Peter Graves' career was more like three careers. At least. He was Mission: Impossible's pre-Tom Cruise leading agent, Jim Phelps. He was Airplane's Turkish prison-curious pilot, Capt. Oveur. He was the Emmy-winning host of Biography.
The silver-haired star who lent a steadiness and voice of authority to 60 years' worth of TV and film was found dead today of apparently natural causes in his Los Angeles-area home. He was 83.
For all his work—Graves' credits range from the Billy Wilder WWII classic Stalag 17 to bits on House and American Dad—the actor may be best remembered for listening very carefully to the following taped greeting: "Good morning, Mr. Phelps."
Or, then again, maybe he's best remembered for interrogating young Joey (Rossie Harris) from the cockpit: "Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?"
And it's possible he's best remembered for helping tell the stories of dozens and dozens, both the famous and the infamous.
Graves intercepted self-destructing tape messages on TV's M:I from 1967-1973, and again from 1988-1990, in the short-lived redo. He was not the franchise's original leading man—Steven Hill, later of Law & Order, was—but until the Cruise movie franchise, he was its signature star. Graves never appeared in one of the Cruise movies; Jon Voight played a treacherous Phelps in the first 1996 big-screen adventure.
Airplane! made Graves a new comedy star at middle age in 1980. He returned to Capt. Oveur's œuvre in 1982's Airplane II: The Sequel. Biography came along in the 1990s; Graves stayed for more than a decade, winning an Emmy for the cable series in 1997.
Born in 1926, Graves was the younger brother of fellow classic-TV icon James Arness, who starred on the long-running Western Gunsmoke.
Last December, Graves sounded ready for more careers, telling the Los Angeles Times he had no intention of retiring. "There has got to be some good parts around for guys my age," he said.
(Originally published March 14, 2010, at 5:30 p.m. PT.)
Our archive of obituaries for other late stars can be found here.