Actor Peter Graves, whose career spanned a star-making role in the 1960s TV series “Mission Impossible” to a late career reboot in the 1980s as Captain Clarence Oveur in the two slapstick “Airplane!” movies, died at age 83 on Sunday.
According to CNN, Graves collapsed in the driveway of his Los Angeles home on Sunday and was found by his daughter, who attempted to perform CPR unsuccessfully. A spokesperson for the actor said he was in good health and died of natural causes.
Born Peter Aurness on March 26, 1925, Graves had a long and storied career in Hollywood that spanned more than 70 movies and a number of TV series, beginning in 1942 with an uncredited debut in the war film “Winning Your Wings.” He moved out to Hollywood to join his older brother, actor James Arness, best known as the star of the long-running TV Western “Gunsmoke.” Peter changed his last name his name to avoid confusion with his sibling.
His early career was distinguished by a number of roles in schlocky horror and space movies (which would later become a running joke on “Mystery Science Theater 3000″) such as “Red Planet Mars,” Roger Corman’s “It Conquered the World” and “Killers From Space.” He had his first breakout role in the 1953 World War II classic “Stalag 17,” where he played an undercover Nazi spy hiding among American POWs in a German camp.
A tall, ruggedly handsome actor with a wide range, Graves became a national star with his role as intelligence guru James Phelps in the CBS series “Mission Impossible,” which ran from 1967 to 1973 and then again on ABC from 1988 to 1990. With its signature self-destructing tape reels and heart-pounding action, the show revolved around the exploits of the Impossible Mission force. Graves won a Golden Globe in 1971 for Best Actor for his work on the series. Actor Jon Voight assumed Graves’ role in the 1996 movie adaptation of the show starring Tom Cruise.
Although he continued to appear in films sporadically in the 1970s, Graves’ career cooled off a bit until he received a call from the producers of the disaster spoof “Airplane!” Though reluctant at first to do the film with the wacky Zucker brothers, Graves signed on and the role of Captain Oveur became one of the touchstones of his career, showing off his natural comedic chops in scenes such as one in which he memorably asks a young boy visiting him in the cockpit, “Joey, you like movies about gladiators?”
After appearing in the “Airplane!” sequel in 1982, Graves again began to shy away from movie roles, appearing in the 1998 blaxploitation spoof “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” but otherwise focusing on TV roles. He hosted the A&E documentary series “Biography” for 12 years, beginning in 1989. He also appeared in episodes of “House,” “American Dad” and “7th Heaven.”