David Frost, who died Aug. 31 at 74, was much more than the man who interviewed President Nixon. He had a career in the U.K. spanning the possibilities of TV presenting: satire (That Was the Week That Was), entertainment hosting and serious political interviews. But his signature program, the series of interviews with the ex-President in 1977, which became the most watched political interview ever, combined the many aspects of his career. It was part newsmaker interrogation, part psychological inquiry, part drama and a good part theater.
The multisegment interview–chronicled in the play and 2008 movie Frost/Nixon–ended up being a lengthy interrogation of Nixon’s betrayal of the public trust. Frost had a reputation as a glib creature of showbiz, but with Nixon he was steady, determined and–maybe rarest in the hurry-up medium of TV–patient. Frost’s blow-dried reputation may have gotten him the interview, but he showed up as a journalist. His most lasting influence was as an on-camera natural who proved that an interview set could be simultaneously a stage and a courtroom.
This text originally appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of TIME magazine.
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