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Mark Harmon Young: A Look Back at How the Handsome ‘NCIS’ Star Got His Start

He was the second-ever Sexiest Man Alive — see the retro photos and learn about his new book!

Ever since the ’70s, actor Mark Harmon has been a reliable TV presence. Best known for his roles in shows like St. Elsewhere, Reasonable Doubts, Chicago Hope and NCIS, the blue-eyed actor has gone from pretty boy to silver fox over the decades, and wrapped his impressive 19-season run as NCIS special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in 2021.

The beloved military police procedural gave the now 72-year-old actor what’s perhaps his most famous role, but by the time he was cast in 2003, he was already a small-screen veteran. With Gibbs no longer gracing our screens, we’re taking a look back at Mark Harmon’s early days…with longing. And finding out what he’s doing next!

Mark Harmon young: From football player to TV hunk

Harmon was destined to be a star. Born in California in 1951 to actress Elyse Knox and football player Tom Harmon, he had parents who were already in the public eye, and his older sisters, Kristin and Kelly, were both actresses (and had famous spouses — Kristin was married to actor and musician/actor Ricky Nelson for 19 years while Kelly was briefly married to automotive executive John DeLorean).

As a young Harmon described in a 1977 newspaper interview, growing up in the spotlight fully prepared him to dive into acting: “I’ve always looked on the camera as a friend. It doesn’t frighten me because someone was always taking pictures of my parents or the family.”

Mark Harmon with his father, football player Tom Harmon, in 1972
Mark Harmon with his father, football player Tom Harmon, in 1972Getty

In college in the early ’70s, Harmon followed in his father’s football footsteps, playing as a UCLA quarterback. Shortly after that he started acting, with appearances in shows like Adam-12, Laverne & Shirley, Police Woman and Police Story. He started earning more attention with his Emmy-nominated supporting role in the 1977 TV movie Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, and made the leap into theatrical movies the next year, with a role in the 1978 Western Comes a Horseman, alongside stars Jane Fonda, James Caan and Jason Robards. He was working steadily, appearing in the action movie sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and the short-lived cop show 240-Robert.

Mark Harmon in the ’80s

In the ’80s, Harmon became a household name. He started the decade playing the fabulously named Fielding Carlyle on the prime time soap opera Flamingo Road. Following the show’s cancellation, he joined the cast of the popular medical drama St. Elsewhere from 1983 to 1986. As Dr. Robert Caldwell, he was a womanizing plastic surgeon who made the news when he became one of the first TV characters to contract AIDS.

Mark Harmon in 'Flamingo Road,' 1982
Mark Harmon in Flamingo Road (1982)Getty

The same year he left St. Elsewhere, he was named People magazine’s second-ever Sexiest Man Alive. He never let the accolade go to his head, though, saying, “I’m not about to take it seriously. And let’s just say I think maybe a few too many people have.”

Mark Harmon in 1984
The future Sexiest Man Alive in 1984Getty

Harmon spent the rest of the ’80s starring in movies like Let’s Get Harry, Summer School, The Presidio, Stealing Home and Worth Winning. He acted in TV movies, most notably Sweet Bird of Youth, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, and the mini series The Deliberate Stranger, in which he played the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. He also briefly played Cybill Shepherd’s love interest on Moonlighting and appeared in commercials for Coors Beer.

Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon in 'Sweet Bird of Youth,' 1989
Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon in Sweet Bird of Youth (1989)Getty

While he began acting in more movies in the ’80s, Harmon didn’t quite become a movie star. Rather, he’s always been known as one of the handsomest small-screen stars, which is still quite the acheivement!

Mark Harmon with a cat in 1985
Mark Harmon poses with a cute cat in 1985Getty

Short-lived series and a major comeback

In the ’90s, Mark Harmon continued his TV star reign, acting alongside Marlee Matlin on Reasonable Doubts from 1991 to 1993. His next show, Charlie Grace, was cancelled after just nine episodes. Ten years after leaving St. Elsewhere, Harmon once again played a doctor in Chicago Hope. He was on the show from 1996 to 2000, and the early ’00s provided a career renaissance for the actor.

Mark Harmon in his 'Chicago Hope' scrubs in 1999
Mark Harmon in his Chicago Hope scrubs in 1999Getty

After receiving his second Emmy nomination for his four-episode arc as a Secret Service agent on The West Wing in 2002, Harmon scored the role of a lifetime with NCIS, appearing in over 400 episodes from 2003 to 2021. As Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Harmon was the heart of the show, and the character served as his crowning achievement in many decades of playing law enforcement officials in procedurals.

Cast of NCIS Michael Weatherly, Cote de Pable, Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette and Brian Dietzen attend CBS 2013 Upfront Presentation at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 15, 2013 in New York City
NCIS cast (left to right:) Michael Weatherly, Cote de Pable, Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette and Brian Dietzen, 2013 Getty

Mark Harmon’s long marriage

In 1987, Harmon married Mork and Mindy actress Pam Dawber, and the stars remain happily paired some 36 years later. They have two sons, and have kept their private life out of the spotlight. In a 2019 People interview, Harmon enthused, “I’m proud to be married, and I’m proud of who I’m married to.” In 2021, husband and wife shared the screen for the first time when Dawber appeared on seven episodes of NCIS. (Read more about Pam Dawber here!)

Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon in 1994
Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon in 1994Getty

What is Mark Harmon doing now

Last year Harmon announced his first project since exiting the series: a book titled Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, which he co-wrote with NCIS technical advisor Leon Carroll Jr.

COURTESY OF HARPER SELECT, AN IMPRINT OF HARPERCOLLINS FOCUS

The book, which will be released on November 14, 2023, and is inspired by Harmon and Carroll Jr.’s experiences on NCIS, is a historical account of the Japanese and American intelligence agents in World War II. “These are the real stories from those who were there,” Harmon told People in June of 2023. “It’s real and it’s our history.” The book’s publisher also described it as a nonfiction work that highlights “the incredible high stakes game of naval intelligence.”

We can’t wait to read the new book — maybe he will bring these stories to the small screen!


Read about more of your favorite TV stars here!

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