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Peter Graves

Peter Graves

Television Personality (1926–2010)
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Peter Graves was an enormously successful film and TV actor. He is known for his role in Airplane! and for hosting A&E's signature series Biography.


Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 18, 1926, Peter Graves had an enormously successful film acting career, including parts in the classic Stalag 17 and the hilarious Airplane!??, and an equally rewarding television career that encompassed more than a half-dozen series, several major miniseries and numerous made-for-TV movies. From 1987 to 1994, Graves served as the sole host of the A&E signature series Biography; he was joined by Jack Perkins in '94. Graves died in Pacific Palisades, California, on March 14, 2010.

Early Life

Actor and television personality Peter Graves was born Peter Aurness on March 18, 1926, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His older brother is James Arness, an actor best known as the star of the long-running TV series Gunsmoke (1955-75).

Graves developed a strong affinity to music and sports early in his youth, and later found time to take on yet another interest: radio announcing. At the age of 16, he joined the announcing staff of the Minneapolis station WMIN. Following his high school graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving for two years.

Film Career

Following his film debut in Rogue River (1951), Graves had an enormously successful acting career on the big screen??. He starred in leading roles in a legion of motion pictures, including Stalag 17 (1953), The Raid (1954), The Long Gray Line (1955), The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), A Rage to Live (1965), Texas Across the River (1966), The Ballad of Josie (1967), The Five Man Army (1969) and the hilarious Airplane! (1980).

Other film credits include Spree, Number One with a Gun, Airplane II: The Sequel, Savannah Smiles, Survival Run, Cruise Missile, Black Tuesday and Fort Defiance.

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Television Roles

In addition to his esteemed film career, Graves had a rewarding television career that encompassed more than a half-dozen series, several major miniseries and numerous made-for-TV movies. Graves's early TV series credits include Court-Martial (1965-66), Whiplash (1961) and Fury (1955-60).

From the mid-1960s to the early '70s, Graves starred as James Phelps on the American TV series Mission Impossible; on the show for six of the seven years that it ran on CBS (1966-73), Graves firmly established himself as a star of international importance. (When ABC decided to bring Mission Impossible back to the home screen in 1989, the network asked Graves to head the series' new cast.) He later appeared on the TV series The Rebels (1979) and Discover: The World of Science, which began airing in the early 1980s.

Graves also landed several parts in TV movies and miniseries, including The Underground (1974), Man Where Have All the People Gone (1974), Death Flight (1977), Death Car on the Freeway (1979) and The Memory of Eva Ryker (1980). In the early 1980s, Graves created the role of Palmer Kirby for the ABC miniseries The Winds of War (1983), reprising that role for the miniseries War and Remembrance, which debuted in 1988. He later starred in the TV movie These Old Broads (2001).

In addition to acting on the small screen, from 1987 to 1994, Graves served as the sole host of the A&E signature series Biography; he was joined by Jack Perkins in '94. Outside of film and TV, Graves was an accomplished musician.


Peter Graves died of natural causes on March 14, 2010, in Pacific Palisades, California; according to a spokeperson, the actor collapsed in his driveway after having breakfast with his family. His daughter attempted to revive him through CPR, but was unsuccessful. Graves was survived by Joan Endress, to whom he was married for many years. They had three daughters together, as well as several grandchildren.

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