Peter Graves, Star of ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Airplane!,’ Dies

Graves died at 83 in his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home

Last Updated: March 15, 2010 @ 10:25 AM

Peter Graves, the ringleader of TV’s “Mission: Impossible” spies who later played against type to great success in the airliner-in-trouble farce “Airplane!," has died. He was 83.

His publicist Sandy Brokaw said Graves, whose 84th birthday was coming up this week, was stricken with a heart attack Sunday outside his Pacific Palisades home.

Graves played the cool-headed leader of a special agent group in the "Mission: Impossible" TV series  from 1967 to 1973, then turned his straight-man image on its head as a bumbling airline pilot in the disaster-movie sendup "Airplane!"

The younger brother of actor James Arness, Graves turned in dozens of film performances over 60 years. Though his TV character, agent Jim Phelps, opened nearly every episode of "Mission: Impossible," Graves never quite matched his older sibling’s "Gunsmoke" fame. 

The Minneapolis-born Graves adopted his grandfather’s last name so the two actors would not be confused.

More recently, Graves was host of the PBS series "Discover: The World of Science" and A&E’s "Biography." He is survived by his wife Joan, their three daughters, and six grandchildren.