Today I heard the news that Peter Graves died and it really brought back memories. As a kid I loved Mission: Impossible, Graves as Mr. Phelps was the Jack Bauer of his day. As a bigger kid I thought he was hilarious as Roger Oveur alongside Kareem in the one-liner-fest Airplane. I am a Peter Graves fan.
As I write this there are 1,258 accounts of Graves’ passing on Google, a byproduct of his fame and his long career. In the midst of all the professional accomplishment in the reports there were two things that stood out. First, he and his wife Joan had been married since 1950. Sixty years of marriage is remarkable anywhere – but who stays married that long in Hollywood? Second, it is reported that he was returning home from brunch with his three daughters, just a few days short of his 84th birthday when he collapsed and died. Two clues to the importance of his family. Two clues to a significance that will live beyond anything he did on the screen.
“Hollywood or New York … can be very flighty and dangerous places to live, but the good grounding we had in the Midwest ethic I think helped us all our lives.”
Reflecting on the life of Sgt. Alan Haymaker after his untimely death last month, I wonder what else Peter Graves did with his life outside of what is being reported. What are the important things that he did with his time on earth and then what am I doing with mine? If my life were to end today how would the accounts be told? What would it be like to read your own obituary? Alfred Nobel, the man behind the Nobel Peace Prize, had the opportunity to find that out, and it changed the course of his life.
Alfred Nobel made his fortune with his invention of dynamite. In 1866 his method for stabilizing explosives created a boom in the construction of huge projects like transcontinental railways, canals, dams and tunnels. However, dynamite also became a pioneer in the field of weapons of mass destruction. Nobel found himself more often portrayed as a war profiteer who became rich by discovering new ways to kill and destroy than for any of the benefits his invention had to offer. He was confronted by his reputation in a bizarre way in 1888 when his brother Ludvig died. French newspapers mistakenly thought it was Alfred who died and printed front-page obituaries proclaiming, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” Nobel read exactly how he would be remembered and didn’t like it. The event transformed him into a champion for peace which led to the establishment of the annual Peace Prize.
We have the same opportunity that Nobel had. It is not too late to reevaluate your priorities and rewrite your obituary. Changing your legacy can be your mission, should you choose to accept it.