March 15, 2010 / 4:21 AM / 9 years ago

"Mission: Impossible" star Peter Graves dies in L.A.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Peter Graves, who starred in the 1960s TV show “Mission: Impossible” and the “Airplane!” movies, died in Los Angeles on Sunday. He was 83.

Graves’ spokesman said the actor died of an apparent heart attack at his house in the coastal suburb of Pacific Palisades. He had returned home after attending a family brunch to celebrate his upcoming birthday on Thursday.

The younger brother of “Gunsmoke” actor Jim Arness, Graves gained widespread recognition in 1967, when he took the role as leader of the “Impossible Missions Force” on popular TV spy drama “Mission: Impossible.”

He portrayed Jim Phelps, who would receive his team’s next mission instructions on a tape that would self-destruct in a puff of smoke. Graves stayed on the U.S. series until it was canceled in 1973, then later reprised the role in a TV revival from 1988-1990.

Graves is perhaps better known to modern audiences for his deadpan comedic role in 1980 spoof “Airplane!” in which he played the not-so-subtle pedophile pilot of a seemingly doomed jet.

The actor often told a story that he initially wanted to turn down the role, but was talked into it after being convinced by the filmmakers that his dry, deadpan delivery was exactly what was needed to make the spoof work.

Graves appeared in about 130 films and television shows.

In recent years, he hosted U.S. cable TV series, including the A&E Network’s long-running historical series, “Biography.”

Born Peter Aurness on March 18, 1926, in Minneapolis, Graves worked at a local radio station as a teenager and later attended the University of Minnesota, where he majored in drama.

He made his film debut in the 1951 crime drama “Rogue River,” and two years later won acclaim portraying a German spy placed among allied prisoners of war in “Stalag 17.”

In one of his early TV credits, Graves portrayed Jim Newton on the 1950s-era Saturday morning kids’ show “Fury,” about a horse and the boy who loved him.

Graves won a Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his work in “Mission: Impossible,” and he and “Biography” won a Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and three daughters.

Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Stacey Joyce

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