People Staff
September 09, 1996 12:00 PM

WEEK AFTER WEEK, FROM 1966 TO ’73, Greg Morris beat the odds on TV’s Mission: Impossible, on which the athletic Cleveland-born actor played electronics ace Barney Collier. By the time his own luck ran out at his Las Vegas home on Aug. 27, the 62-year-old actor had dealt successfully with daunting real-life difficulties: beating an alcohol problem, recovering from a near-fatal 1981 car crash and surviving two separate diagnoses of lung and brain cancer. (A coroner’s investigator reported only that Morris apparently died of “natural causes.”)

“Losing Greg hurts like a body blow,” says fellow Mission star Barbara Bain, 64. “Greg always fought the good fight. He had enormous strength.” The son of a trumpet player who separated from Morris’s mother when Greg was just 3, the future TV star grew up running away from home so often that his mother once tried hiding his shoes. After a stint in the Army, Morris was working in an Ohio post office when he met his future wife, Lee, in 1956. (Their three children include former As the World-Turns actress Iona and Phil, who played Barney Collier’s son in a 1988-90 sequel series.) Morris majored in drama at the University of Iowa but moved to Seattle before graduation, eventually landing the lead in a local production of A Raisin in the Sun. His reprise of the role in California was followed by parts on The Dick Van Dyke Show and in a pilot produced by Bruce Geller. Though the pilot didn’t lead to a series, Geller remembered Morris when casting Mission: Impossible. The actor took pride in the fact that skin color had nothing to do with it. “If I had turned down the role,” he told The New York Times, “Geller was going to ask a blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian.”

Appearing in more Mission episodes than any other character, he was the cast practical joker. But he was serious about his acting and called the show “the finest filmed series in television history.” To the end, each year at Christmas, Morris would telephone the other members of the derring-do quintet to wish them happy holidays. “We genuinely liked each other,” Morris once said. “That’s what made the show a hit.” Says Mission costar Peter Graves: “Greg was one of the good guys. We loved him.”

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