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Actor Peter Graves dies at 83

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Actor Peter Graves dies at 83
File photo of Peter Graves dated October 8, 2005. (UPI Photo/ Phil McCarten) | License Photo

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif., March 14 (UPI) -- Peter Graves, the star of TV's "Mission Impossible" and the movie spoof "Airplane!" died of a heart attack in California, his business manager said. He was 83.

Graves' business manager, Fred Barman, told The New York Times the actor died Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

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Graves -- the brother of "Gunsmoke" star James Arness -- appeared in films including "Stalag 17," "The Night of the Hunter" and "Long Gray Line." His list of film credits also included "Killers From Space," "It Conquered the World" and "Beginning of the End."

In 1955 he starred in the TV series "Fury, which ran until 1959 on NBC. He became familiar to viewers as Jim Phelps -- the leader of a clandestine spy force on "Mission Impossible," which aired on CBS from 1966-73 and was briefly revived on ABC from 1988-90.

Graves gained a younger fan base with his appearance -- alongside other Hollywood veterans including Robert Stack and Leslie Nielson -- in the disaster movie send-up "Airplane!"

Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, March 18, 1926, Graves served in the Army Air Force in 1944-45 before studying theater at the University of Minnesota.

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Graves' TV work also included stints as host of specials on the science series "Discover," and a long run as host of "Biography" on the Arts and Entertainment Network. During a 1997 segment in which he was the subject of the episode, Graves said he was at first appalled when his agent sent him the script for "Airplane!" the Times reported.

He advised filmmakers -- David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams -- to get a comedian to play the character, a pedophile airline pilot, but they persuaded him the key to the movie's comedy was that the actors would play the script straight.

Graves is survived by his wife, Joan Graves, and three daughters, as well as his brother.

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