Mar 14, 2010
'Mission Impossible' and 'Airplane!' actor Peter Graves dies at 83
by Thom Geier
Actor Peter Graves, the square-jawed star of the 1967-73 TV spy series Mission Impossible and the original host of cable’s Biography series, died of a heart attack Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., according to the New York Times. He was 83.
He appeared in golden-age Hollywood classics like 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1955’s Night of the Hunter as well as a host of genre movies through the years, lending an air of seriousness to even the most trivial roles. In later years, that dedication made him a perfect choice for satire, including his famed turn as a seemingly straitlaced pilot in 1980’s Airplane! (“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”)
Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, he served in the U.S. Air Force in 1944-45, studied drama at the University of Minnesota, and then followed his older brother, Gunsmoke star James Arness, to Hollywood. (He took the surname of his maternal grandfather to avoid confusion with his brother.) Like his brother, Graves found some of his most recognizable roles on TV: In Mission Impossible, he played Jim Phelps, the cool-as-a-cucumber leader of a super-secret spy organization that conducted elaborate undercover operations, earning a Golden Globe in 1971 and an Emmy nomination in 1969. Beginning in 1987, he served as the original host of A&E’s Biography series (for which he won his only Emmy, in 1997, for Judy Garland: Beyond the Rainbow).