Thomas Mark Harmon (born September 2, 1951) is an American television and film actor. He has appeared in a wide variety of roles since the early 1970s. Initially achieving fame as a college football player, his role on St. Elsewhere led to his being named "Sexiest Man Alive" by People in 1986. After spending the majority of the 1990s as a character actor, he discovered newfound fame for his portrayal of Secret Service special agent Simon Donovan in The West Wing, receiving a 2002 Emmy Award nomination for his acting in a four-episode story arc.
Harmon was cast in a similar role a year later. The creator of both JAG and NCIS had seen Harmon in The West Wing and decided to cast him in NCIS. Harmon's character of NCIS special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs was first introduced in a guest starring role in two episodes of JAG. Since 2003, Harmon has starred in NCIS as the same character.
He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Pierce College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
After college, Harmon considered pursuing a career in advertising or law. Harmon started his career in business as a merchandising director, but soon decided to switch to acting. He spent much of his career portraying law enforcement and medical personnel. One of his first national TV appearances (other than as an athlete) was in a commercial for Kellogg'sProduct 19 cereal with his father, Tom Harmon, its longstanding TV spokesman. Thanks to his sister Kristin's in-laws, Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson, he landed his first job as an actor in an episode of Ozzie's Girls. This was followed by guest roles in episodes of Adam-12, Police Woman, and Emergency! in mid-1975. He also performed in "905-Wild", a backdoor pilot episode for a series about two L.A. County Animal Control Officers which did not sell. Producer/creator Jack Webb, who was the packager of both series, later cast Harmon in Sam, a short-lived 1978 series about an LAPD officer and his K-9 partner. Before this, Harmon received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his performance as Robert Dunlap in the TV movie Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. In 1978, he appeared in three episodes of the mini-series, Centennial, as Captain John MacIntosh, an honorable Union cavalry officer.
In 1980, Harmon gained a regular role in the prime time soap opera Flamingo Road, in which he played Fielding Carlisle, the husband of Morgan Fairchild's character. Despite initially good ratings, the series was canceled after two seasons. Following its cancellation, he landed the role of Dr. Robert Caldwell on the prestigious NBC Emmy-winning series St. Elsewhere in 1983. Harmon appeared in the show for almost three seasons before leaving in early 1986 when his character contracted HIV through unprotected intercourse, one of the first instances where a major recurring television character contracted the virus (the character's subsequent off-screen death from AIDS would be mentioned two years later). In the mid-1980s, Harmon also became the spokesperson for Coors Regular beer, appearing in television commercials for them.
In May 2002, he portrayed Secret Servicespecial agent Simon Donovan on The West Wing in a four-episode story arc. The role gained him his second Emmy Award nomination, exactly 25 years after his first.Donald P. Bellisario, the creator of JAG and NCIS saw him on The West Wing and had Harmon appear in a guest starring role in two episodes of JAG in April 2003, where Harmon was first introduced as the character of NCIS agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Starting that September, Harmon has starred as Gibbs in the CBS drama NCIS, a role which has earned him six nominations at the People's Choice Awards including a win for Favorite TV Crime Drama Actor in 2017. During his time on the show, he was reunited with three of his former Chicago Hope co-stars, Rocky Carroll, Lauren Holly, and Jayne Brook. Since 2008, he has also been a producer and executive producer.
Other career activities
In 2003, Harmon had a supporting role in the remake of the comedy film Freaky Friday.
Harmon has also starred in several stage productions in Los Angeles and Toronto. At the Cast Theatre in Los Angeles, he performed in Wrestlers and The Wager. In the late Eighties he was part of the cast of the Canadian premiere of Key Exchange. Several productions of Love Letters provided him the opportunity to play alongside his wife Pam Dawber.
Harmon worked as a carpenter before making a success of his acting career. On NCIS, his carpentry skills are alluded to through his character's hobby of building boats in his basement.
Harmon has been married to actress Pam Dawber since March 21, 1987. The couple have two sons: Sean Thomas Harmon (born April 25, 1988, who played a young Gibbs in five NCIS episodes), and Ty Christian Harmon (born June 25, 1992). They maintain a low profile and rarely appear in public with their children. Harmon was the brother-in-law of Ricky Nelson and John DeLorean and is the uncle of actress Tracy Nelson and singers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson of the rock duo Nelson.
In 1987, Harmon filed for custody of his nephew Sam on the grounds that his sister, Kristin Nelson, was incapable of good parenting. Sam's psychiatrist testified that the thirteen-year-old boy depicted his mother as a dragon and complained about her mood swings and how she prevented him from being with his siblings. Harmon later dropped the custody bid.
In 1996, Harmon saved a teenage boy involved in a car accident outside his Brentwood home. The driver had been able to escape, but the passenger was trapped in the burning car. Harmon used a sledgehammer from his garage to break the window of the car and pulled the passenger from the flames, who suffered burns to thirty percent of his body.