London – Veteran British broadcaster David Frost set a milestone in TV history when he drew extraordinary admissions from disgraced former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Armed with ambition, talent and a remarkable contacts book, Frost sat down with many other world leaders and the biggest names in show business over half a century.
Here are highlights from some of his most prominent interviews.
Richard Nixon, 1977: Over almost 30 hours of interviews with Nixon, who resigned three years earlier in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, Frost pressed the ex-president to acknowledge and apologize for his wrongdoing in office. Frost managed to get the following remarkable responses.
Frost: “I think people need to hear it, and I think unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life.”
Nixon: “I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest. . . . And I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.”
Frost: “So what you are saying is that there are certain situations . . . where the president can decide that it’s in the best interest of the nation or something, and do something illegal?”
Nixon: “Well when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Frost: “By definition?”
Muhammad Ali, 1974: Frost interviewed the legendary heavyweight boxer, then 32, inside a boxing ring ahead of his landmark fight with George Foreman, when most people wrongly thought Ali would lose. But Ali was animated and brimming with confidence in the interview.
Ali: “I think it is befitting that I go out of boxing just like I came in, defeating a big, bad monster that nobody could destroy. . . . Listen, David, when I meet this man, if you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I whip Foreman’s behind.”
The boxer continued, partly talking directly to the camera, then standing up to caricature Foreman: “Listen, George Foreman, people are afraid of George Foreman. They talk about how hard he hits. The world has been deceived. You listen to me. You listen to me now, I never told you wrong. The man don’t hit hard.”
Margaret Thatcher, 1985: In 1985, Frost grilled the prime minister about the sinking of the Argentine ship Belgrano by a British submarine that killed 323 sailors during the Falklands conflict.
As Frost pressed on with questions about what had happened, a visibly ruffled Thatcher sternly defended her decision to attack the ship. After being confronted with a barrage of questions, Thatcher finally said in frustration: “Do you think, Mr. Frost, that I spend my days prowling round the pigeon holes of the Ministry of Defense to look at the chart of each and every ship? If you do, you must be bonkers.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, 1993: In an interview with the former Soviet leader, Frost asked about communism, his legacy, and his relationship with, and views of, Thatcher.
Gorbachev: “It was not too easy to begin with . . . but I felt from the start I could deal with her. I regarded her as an outstanding woman and a major political force. I was far from sharing all her opinions. . . . Many sharp words were exchanged. I could never agree to the way she felt about nuclear weapons. She was too attracted to nuclear weapons.”
Frost: “Were you alike in character, do you think?”
Gorbachev, after a pause and a shrug: “That’s difficult to answer. I think it’s up to you to try to answer that. But she was an interesting human being.”
Tony Blair, 2002: Frost seemed to catch the British prime minister off-guard when he asked an unexpected question about his relationship with President George W. Bush in an interview.
Frost: “Do you pray together?”
Blair: “Pray together? How do you mean?”
Frost: “Do you say prayers together for peace, you and the president.”
Blair: “Well, we don’t say prayers together, no, but I’m sure he in his way hopes for peace. I hope for peace, too.”
Bill Clinton: In an undated clip shown by the BBC on Sunday, Frost was seen interviewing the former U.S. president about his relationship with Monica Lewinski.
Frost: “Did you love her?”
Clinton: “No. I don’t think that’s what that was about. On either side. But I liked her very much.”