Satirist and Impressionist David Frye Dead at 77

Comic who rode a wave of popularity in the 1970s died Monday in Las Vegas.

Jan. 30, 2011— -- Comic and satirist David Frye, who rode a wave of popularity in the 1970s with realistic, biting impressions of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and other political and celebrity targets, died at the age of 77 in Las Vegas, according to his family.

Frye's official cause of death on Monday, Jan. 24, was cardiopulmonary arrest, according to Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy.

Born David Shapiro in Brooklyn in 1934, Frye was a talented impressionist from an early age, who, according to his sister Ruth Welch, was a true genius that wrote his own material and began his storied career by imitating their neighbors.

"He had an eye for people's movements and an ear for their voices," Welch told The Associated Press. "He could really get down people's mannerisms and intonations."

He went on to attend the University of Miami, where his knack for impressions and miming found an audience on campus and in the city's strip clubs.

After briefly serving in the Army, Frye worked in New York with his father while launching his career on New York's comedy club scene.

As his career picked up steam, Frye performed at comedy clubs and on college campuses across the country, and eventually landed in homes across America on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and the "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."

His career apex soon came with his famous, dead-on impression of Nixon. With hunched shoulders and a sagging face, Frye's portrait of the then sitting president was that of a neurotic, insecure man.

Frye nailed Nixon's demeanor and vocal ticks, repeating some of his most familiar phrases, such as, "Let me make this perfectly clear."

His two earliest best-selling comedy albums, 1969's "I Am The President" and 1971's "Radio Free Nixon," along with a plethora of television appearances, helped bring his skewering of Nixon to a national audience.

"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 after "Radio Free Nixon" was released. "He's trying to convince himself when he says, 'I am the president!' And the moving eyes and tongue merely symbolize the way his mind is working," Frye said.

Aside from Nixon, Frye did ace impressions of such political figures and celebrities as Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, William F. Buckley, Walter Cronkite, Kirk Douglas and Howard Cosell.

After Nixon resigned from office, Frye's career quickly declined. In the 1990s he attempted a comeback with impressions of Bill Clinton and both of the Bush presidents, but ultimately his time in the limelight had passed.

Speaking to the New York Post in 1998 about Nixon's resignation, he said that "it was a shock to lose my greatest character."

"And I knew I wouldn't get a Grammy nomination for a Gerald Ford tape," Frye deadpanned.

Welch told the AP that Frye left Los Angeles for Las Vegas about eight years ago.

"He was a generous person and a very good brother in time of need," Welch said. "He was very much loved by the whole family, and he'll be terribly missed."