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Mark Harmon Turns His Back on Hollywood for Love of His Life

Police procedurals have staying power. They’re one of the few genres that can last for decades because they always bring a new mystery every episode.

NCIS is one of the best and most popular. One of its most distinguishing features is its characters, especially Leroy Gibbs.

Actor Mark Harmon turned him into a powerful leader. When he left, fans devastated.

Looking into his personal life helps explain what motivated his decision. Given up fame and glory for something more important.

Keep watching to see why Mark Harmon turns his back on Hollywood for the love of his life.

His Early Life and Football Career

Thomas Mark Harmon was born in Burbank, California on September 2, 1951. He had plenty of star power around him in his family from an early age.

His father was Tom Harmon, a Heisman Trophy-winning football player and broadcaster. Mark’s mother was actress, model, and artist Elyse Knox. His sisters were actress and painter Kristin Nelson and actress and Model Kelly Harmon.

Mark Harmon inherited his father’s love of football. He graduated from Harvard-Westlake School in 1970 and then completed a two-year associate degree at Pierce College. By his second season, he’d received offers from several college football programs and chose UCLA.

Mark Harmon was a quarterback for the Bruins from 1972-1973. He took his eighteen-point home underdog team to a 20-17 victory against the national champions Nebraska Cornhuskers during his first game.

Marka earned the National Football Foundation Award for All-Round Excellence in his senior year. This was one of his first brushes with celebrities outside of his own family.

He didn’t know that it was a tux-only event and had to get an appropriate outfit. He rushed to buy a dove gray tuxedo and a frilly undershirt. John Wayne was also there to accept the gold medal award. He impressed and called Mark a “rebel,” signing his program “to the rebel, may the wind always be at your back.”

Mark graduated cum laude from UCLA in 1974 with a B.A. in Communications. He later inducted into the Pierce College Atheltic Hall of Fame in 2010.

His Early Career

Mark says that if he couldn’t have been an actor, he would have been a carpenter, but he knows that he would never have hired to do it. He torn between advertising and law after graduating. He joined the business world as a merchandising director for a few years.

One of his earliest national appearances was in a commercial for Kellogg’s products 19. Along with his father Tom, he became its TV spokesman.

His sister Kristin’s inlaws Ozie and Harriet Nelson got him a job on Ozzie’s Girls. They asked him to fill in for another actor who was a no-show, and the rest was history.

It led to guest performances in shows such as Adam-12 and Emergency! Mark even got an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his role as Robert Dunlap in Eleanor and Franklin: The Whitehorse Years.

Mark didn’t get a regular role until the prime-time soap Flamingo Road in 1980. He played Fielding Carlisle. It was canceled after two seasons. Mark landed the role of Dr. Robert Caldwell in St. Elswehwere in 1983 and stayed for three seasons. He left early in 1986 because he was uncomfortable with a plotline where his character contracts HIV through unprotected intercourse.

His career continued to climb, and he was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1986. He didn’t even realize he’d been given the honor until an interview with the magazine about his show St. Elsewhere. When he left, he went to play basketball with his friends, and the backboards were plastered with the cover and his face. That’s how he found out, and he considered it “silly.”

During that year, he worked with future NCIS co-star Kirstie Alley as serial killer Ted Bundy in The Deliberate Stranger and the film Let’s Get Harry. Other notable roles in the 80s included the 1987 comedy Summer School, films such as Stealing Home and The Presidio in 1988, and Worth Winning in 1989. He also performed in stage productions, primarily in Canada.

Mark returned to TV after that. He earned attention (and another Emmy award nomination) as Secret Service agent Simon Donovan on four episodes of The West Wing. That was the boost that gave him his most famous role.


The character of special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs began as a guest-starring role in two episodes of JAG. The show’s creator, Donald P. Bellisario, had insisted on having Mark play the role. 

He also wanted him on the spinoff, NCIS. Mark stayed from 2003-2021. It made him a major name and earned him six People’s Choice Award nominations.

He continued to stay busy while playing Leroy Gibbs. Mark started his own production company called Wings Productions to produce NCIS; New Orleans. Mark was also a producer of a series based on John Sandofrd’s best-selling Prey novels. He directed two episodes of Chicago Hope in 1990 and 2000 and two episodes of Boston Public in 2002.

Mark left NCIS during the fourth episode of the 19th season. Fans were shocked, and everyone involved with the show said there was always room for him to return.

Mark received the 2,482nd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 1, 2012. This is a fitting honor for a man who’s worked so hard on stage as well as on and behind the camera.

Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the personal lives of your favorite stars. Keep watching to learn more about Mark Harmon’s wife and family.

Finding The Love of His Life

Mark Harmon married Pam Dawber on March 21, 1987. She’s also an actress who’s appeared in sitcoms such as Mork and Mindy and My Sister Sam.

They met thanks to a mutual friend, alleged to be Gina Hect, shortly after he earned the title of Sexiest Man Alive. What woman could resist?

It wasn’t just his looks that won her over. He had the emotional characteristics she was looking for, including “strength, intelligence, independence, sensitivity, sensuousness, warmth, and a sense of humor.”

They instantly knew they were meant to be together and were married that same year. Pam revealed that she was selling her home in Hollywood Hills to move in with him in Pacific Palisades in an interview in March 1987.

Their wedding fit their private style. It was a small and intimate affair. She didn’t want anything like Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Philliip’s wedding where helicopters were flying overhead and fans camped outside. Luckily, it was much smaller and calmer than that.

Mark once said that he wasn’t looking for a relationship when they met and was waiting for one that would last. So far, it has. They’ve been married 35 years with no rumors of affairs or any other issues.

Pam and Mark now live in a home in Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles. It’s far away from Central LA, and they like it that way. They rarely make any notable appearances together.

Mark’s Family

The couple has two sons, Sean who was born in 1998, and Ty who was born in 1992. They were never forced into the bright lights of Hollywood but took a liking to it anyway.

Sean is an actor who’s appeared as Agent Gibbs in seven flashback episodes of NCIS since 2008. He even appeared in an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Ty is a screenwriter.

Pam put her career on hold to raise her children. She’d been doing voicework, acting, and more but would rather be able to bake doughnuts for their bake sales, pick them up for school, and other important bonding moments. She has no regrets about choosing to be there for them.

Mark’s view on family life changed one day while his children were young. He was filming Till There Was You in New Guinea and missed his son’s first steps. He told Pam he didn’t want to do films in far-away lands just to afford their fancy home and miss such important milestones.

Mark became more selective about which projects he took so that he wouldn’t be too far away to be a part of their lives. In his own words, “no job is worth missing life’s most important moments.” That’s why he moved to TV so he could come home at night.

How Have They Lasted?

Pam and Mark know that two actors staying married for over 30 years is the exception, not the rule. They’ve offered up a few pieces of advice to other couples who want to follow in their steps.

Mark notes that getting married later in life can be the best choice. Getting the “stupid stuff” out of your system in your early life leaves a better, healthier connection later.

The saying “opposites attract” also seems to work for these two. They have different personalities and opinions but don’t fight over them.

They’re also willing to sacrifice for each other. They changed their careers to be closer to their family without any regrets.

They’ve always remained a team no matter what they’ve done. THey’ve only acted together a few times, such as in a play called Love Letters. He says they “don’t normally respond to the same material,” but it worked.

Their synchronicity has even saved lives. One of Mark’s most well-known moments outside of the screen was the day he saved two teens from a burning car on his street. He notes that it was Pam who walked up to them and told him to help. Mark insists that it couldn’t have happened without her.

Mark also believes that keeping a low profile as a famous family is “not even a choice.” They all stay away from social media, and that keeps them away from crowds.

The one thing you will notice if you ever see them is Mark’s unique ring. It’s a special piece of jewelry in the shape of an eagle head. He wears it even when he’s not shooting. He doesn’t want to keep it hidden because he’s proud to be married and proud of his wife.

Certain reports claim that they renewed their vows in a close-knit backyard ceremony on their 30th wedding anniversary. Everyone was in tears as they read their vows to each other. Pam says that looking into his eyes, she realized that Mark is the type of man that makes you say “they don’t make them like that anymore”

Who’s your favorite character on NCIS? Let us know in the comments.

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