David Frye, Nixon parodist, dies aged 77

David Frye, popular political satirist most famous for his impressions of President Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, has died at the age of 77.

Frye, born under the name of David Shapiro, died on Monday of cardiopulmonary arrest at his home in Las Vegas, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Saturday, according to the LA Times.

His impressions of leading political figures made Frye on the most popular comedians of the day in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Frye’s sister, Ruth Welch of Boynton Beach, Fla., said he was a born comic genius who wrote his own material and began by imitating neighbours in Brooklyn, New York, where they grew up.

“He had an eye for people’s movements and an ear for their voices,” she told The Associated Press on Saturday. “He could really get down people’s mannerisms and intonations.”

In the early 1960s Frye was a struggling impressionist working the clubs of Greenwich Village, relying on a fairly standard repertoire of Hollywood actors, the New York Times reports. He then added an impression of Robert F. Kennedy into his act after a girlfriend commented that the latter sounded like Bugs Bunny.

Frye had many different characters, but began to specialise in political figureheads, such as George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey, early on. He imitated not only their vocal peculiarities, but also body language and facial expressions. “Frye bobs and weaves among the political heavyweights armed with perfect pitch and deadly accuracy,” Time magazine wrote in 1970.

But it was the impression of President Nixon that ultimately catapulted Frye to fame. “I do Nixon not by copying his real actions but by feeling his attitude, which is that he cannot believe that he really is president,” Frye told Esquire magazine in 1971.

[adsense]This impersonation kept the comic a regular on TV variety shows and the biggest casinos. “Nixon has these brooding eyes that look like my eyes. That helped a lot. But the voice is still the main thing. He has a radio announcer’s evenness of speech, very well modulated, and you can’t pick out any highs and lows. If I hadn’t had to do him, I wouldn’t have tried,” Frye told Esquire.

Sister Ruth described the performer as a “wonderful” brother: “He was a generous person and a very good brother in time of need,” she said. “He was very much loved by the whole family, and he’ll be terribly missed.”

Click here to read about the recent death of fellow Las Vegas comedian Charlie Callas.

Other greats who have recently passed away include producer Bernd Eichinger, actress Susannah York, fitness guru Jack Lalanne and music legend Captain Beefheart.

Images: Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons