Peter Graves dead at 83

Actor best known for role in 'Mission: Impossible'

Peter Graves, who starred in “Mission: Impossible” and films including “Stalag 17” and “Airplane,” died of natural causes in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on Sunday. He was 83.

Graves made his mark when he replaced Steven Hill as the lead in CBS’ “Mission: Impossible” in 1967. Thesp starred as the gruff leader of the Impossible Missions Force for six seasons, and then returned in 1988 for ABC’s remake of the series. He also starred as Capt. Clarence Oveur in 1980 laffer “Airplane” and its sequel.

Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, Graves entered showbiz at an early age — he was a radio announcer at age 16. Following a stint in the Air Force, he studied drama at the U. of Minnesota. Upon graduation he came to Hollywood, where his older brother James Arness was already starring in “Gunsmoke.” Graves’ first film was 1951’s “Rogue River.” A host of smaller roles in films, mostly Westerns, and TV followed, including horror films such as “Killers From Space.”

Among his film credits were a German spy in 1953’s “Stalag 17,” directed by Billy Wilder, and “The Yellow Tomahawk.”

In the 1960s, he turned to TV and played the lead in NBC series “Fury,” as well as “Whiplash” in 1960-61. He had recurring roles on “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and “7th Heaven.”

Though he’s best known for his role as Jim Phelps of the “Mission: Impossible” series, for which he won a Golden Globe and was Emmy-nommed, Graves turned down the chance to co-star in Par’s 1996 film toplining Tom Cruise.

In 1980, Graves was approached for the role of pilot of the doomed jetliner in “Airplane” and almost rejected the part after reading the script. However upon hearing Leslie Nielsen had accepted a role in the pic and meeting with writers Jerry and David Zucker, he decided to take the part.

In later years, Graves was the host of “Biography” on A&E, for which he won an Emmy, and had guest roles in series such as “House,” “Cold Case” and “American Dad.”

Besides his brother James Arness, survivors include his wife, actress Joan Endress; and three daughters.

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