Known for his laid-back but probing style of interviewing, Mr. Frost gained access to an astonishing array of world figures during a five-decade career. His subjects included seven U.S. presidents and eight British prime ministers, and his A-list included Prince Charles, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, the Beatles, Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin.
Ferociously prepared but charming to the point of servility, he had a knack for getting his interviewees to relax and open up. “He could be — and certainly was with me — a good friend and a fearsome interviewer,” tweeted David Cameron, the British prime minister.
The coup of Mr. Frost’s career came in 1977, when he persuaded Nixon to sit with him (for a fee and a share of the broadcast profits) in a series of interviews over several weeks. Nearly 29 hours of taped conversation — Nixon’s first interview after resigning in disgrace in 1974 — was distilled into four 90-minute programs.
At one point, Nixon said of his Watergate machinations “that when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Once Mr. Frost had established a rapport with Nixon, he cannily appealed to Nixon’s sense of history and remorse, telling the leader that unless he acknowledged his abuses, “you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life.”
Finally, Nixon conceded: “I let the American people down.”
The Nixon interviews formed the basis of an acclaimed play and movie whose title — “Frost/Nixon” (not Nixon/Frost) — established that Mr. Frost had become as much of a celebrity as the VIPs he interviewed.
In a golden age of television journalism that produced the likes of Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters, Mr. Frost was also a media executive and panel-game host who got his start in TV as a satirist. He was also a fully transatlantic figure in the mold of Alistair Cooke — as familiar in the United States as in his native Britain.
David Paradine Frost was born on April 7, 1939, to Wilfred John Paradine Frost, a Methodist minister, and Mona Aldrich Frost in Tenterden, in the southern English county of Kent. The family later moved to a town in the English Midlands.
Mr. Frost credited his high-school English teacher, a Mr. Cooksey, with igniting “my interest in words, and the use of words,” and for sowing the seeds of a reporter’s skepticism. During the Suez Crisis in 1956, “he urged us to read two newspapers rather than one,” Mr. Frost wrote. At the Wellingborough Grammar School, he also hammed it up in a series of school plays.
Those two threads — public affairs and public performance — entwined for him as an undergraduate at Cambridge, where he became editor of the university magazine Granta, and a member of the Footlights Dramatic Club, a famous incubator for satirists and actors. Mr. Frost found himself comfortably in a company of young, bright and rebellious students ready to reject the norms of deference and class status that defined their parents’ generation.