'Mission Impossible' and 'Airplane!' actor Peter Graves dies at 83

peter_gravesImage Credit: Everett CollectionActor 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).

More on life and career of Peter Graves from EW:
Peter Graves: How he pulled off one of the best Hollywood tricks

Comments (72 total) Add your comment
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  • Pete

    Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?

    R.I.P. Captain Oveur.

    • Mars

      That’s Clarence Oveur, over.

      • jan

        joey, you ever been in a turkish prison?

      • Ambient Lite

        Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?
        Thanks for one of my favorite movies of all time.

    • torontoTom

      He had a key role in one of the funniest movies ever but watch – the Academy will deem him as “too television” and ignore him during the In Memoriam segment at next year’s Oscar ceremony.

  • Simon

    RIP Peter Graves. I will fondly remember your Jim Phelps.


    Peter Graves, wow!!! Thanks for giving us Fans seven years of one of the GREATEST TELEVISION SPY SHOWS of all time. “Mission: Impossible” was THE BEST. Nothing on TV now can touch it. With that said, Good Night Mr. Phelps.

    • Jess

      Well, true fans know that Peter Graves was only in six years of the original M:I (Steven Hill was the original leader of the team for the first season).

      • Jeffrey C

        Yeah, but he had two years in the revival.

    • ks

      so true! we have the entire series, you know those stories are relevant today.

  • madd

    RIP Peter Graves. You will be missed by Airplane! quoters everywhere.

  • Grover

    R.I.P. Mr. Graves. All MST3K fans will forever remember you from It Conquered The World, Beginning Of The End, Parts: The Clonus Horror, SST: Death Flight, and even an uncredited voiceover in Attack Of The The Eye Creatures. (Fans will know that last one is not a typo.) You were a class act, even surrounded by cinematic cheese.

    • Mary Beth

      Loved Beginning of the End. Mr. Phelps will truly be missed as Mission Impossible was probably one of the BEST TV shows ever. Who knew he was so very funny as well–a little dirty, but hilarious in Airplane. A very versatile actor.

    • Mare E

      He and his brother James made classic TV as heroes (Jim Phelps and Matt Dillion) and “classic” B movies. James as “The Thing” and in “Them” and he in the ones you mentioned. They both had to battle really big bugs and both were great.

    • jezoebel

      I was watching PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR last night on YouTube. The Biography references are classic.

  • Lala

    RIP Peter Graves. You will be missed.

  • Elizabeth

    Oh Man not another death? Three since Wednesday. Corey Haim, Merlin Olson and now Peter Graves. Loved all these stars and their shows/movies. RIP Mr. Peter Graves…

    • Pete

      They always go in groups of 3.

      • Jeff

        Except when they don’t

  • T.Swanson

    My wife & I are from Minneapolis,MN. We are so saddened by the loss of another icon from our youth. Your wit and your brother’s brawn formed lasting guideposts into the direction of our adult lives. Our condolences to your extended family that includes all of us who appreciated and will miss your work.

  • John

    My first rememberance of Peter Graves was in the role of Joey’s Father in the Saturday morning t.v. show callled Fury. the horse and the boy who loved him.

    • kaydevo

      I posted about the same show (before I read all the previous posts, including yours). We were crazy about that show (and horses). Joey didn’t know how good he and Packy had it! Loved how at the end of EVERY show, Jim or Joey or somebody made a jokey remark and everybody laughed heartily, including Fury.

    • m

      Yes, Fury was a favorite show of mine too, back in the early 1960’s. RIP, Peter.

  • Nick

    Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?

  • Jeffrey C

    RIP Peter. I loved in as Jim Phelps, and was totally outraged with what they did with that character in the film.

    • tomm

      Yes Tom Cruise ruined ‘MI’ forever!

    • Charles

      YES! The “twist” on Mr. Phelps at the end ruined the movie for me and left a bad taste in my mouth about the entire movie series. Totally ruined a great hero character that we grew up with. It was like telling us that Mr. Brady was actually gay. Oh wait…

      • Ryan

        There was recent talk that J.J. Abrams wanted to bring Graves in for MI4. The story would be that Jon Voight was an agent who had assumed Phelps’ identity because he needed to go into hiding or some such thing. Graves would then show up in this movie as the REAL Jim Phelps. I loved that idea. So sad it can’t happen now. I don’t know what would have been so hard about re-writing that 1996 movie so that somebody else was the bad guy and Graves would have done it. He once said that he wouldn’t have had a problem with Phelps dying, merely being a traitor.

      • Jeffrey C

        Jim Phelps was a hero, not a traitor. If they had killed him, I could live with it. Whoever wrote that film had absolutely NO respect for the source material. I refused to see MI 2 and MI 3 on principle.

      • Jeffrey C

        J.J. Abrams has respect for the source material. He directed Star Trek (2009) and worked something great; a new version of it without ignoring the history of the show and the fans. It was a great film.

  • Jeffrey C

    Yeah, I remember Dan Briggs. And I was horrified at the movie version of Phelps.

    • ks


  • Miss M.

    Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

  • Jason

    He must have had the fish for dinner

    • Ambient Lite

      Niiiice. :)

  • Jo


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