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|Also Known As:||Thomas Mark Harmon||Died:|
|Born:||September 2, 1951||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Burbank, California, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor director|
An all-American leading man with classic good looks, Mark Harmon's easygoing demeanor and graceful maturation eventually led to his settling into an onscreen persona as a world-wise leader of men. A former star quarterback at UCLA, Harmon began acting in the mid-1970s, landing roles on various television series and in the occasional feature film prior to landing the plum role of Dr. Robert Caldwell on the acclaimed medical drama "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). Initially St. Eligius' resident ladies man, Harmon took a tremendous career risk when Caldwell later became the first main character on network television to be diagnosed with AIDS. The actor's calculated risks continued to pay off when he earned kudos for his portrayal of serial killer Ted Bundy in "The Deliberate Stranger" (NBC, 1986), only to be dubbed "The Sexiest Man Alive" by People magazine. Efforts to parlay Harmon's popularity into success on the big screen yielded the moderately popular comedy "Summer School" (1987), although more serious offerings, such as the actioner "The Presidio"(1988) and the little-seen drama "Stealing Home" (1988) failed to lift him to movie star status. Television provided far more fertile ground of Harmon, who, after returning to familiar territory for four seasons on the medical drama "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000) landed the biggest hit of his career as the star of the popular crime drama "NCIS" (CBS, 2003- ). An enduring television presence for more than 30 years, Harmon's timeless appeal was undeniable.
Los Angeles native Mark Harmon was born on Sept. 2, 1951 to Elyse Knox, a 1940s film actress, and Tom Harmon, a college football All-American and Heisman Trophy winner with a long career as a sports announcer on TV and radio. Only son Mark seemed headed in the same direction, landing a spot as starting quarterback on the UCLA Bruins in 1973 and 1974. During his senior year at college Harmon, who was working towards a degree in communications, became friends with TV legend Ozzie Nelson through his older sister Kristen, who would marry Nelson's pop star son Ricky and gave birth to later 1980s recording star twins "Nelson." Harmon's younger sister Kelly would also achieve her own fame as the "Tic Tac" girl of '80s and '90s era TV commercials. Ozzie gave Harmon, who had never considered acting, a walk-on role on "Ozzie's Girls" (syndicated, 1972-73), which prompted the undergrad to start taking acting lessons.
He continued dramatic training after college graduation, when a series of jobs in advertising and as a representative for Adidas sneakers were not providing nearly the satisfying experience required by a former college sports star. While returning home from a sneaker-related business trip one night at the age of 24, Harmon decided he had had enough of the business world and wanted to instead pursue acting as a profession. Young and athletic with his pretty-boy looks, Harmon experienced considerable casting luck right out of the gate; even more after "Adam 12" (NBC, 1968-1975) star Jack Webb suggested that he cut his long hair and shave off his mustache. He managed to supplement his job as a roofer with several TV guest spots a year on shows like "Emergency" (NBC, 1972-79) and "Laverne & Shirley" (ABC, 1976-1983) before his single scene as a one-legged veteran speaking with the First Lady in the 1977 ABC TV movie "Eleanor and Franklin" earned him an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
On a personal note, in 1978, Harmon married actress Pam Dawber, who was just breaking out herself for her co-starring role with Robin Williams on "Mork & Mindy" (ABC, 1978-1982). Harmon continued with guest TV spots until 1979 when he was cast as a lead on the short-lived cop show "240-Robert" (ABC, 1979-1980). A role as Morgan Fairchild's suitably handsome and charming husband on the prime time soap "Flamingo Road" (NBC 1980-82) proved to be a much more substantial career vehicle for Harmon, leading to a run of TV films and his eventual casting as heartthrob plastic surgeon Dr. Bobby Caldwell on the hospital hit, "St. Elsewhere." The womanizing Caldwell was a perfect fit for Harmon's good looks and easygoing manner. He suddenly found himself on the cover of teen magazines alongside Tom Selleck and Don Johnson as one of the era's top sex symbols. But it was not just all beefcake in scrubs; the actor was called upon to deliver some serious dramatic chops in 1986 when his character was diagnosed with AIDS. It was one of the first times a television drama acknowledged this new, largely misunderstood disease; it was certainly one of the first to associate it with a heterosexual character. His character was subsequently written out at the end of his third season.
After People magazine dubbed Harmon as "The Sexiest Man Alive" in 1986, he risked his homespun appeal even further when he decided to portray serial killer Ted Bundy in "The Deliberate Stranger" (NBC, 1986). It was an intense turnaround for an actor who had generally been seen as a nice guy, and the intensity of Harmon's performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination. The actor enjoyed a 17-week run onstage in the critically-acclaimed "Wrestlers" opposite unknown actor and future TV doctor himself, George Clooney, before easing back into weekly television in 1987 with a recurring role as Bruce Willis' rival for Cybill Shepard's affections on "Moonlighting" (ABC, 1985-89). It was the role of Sam the astronaut that for the first time angered fans, as his picture-perfect dream man seemed to pose a real threat to the longed-for hook-up between Shepherd and Willis on the beloved dramedy.
On the big screen, he landed a starring role as a laid-back coach turned remedial English teacher in Carl Reiner's "Summer School" (1987). Despite lacking a comedic background, Harmon pulled off the role in the harmlessly funny teen romp in a way that encapsulated his appeal. His natural, easygoing manner and good looks made him the guy all the girls had a crush on and the guy that all the dudes wanted to watch a ball game with. This ability to attract both genders in different ways was a rare onscreen appeal. A high-profile ad for Coors beer further enhanced the image of the Everyman.
Harmon had a few more film successes around the same time, including a pairing with Sean Connery in the modestly successful thriller "The Presidio"(1988) and one of his best dramatic performances in the little-seen drama "Stealing Home" (1988) opposite Jodie Foster. Regardless of the positive reception to Harmon's feature films, he quietly returned to the realm of forgettable TV movies, with the exception of his starring turn as the notorious bank robber "Dillinger" (ABC, 1991). In 1991, he was back on the prime time schedule with a two-year run on the police investigation drama "Reasonable Doubts" (NBC, 1991-93). He snared minor roles in the feature Western "Wyatt Earp" (1994) and Oliver Stone's disturbing "Natural Born Killers" (1995), but again television seemed to be the medium where he resonated the most.
Off-screen, Harmon was generally a low-profile family man who seemed free of personal drama, however he did find himself in the center of a few highly-publicized incidents. In 1987, Harmon sued his sister Kristin for custody of her 13-year-old son Sam, who Harmon felt was not being adequately cared for following the death of the teen's father Rick Nelson several years earlier because of Kristin's struggles with alcoholism. Sam remained in the care of his mother but the press spun the incident into a portrait of a show business family torn apart by tragedy. Two years later, Pam Dawber's "My Sister Sam" (CBS, 1986-89) co-star Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by a gun-wielding stalker. Because Schaeffer was more than a co-star, having been close with the couple and having lived in their home for a year, her death incensed Harmon and his wife to become outspoken advocates of gun control in her memory. Making headlines again in 1996 - this time for something a bit more positive - Harmon avertrd disaster when he saved the lives of a pair of teenagers trapped in a burning car near his Brentwood home. Harmon reportedly broke the car's windows with a sledgehammer and pulled them to safety, but shied away from the media attention that followed.
After doing time on the short-lived cop show "Charlie Grace" (ABC, 1995-96), Harmon received an offer to return the medical setting that had launched his career, so he joined the cast of "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000). Harmon's four-year run as orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jack McNeil in David E. Kelley's Emmy Award-winning series established the actor as a dependable primetime mainstay, easily digestible by audiences as a detective, a doctor, or villain. "Chicago Hope" was cancelled in 2000, leaving Harmon to appear in the Tom Selleck Western "Crossfire Trail" (USA Network, 2001) before breaking a long absence from big screen comedy with supporting roles in "Freaky Friday" (2003) and "Chasing Liberty" (2004). Harmon's versatility apparently broadening with age, his authoritative, suit-and-tie capabilities were tapped for a guest-starring role on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) which earned him an Emmy nomination for the stint. His controlled, tough-as-nails character helping open up new possibilities for the aging actor.
The biggest of those possibilities began as a two-part special episode of the CBS drama "Jag" (NBC, 1995-96; CBS, 1997-2005) and evolved into a full-fledged spin-off series about the real life Naval Criminal Investigative Service "NCIS." With the series, Harmon had the chance to carry a very different kind of show than his earlier efforts, and to do so with a much more complex, realized character, Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a former marine sniper and interrogation expert. The show was unexpectedly popular, thanks in part to its role as a "husband" programming alternative to "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ) which shared the same time slot during the summer months. As the ratings for "NCIS" continued to climb - it became a Top Five ranked series during the 2008-09 season - Harmon kept busy during the off-season with various side jobs, both on and off camera. He played a cheating boyfriend whose younger girlfriend (Tricia O'Kelley) breaks up with him in an exceptionally embarrassing (and public) manner in the low-budget romantic comedy "Weather Girl" (2009). The actor then lent his authoritative vocals to the role of Superman for the direct-to-DVD release "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" (2010), in which the Man of Steel and Earth's greatest heroes do battle with their evil counterparts from a parallel universe. With "NCIS" preparing to enter its 10th season, Harmon looked to expand his franchise opportunities when he played Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Lucas Davenport in "Certain Prey" (USA, 2011), a made-for-TV thriller based on the best-selling detective novel series by John Sanford.
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