Comic David Frye, known for Nixon impression, dies

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Comic David Frye, whose impressions of Presidents Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and other prominent political figures vaulted him to popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, has died in Las Vegas, his family confirmed Saturday. He was 77.

Frye died at his home Monday of cardiopulmonary arrest, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said.

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 neighbors in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they grew up.

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

Among other venues, Frye performed at colleges and nightclubs across the country as well as on television programs such as the “Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

He reached the height of his popularity doing exaggerated impressions of Nixon, with his shoulders hunched and face bowed down. He also devoted several albums to Nixon before Nixon resigned as president in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.

Born David Shapiro in 1934 in Brooklyn, Frye also imitated such political and entertainment figures as Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, William F. Buckley, Walter Cronkite, Kirk Douglas and Howard Cosell.

In a 1986 interview while playing the Riviera Hotel and Casino, Frye told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he rarely made television appearances and therefore hardly ever worked nightclubs anymore.

“I haven’t worked on a nightclub stage in years,” Frye said. “TV gives you exposure and in turn, drawing power. There aren’t too many shows left on TV where a guy like me can perform. So with no drawing power, I’m not in demand on the nightclub circuit.”

He recorded the albums “David Frye Presents the Great Debate” in 1980 and “Clinton: An Oral History” in 1998, but never again saw the level of fame he achieved in the Nixon years.

Welch said Frye was a “wonderful” brother who moved to Las Vegas about eight years ago from Beverly Hills, Calif.

“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.”

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