Mark Harmon is renowned as an actor whose iconic character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS, often overshadows his own fame. His portrayal of Gibbs catapulted him to global recognition. Yet, behind the scenes, Harmon faced personal challenges, with the tragic loss of his sister in 2018 profoundly affecting him and his family.
Harmon has dedicated his adult life to the entertainment industry, particularly in the past two decades, where he has been primarily associated with his Emmy-nominated role as Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS. He has been a discreet figure when it comes to his private life, consistently prioritizing his family.
Mark’s father, Tom Harmon, achieved football stardom, winning the 1940 Heisman Trophy and becoming the No. 1 NFL Draft pick in 1941. However, he transitioned from football to a career as a fighter pilot in World War II, followed by success in TV sports. Mark’s mother, Elyse Knox, was an actress. Mark grew up alongside two sisters, Kristin and Kelly, both of whom pursued careers in entertainment.
Kristin, the eldest of the Harmon siblings, tragically passed away in 2018 after a tumultuous life marked by marital issues, substance abuse, and estrangement from one of her children. What is lesser known is Mark Harmon’s significant role in supporting his sister during her challenging times, even taking temporary custody of her youngest son when she couldn’t provide adequate care.
Kristin’s life initially seemed like a classic Hollywood story. She met her future husband, the legendary actor and musician Ricky Nelson, at the age of 12. Their relationship started in 1961, with Kristin hailing from a Hollywood background, and both families were close friends. They married in April 1963 when Kristin was just 17 and Ricky 23, and they had four children.
Ricky Nelson was a prominent teen idol, and Kristin’s career also thrived with appearances on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” However, their marriage eventually crumbled due to the challenges of a rock star’s lifestyle, leading to separation and a brief reconciliation, followed by divorce in 1982.
Ricky Nelson’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1985 had a devastating impact on Kristin, worsening her struggles. Her son Sam continued to live with her, and Mark Harmon intervened when he noticed her deteriorating condition during a chance encounter while grocery shopping. Mark successfully persuaded her to seek treatment, emphasizing the importance of family support.
Sam, then 13, expressed his desire not to live with his mother anymore. Mark Harmon and his wife, actress Pam Dawber, filed for custody, citing Kristin’s drug dependency. The custody trial garnered significant media attention, revealing private and uncomfortable details. Mark later withdrew his petition following Kristin’s allegations of cocaine use by Pam Dawber, reaching an agreement that granted custody to Nelson while Harmon had visitation rights. Family therapy became part of their healing process.
Subsequently, Kristin and Sam’s relationship began to mend after the bitter feud.
In the years that followed, Kristin married TV producer and director Mark Tinker, but they divorced in 2000. During her later years, she lived a private life away from the public eye. Tragically, on April 27, 2018, she suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 72, as reported by her daughter Tracy. Mark Harmon maintained his silence regarding his relationship with Kristin, leaving the nature of their closeness at the time of her passing unclear.