David Frye dies at 77; impressionist and satirist skewered political figures of the day

David Frye, whose impressions of Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson and other prominent political figures vaulted him to popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s, has died. He was 77.

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

He had a wide-ranging cast of characters, but he specialized in impressions of the era’s political figures such as Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace and Nelson Rockefeller. “Frye bobs and weaves among the political heavyweights armed with perfect pitch and deadly accuracy,” Time magazine wrote in 1970.

Frye was a “frenzied, bellowing impressionist and political satirist,” The Times’ Dennis Hunt wrote in a 1974 review of a performance at the Troubadour.


His signature impression was of Nixon, with his shoulders hunched and a “singsong baritone … so close to the mark it makes one hope Frye never gets close to the hot line,” Time wrote.

After Nixon resigned in 1974, “it was a shock to lose my greatest character,” Frye told the New York Post in 1998. “And I knew I wouldn’t get a Grammy nomination for a Gerald Ford tape.”

Frye was born David Shapiro in Brooklyn. Frye’s sister, Ruth Welch of Boynton Beach, Fla., said he had an “ear for people’s voices” and an “eye for their movements” that made his impressions very accurate.

He attended the University of Miami and did impressions in campus productions. His career took off in the 1960s after he worked in clubs, and he became a fixture on television. Frye appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” among others.

His comedy albums included “I Am the President” and “Richard Nixon: A Fantasy.”

A complete list of survivors was not available.