“NCIS” star Mark Harmon is recognized by fans for being notoriously private. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The 66-year-old, who is the star of TV’s top drama, told Closer Weekly Wednesday he and his family prefer to keep a low profile away from Hollywood’s glaring spotlight.
“It’s not even a choice. It’s who we are,” he explained. “We stay home. A lot. I’m not a Twitter guy or a Facebook guy. Our sons aren’t into that, either.”
And despite his fame, Harmon has successfully managed to maintain a low profile away from cameras for the sake of his family.
He raised his two sons, 30-year-old Sean and 25-year-old Ty, with his wife, actress Pam Dawber. The couple also recently renewed their vows in a quiet backyard ceremony.
But Harmon has had plenty of experience navigating fame over the years. He is the son of sportscaster Tom Harmon and ‘40s screen star Elyse Knox.
“My parents kept things real — I had no idea they were famous,” he said. “In fact, it didn’t hit me until one day when I was riding in the car with my father in Ann Arbor, Mich. – I was maybe 8 and could barely see above the dashboard – and we stopped at a crosswalk.
"Suddenly, we were surrounded by people who recognized my dad and were really thrilled to see him. I remember looking at this man I thought I knew so well and thinking, ‘Who are you?’”
Harmon himself didn’t immediately dive into a high-profile career.
He became a football star at UCLA and later worked as a roofer, carpenter and shoe salesman before he was urged by his sister’s father-in-law Ozzie Nelson of “Ozzie & Harriet” fame to pursue acting.
“I’d never been on a set before,” said Harmon, who made his debut in 1973 on the family sitcom “Ozzie’s Girls.” “My character comes to the door in a gorilla outfit, and I got to say, ‘My name’s Harry King Kong. Which way to the Empire State Building?”
But Harmon was also looking for something else, in addition to a new career: true love.
“When I marry, I want it to be everything this town says it can’t be,” he announced in 1986. “I’m not into catting around.”
He met his match, Dawber, at a party thrown by a mutual friend. They married in 1987.
Dawber enjoyed her own success on the small screen with sitcoms “Mork & Mindy” and “My Sister Sam,” but she chose to put her career on hold to raise the couple’s children.
“I had children and it was like, ‘I’m not going to chase this fame thing,’” she explained. “I wanted to drive my kids to school. I wanted to be there for their birthdays and bring cupcakes and doughnuts. And I was very happy to do it.”
But life for Harmon wasn’t always smooth sailing. His sister Kristin had gotten involved with drugs during her marriage to teen heartthrob Ricky Nelson, who later died in a 1985 plane crash.
As Kristin’s addiction worsened, Harmon attempted to gain custody of her 12-year-old son, Sam, in hopes his nephew could enjoy a more stable environment.
The magazine added Harmon ultimately dropped his bid for custody and Kristin entered rehab. He was instead granted visitation rights. Sam remained close to his mother until she died in April at age 72 from a heart attack.
Harmon has maintained a steady career as a sought-after actor, but being by his family’s side has always been his primary goal. He learned a major life lesson about that while filming 1991’s “Till There Was You.”
“I was in the jungles of New Guinea making a not very good movie when my firstborn took his first steps,” he recalled. “No job is worth missing life’s most important moments.”
Harmon may enjoy his private life when not filming “NCIS,” but he’s still grateful that audiences enjoy his latest role as an actor.
“It’s hard to walk through airports even in the most out-of-the-way places without being surrounded by people who love the show —and that’s nothing to complain about,” he said. “I’ve done TV shows where I walk through airports apologizing.”