In response to Nixon's question about a better word than "mistake," Frost suggested the ex-president acknowledge wrongdoing in the White House and apologize for "putting the American people through two years of needless agony." In his rambling, 20-minute reply, an emotional Nixon said he'd let America down.

The sessions between Frost and Nixon were dramatized in "Frost/Nixon", a 2006 Peter Morgan play and a 2008 movie starring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon

Born April 7, 1939, in Tenterden, England, David Paradine Frost, the son of a Methodist minister, attended Cambridge. Active in the Cambridge Footlights, a theatrical group, he was later discovered in a nightclub by a BBC director who was impressed by his impersonation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

In 1962, Frost became host of "That Was the Week That Was," a new BBC satirical revue. The following year, he started the same program in the U.S., setting the table for the hard-edged topical comedy of later shows like "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and "Saturday Night Live. "

He was relentlessly ambitious and could be arrogant, though his staff seemed to take it with a smile. According to Times columnist Joyce Haber, Frost's secretary is said to have circulated a verse she wrote about him: "A general once lived named DeGaulle/500 years old,10 feet tall/he thought he was God/which really was odd/for God's David Frost, if at all."

Successful both in the U.S. and in Britain, Frost jetted between the two for decades, interviewing celebrities as varied as Timothy Leary and Tex Ritter, Billy Graham and Raquel Welch.

He also hosted "Through the Keyhole," visiting homes of the rich and famous in Britain.

Critics liked him — The Times called him "rare beefsteak in a marshmallow sundae world" — but some were put off by his hunched-over posture and studied intensity. Writer Peter Heller likened him to "a bemused and somewhat undernourished bird of prey transfixed by a being it finds too fascinating to attack."

Frost, who was knighted in 1993, married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, in 1983. She survives him as do their three sons.

At the time of his death, Frost hosted an interview show for Al Jazeera English.

Talking with the Sunday Telegraph in London last year, he chuckled when asked about critics' occasional complaints that he had "gone soft."

He said former Labour Party leader John Smith once told him: "David you have a way of asking beguiling questions with potentially lethal consequences."

"I'd be happy to have that on my tombstone," Frost said.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Times staff writer Elaine Woo contributed to this report.