David Frost, veteran British broadcaster, dies at 74

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(CNN) — Veteran British broadcaster David Frost, best known for his series of interviews with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon, has died. He was 74.

His death was reported by the BBC, which aired many of his shows, and by Al Jazeera English, where he also worked.

The BBC published a statement from Frost’s family asking for privacy “at this difficult time.” The family said Frost spent Saturday evening giving a speech on a cruise ship, where he suffered a heart attack. He’s survived by his wife of 30 years and three children.

“My heart goes out to David Frost’s family,” British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Sunday morning. “He could be — and certainly was with me — both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.”

Frost’s interviews with Nixon, and the story behind them, were portrayed in the play and film “Frost/Nixon,” written by Peter Morgan.

In a 2009 interview, Frost told CNN he did not see the interviews as “an intellectual ‘Rocky,'” as Morgan called them.

Nixon at one point let down his guard, telling Frost, “I’m saying when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” For many viewers, that moment cemented Nixon’s infamy.

More than 30 years later, Frost remembered Nixon as a surprisingly awkward figure who, while once discussing what they’d done the previous evening, asked the host, “Did you do any fornicating?”

“It was amazing to discover how … hopeless he was at small talk,” Frost told CNN. “I mean, here was this incredible professional politician, a great pro. And he’d never learned small talk.”

In a 2011 interview with CNN, Frost praised former U.S. President George H.W. Bush. “He was wise,” Frost said. “He was cautious, he knew what he was determined to do.”

But it wasn’t all serious interviews with politicians. Charlie Courtauld worked with Frost in his later years at Al Jazeera English. “What was remarkable about Sir David was his ability to put any interviewee at ease, from the most high and mighty to an ordinary person in the street,” Courtauld said in a statement.

“He found interest in anybody. Whoever he was interviewing would realise that Sir David was genuinely interested in them and their lives. He was very much a people person.”

In his early days as a presenter, Frost also dabbled in satire. In the early 1960s he hosted a program on the BBC called “That Was the Week That Was.”

The short-lived show included luminaries like John Cleese and marked the beginning of a broadcast career that mixed news and entertainment.

Born in southern England, Frost considered following in the footsteps of his Methodist minister father. That ambition didn’t last. Before entering university, Frost also ruled out professional soccer, turning down an offer from a team in Nottingham.

Frost married in 1981. The union with actress Lynne Frederick was brief, just 18 months. In 1994, Frederick committed suicide. Frost later said of Frederick, “Life was very unfair to her.”

Frost’s second marriage would last.

In 1983 he wed Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard. The couple had three sons. The late Princess Diana was godmother to the youngest.

Although Frost came from humble beginnings, later in life he lived quite well. He was knighted in 1993. His annual summer fete drew A-listers and headlines. This year, for example, Pippa Middleton drew attention for the red lace number she wore.

Frost’s lengthy career led to many accolades, but in 2011 Frost described himself as an “OK father.” Still, in comments to the Daily Mail, Frost said he loved being a father and he simply tried not to impose on his sons. “It’s terribly important not to be too ambitious for them, just to be ambitious for their happiness,” he said.

By Khushbu Shah, Josh Levs and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux

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