Peter Graves dead at 83

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2010 - 11:34 PM

"Mission: Impossible" star was later known for his role in "Airplane" and his "statesmanlike" manner. Graves valued his Minnesota roots.

Peter Graves, the Minneapolis-born actor who dared to take on impossible missions, died Sunday, four days short of his 84th birthday.

Graves, who was celebrating his 60th year in show business and a recent induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, appeared to have had a heart attack outside his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home shortly after brunch, according to the Associated Press.

Graves was best known for his role as Jim Phelps in the TV series "Mission: Impossible," for which he won a Golden Globe in 1971.

But he also made his mark as a Nazi spy in "Stalag 17," the smug pilot in "Airplane!" and the rumbling voice of A&E's "Biography."

The authority and trust he projected made him a favorite for commercials later in his life, and he was often encouraged to go into politics.

"He had this statesmanlike quality," said Cary Brokaw, his longtime publicist. "People were always encouraging him to run for office. But he said, 'I like acting. I like being around actors.'"

Despite his showbiz success, his Minnesota childhood was never far from his thoughts.

"I consider that invaluable in my career and in our lives," Graves told the Star Tribune in 2000. "Hollywood or New York, the great basins of the entertainment world, can be very flighty and dangerous [places] to live, but the good grounding we had in the Midwest ethic I think has helped us all of our lives."

Graves grew up in southwest Minneapolis, along with his older brother James Arness, who would strike it big himself as Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running TV drama "Gunsmoke."

"The creek was my back yard," Graves said. "There's a little street in there now, but behind my house was the woods, leading down to the creek and the creek itself. And that was our playground. Those were wonderful days. And those were days when the city of Minneapolis ended at 54th Street. Beyond that was farmland."

Graves graduated from Southwest High School, where he was a champion hurdler as well as a clarinet player. He attended the University of Minnesota, where he met Joan Endress of St. Paul, who he married in 1950. The couple had three children and six grand-children.

Graves didn't keep close ties with the Twin Cities, but he did emcee the grand opening of the Mall of America and the family would vacation here from time to time.

"It's so beautiful," he said in 2000. "We drive them [the kids] around and that whole Minnehaha Creek drive is just lovely," Graves said.

The actor, who also appeared in the Saturday-morning series "Fury" and Charles Laughton's film, "The Night of the Hunter," was coming off a celebratory year that included a lifetime achievement award at the Ojai Film Festival and that Hollywood star, right in front of the world famous steakhouse, Musso & Frank Grill.

"A venerable place for a venerable actor," he said at the ceremonies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Neal Justin • 612-673-7431

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