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Goodbye, Peter Graves...

Merrick here...
Peter Graves passed away yesterday from a heart attack - four days short of his 84th birthday. It's hard to know which role he'll be best remembered for: one generation knows him as IMF operative James Phelps in the 1960s television series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and its late 80s TV revival - a role later adapted by Jon Voight (with a controversial spin) in Brian De Palma's 1996 feature film adaptation of that show. A later generation will recall him as the chiseled-but-oblivious Captain Clarence Oveur in two AIRPLANE! movies. And somewhere in there he was retired Earth Space Marine flyer Major Noah Cooper in the "Return of the Fighting 69th" episode of NBC's BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, and Price - a man who had more to him than met the eye - in Billy Wilder's STALAG 17. He was Palmer Kirby in Dan Curtis' sprawling WINDS OF WAR and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE miniseries, and the fated Ben Harper in director Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. He appeared in four episodes of THE LOVE BOAT, five episodes of (the original) FANTASY ISLAND, and was the real life brother of James Arness (Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE). It's funny - until I started writing this article, I'd never realized what a fixture Mr. Graves was in my life - I suppose such hindsight this is often the case. One small example: I have deeply fond memories of seeing AIRPLANE! with my dad, over and over again. At a time when we weren't always as connected as we should've been, my father and I got a little closer by throwing dialogue from AIRPLANE! back-and-forth to each other. Turns out, many of those lines were Peter's. The list above is an admittedly small sampling of Mr. Grave's vast and varied body of work. He was a personality and a presence so distinctive that no other performer has come close to...well...doing whatever it was that Peter Graves. Nor will anyone ever come close to matching it. So, thank you sir...for the entertainment, for the smiles, and for the thrills you brought to us throughout the years. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

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