introduced to Frost's work with the Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon.

"I had several opportunities to meet with Sir David," Howard told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was impressive, worldly, entertaining and gracious. I think he also should be acknowledged for his entrepreneurial courage as a producer in the television medium."

The son of a Methodist preacher, Frost began television hosting while still a student at Cambridge University. He went on to host the BBC's satirical news show The Week That Was in the early 1960s, and, later, a sketch show called The Frost Report and a long-running BBC Sunday show, Breakfast With Frost. His signature, "Hello, good evening and welcome," was often mimicked.

In the U.S., his Group W Productions syndicated talk program The David Frost Show, taped in a theater in New York, premiered in summer 1969 and ran for three seasons, winning Emmy Awards for outstanding variety or musical series in its first two.

The first show featured a conversation with Prince Charles, and other guests included Hubert Humphrey, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, Barry Goldwater, Edmund Muskie and Stokely Carmichael.

But Frost did not become internationally known until 1977, when he secured the series of television interviews with Nixon.

Frost produced the interviews, which ran in four 90-minute segments in May, reportedly paying Nixon $600,000 for the rights plus a percentage. It did not air on network television; instead, it was shown on 155 local stations, covering 93 percent of the country. The first installment drew a record 45 million viewers.

The dramatic face-to-face was make-or-break both for him and for the ex-president, who was trying to salvage his reputation after resigning from the White House in disgrace following the Watergate scandal three years earlier.

The interviewer and his subject sparred through the first part of the interview, but Frost later said he realized he didn't have what he wanted as it wound down.

Nixon had acknowledged mistakes, but Frost pressed him on whether that was enough. Americans, he said, wanted to hear him own up to wrongdoing and acknowledge abuse of power — and "unless you say it, you're going to be haunted for the rest of your life."

"That was totally off-the-cuff," Frost later said. "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."

After more pressing, 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.

In 1970, Frost had conducted a 90-minute segment with Spiro Agnew in which the vice president responded to the Kent State shootings and debated college students critical of the Nixon administration's policies. 

Eventually restless with the interview format -- he conducted more than 750 interviews on his U.S. show -- he ventured into film and TV production.

His film production company, Paradine (Frost's middle name), produced such fare as Charley-One-Eye (1973), a Western starring Richard Roundtree, and The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976). And another of his firms, London Weekend Television, was a leading commercial broadcasting entity with a studio near the Thames in London. 

High-profile and somewhat of a bon vivant, Frost was often photographed with a string of beauties at functions and parties and was a part of London's “Swinging '60s” mystique. 

He was a popular performer on such variety shows as The Dean Martin Show, The Flip Wilson Show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and The Ed Sullivan Show and occasionally served as guest host on The Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show.

He authored more than a dozen books, including 1968's The English, which he co-wrote with Antony Jay, and the well-reviewed The Americans, published in 1970.

Frost received the Order of the British Empire in 1970 for his services to broadcasting and was knighted in 1993.

Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to send his condolences, praising Frost for being an "extraordinary man with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure."

"The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments — but there were many other brilliant interviews," Cameron said. "He could be — and certainly was with me — both a friend and a fearsome interviewer."

The BBC said it received a statement from Frost's family saying it was devastated and asking "for privacy at this difficult time."

Breakfast With Frost ran on the BBC for 12 years until 2005, and the game show "Through the Keyhole" from 1987 to 2008. He had recently been working for Al Jazeera International.

Pamela McClintock and the Associated Press contributed to this report.