For 15 seasons, this actress starred on the wildly popular police procedural NCIS. And audiences became fond of her quirky character, Abby, who wore pigtails and chokers to her job in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s forensics lab. Abby’s relationship with Leroy Jethro Gibbs – played by Mark Harmon – also served as one of the show’s main emotional draws.
Said actress is, of course, Pauly Perrette. And it may have come as a surprise to fans when in the fall of 2017 she announced that she’d be leaving NCIS and her beloved role behind. At the time, the star tweeted her thanks both to her fans and to the character that she had gotten to play for 16 years. But she didn’t give a solid reason for her departure from the series – until now.
Yes, in the summer of 2019, Perrette opened up about her decision to say goodbye to her old show – and the revelation she made was shocking. The star claimed that there had been drama on set, and she had gone on to pick a side that wasn’t Harmon’s. So, Perrette asserted, the actor had taken his revenge in a terrifying way.
Once-aspiring actress Perette had first gotten her foot in the door thanks to a friend of a friend who happened to work in advertising. Through that connection, the fledgling star started to find work in commercials, and this budding success in turn inspired her to move from New York City to Los Angeles. Further roles were in store for Perette after she landed in California, too, as she went on to earn a handful of guest spots on popular shows such as Frasier and 24.
Then in 2003 Perrette got her big break on NCIS, which began as a two-episode spin-off of the Navy-centric legal show JAG. Her co-stars on the show’s first season included Michael Weatherly, David McCallum, Sasha Alexander and Harmon, whose character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, helms the crime investigation unit.
At that point, Harmon had already been in Hollywood for more than 25 years. He hadn’t always wanted to be an actor, though. Prior to finding his passion, he had considered becoming a lawyer or working in advertising after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles. Then, after Harmon had taken a job in merchandising, he’d realized that he’d rather be a star.
And one of Harmon’s most well-known roles came in 1983 – nearly a decade into his Hollywood career – when he began to portray Dr. Robert Caldwell on the NBC series St. Elsewhere. The gritty medical drama pushed the envelope in its six-year run, too. When Harmon’s character contracted HIV, for instance, it was one of the first times that such a scenario had played out on TV.
In fact, Harmon’s role on St. Elsewhere appeared to propel him to a new level of fame. In 1986 – the year he left the show – a coveted honor came, too, as he clinched the title of People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” And from there, Harmon spent much of the next decade as a character actor who arguably became best known for playing police officers or doctors.
Then, at the start of the new millennium, Harmon landed a role on The West Wing. And while his character’s arc lasted only four episodes, the actor’s short time on screen made enough of an impression to earn him an Emmy nomination. It was that part, moreover, that helped Harmon to become the star of NCIS.
And that’s all despite the fact that Donald Bellisario – the creator of JAG and NCIS – wasn’t convinced at first that Harmon could accurately portray Gibbs. But seeing the actor on The West Wing changed all that, according to co-executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson. He told USA Today in 2010, “We all looked at that work. And everybody said, ‘He’s Gibbs.’”
The character Gibbs, of course, works for NCIS, which stands for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service – a real-life arm of the United States Department of the Navy. And the show NCIS presents a fictionalized version of the unit’s work as law enforcement and counterintelligence agents. In short, whenever a Navy- or Marine-related crime takes place, the team investigates.
And Harmon’s character Leroy Jethro Gibbs stands as the leader of the fictionalized NCIS squad. Gibbs is said to have previously served as a sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps, which explains his no-nonsense approach as a special agent and team leader. Still, he needs other experts to help him, especially in technical forensics – and that’s where Perrette’s character once came in.
It could be argued, too, that Abby Sciuto is far and away the quirkiest-looking employee on NCIS. And, interestingly, her characterization came directly from creator Bellisario’s vision for a stereotype-breaking forensic scientist. Perrette told TV Guide in 2012, “With Abby, [Bellisario] wanted to take an alternative-style person with tattoos and make her someone who is happy, totally put-together and successful.”
Still, this left much of Abby’s characterization in Perrette’s hands. The actress added, “All the script said about [Abby] was: black hair, caffeinated and smart. She’s completely unaware that anybody thinks she looks weird. She thinks she looks pretty and never calls herself anything other than happy – and I fight for that.”
And audiences ultimately fell for the character that Perrette portrayed: the brilliant scientist who came to work in pigtails and bold accesories. But Abby tugged at heartstrings for other reasons. For one, she and Harmon’s Gibbs shared a strong emotional bond for much of NCIS’ run.
Much of that has to do with Harmon’s character’s backstory. A criminal murdered Gibbs’ wife and daughter, and the tragedy therefore closes him off to getting close to anyone else for a while. Slowly but surely, though, Gibbs starts to warm up to his NCIS team of special agents – especially Perrette’s Abby. Indeed, showrunner Gary Glasberg said at a Television Critics Association press event in 2014 that Gibbs has somewhat of a fatherly affection toward the forensic scientist.
At the time, Glasberg was fielding questions from fans who wanted to know if Gibbs and Abby had romantic love for each other. But the producer denied such an assertion, choosing instead to say that the characters’ bond was so palpable because of Harmon and Perrette. “What you’re seeing is the dynamic they find in the scene in rehearsal. It’s about the chemistry of the two actors,” he explained.
However, a few years after Glassberg lauded Harmon and Perrette’s work, fans of NCIS started to notice that something seemed to have shifted in Gibbs and Abby’s relationship. In particular, the two fictional colleagues had stopped appearing on screen together after years of collaborating to solve Naval and Marine crimes.
One fan wrote on Reddit, for instance, “Has anyone noticed that [Abby and Gibbs] are never in the same scene together anymore? She doesn’t run into the room with him anymore saying, ‘Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!’ Also, [in one episode], she says she’s going to go get Gibbs, and she leaves, and [then] he appears.”
It seems, then, that the eagle-eyed viewer had picked up on the brewing tensions happening behind the scenes of NCIS. But the problems between cast members wouldn’t come to light until 2019 – two years after Perrette had announced that her 15th season playing Abby would be her last.
Yes, in October 2017, Perrette took to Twitter to confirm already swirling rumors that she would depart from the CBS procedural drama. “So, it is true that I am leaving NCIS,” she began. But the actress was quick to negate the reasons that others had given for her resignation.
“There have been all kinds of false rumors as to why – no, I don’t have a skincare line, and, no, my network and show are not mad at me,” Perrette went on. She explained, “It was a decision I made last year.” And the star also took a moment to honor her NCIS character.
“I hope everyone will love and enjoy everything Abby – not only for the rest of this season, but for everything she has given all of us for 16 years,” Perrette wrote. “All the love, all the laughter, all the inspiration… I love her as much as you do,” the NCIS actress concluded.
With that, the story appeared to be over. And when it came time for Perrette’s character to actually leave NCIS, she had a very emotional departure. At that moment, Abby shared the screen and said goodbye to each of her special agent colleagues – apart from one, that is.
Yes, as you may have guessed, Gibbs and Abby never actually bid farewell to each other – despite the fact that their affectionate rapport had been at the heart of NCIS for several seasons. And neither the show’s producers nor its actors explained the lack of closure – at least not right away. A few days after the episode had aired, though, Perrette started tweeting.
“I refused to go low. That’s why I’ve never told publicly what happened,” Perrette tweeted in 2018 about her NCIS departure. “But there are tabloid articles out there that are telling total lies about me. If you believe them? Please leave me alone. You clearly don’t know me.”
A day after that, Perrette continued her vague story. “Maybe I’m wrong for not ‘spilling the beans.’ Telling the story, the truth. I feel I have to protect my crew, jobs and so many people. But at what cost? I don’t know. Just know, I’m trying to do the right thing, but maybe silence isn’t the right thing about crime. I’m… just…?” she wrote.
And Perette continued, “There is a ‘machine’ keeping me silent and feeding false stories about me. A very rich [and] very powerful publicity ‘machine.’ No morals, no obligation to truth, and I’m just left here, reading the lies, trying to protect my crew. Trying to remain calm. He did it.”
Then the actress made a shocking allegation. “I’ve been supporting anti-bullying programs forever. But now I know because it was me! If it’s school or work that you’re required to go to? It’s horrifying. I left. Multiple physical assaults. I really get it now. Stay safe. Nothing is worth your safety. Tell someone,” Perrette wrote, concluding her Twitter explanation.
And after that stunning series of tweets, CBS put out a statement regarding Perrette’s somewhat foggy explanation for why she had left its show. The network’s message read, “Pauley Perrette had a terrific run on NCIS, and we are all going to miss her. Over a year ago, Pauley came to us with a workplace concern.”
CBS’ statement continued, “We took the matter seriously and worked with [Perrette] to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows.” And Perrette would seemingly corroborate these claims. “I want to thank my studio and network CBS. They have always been so good to me and always had my back,” she subsequently tweeted.
But once Perrette had tweeted her accusations, it reminded people of a previous bust-up that was reported to have occurred on the NCIS set in 2016. At that time, Harmon was said to have taken his dog to work with him, after which the animal had allegedly bitten one of the show’s crew members. Yet despite this, the actor supposedly continued to bring his pet onto set.
And, apparently, Harmon’s actions after the alleged attack made some of the NCIS team feel uncomfortable. Because of Perrette’s standing on the show, then, she reportedly took it upon herself to voice the concerns of everyone who felt unsafe with the animal around. Yet this did not sit well with her co-star – or so it’s been claimed.
Instead, Harmon and Perrette – once noted for their charming on-screen chemistry – reportedly stopped appearing on NCIS together. In fact, the duo are alleged to have begun to stagger their respective set days so that they wouldn’t ever come in contact with each other. And then, in 2019, Perrette made an even more shocking series of accusations.
In June of that year, Perrette tweeted again – and this time she named names. After fielding questions as to whether or not she’d ever return to NCIS, the actress responded passionately. “No, I am not coming back! Ever! Please stop asking?” she implored her fans, foreshadowing the seriousness of what was to come.
Then Perrette contended that she had suffered a physical assault at the hands of her co-star. “I am terrified of Harmon and him attacking me. I have nightmares about it,” she wrote. According to TMZ, sources claimed that the actress had complained in 2017 after Harmon had “body checked” her during filming for NCIS.
The alleged incident had happened, Perrette said, because she had vocalized concerns about Harmon’s dog. The actress further asserted that CBS had urged the NCIS star keep his pooch on a leash or in his trailer. Still, Harmon supposedly continued to bring his dog out in front of Perrette exclusively, and this in turn was said to have ruined their working relationship.
To further illustrate her allegations, Perrette tweeted – and later deleted – images of the coworker who had apparently been bitten by Harmon’s dog. “You don’t think I didn’t expect blowback? You got me wrong. This happened. To my crew member, and I fought like hell to keep it from happening again! To protect my crew,” she wrote.
From there, Perrette crystallized her side of the story. Via Twitter, she argued, “Then I was physically assaulted for saying no!? And I lost my job.” The final assertion stood in marked contrast to the contents of her earlier tweets, in which she said that she had actually chosen to walk away from NCIS. She had also previously tweeted her support for CBS – the network that she now seemingly claims had fired her.
After Perrette’s tweets caused a stir, however, neither her rep nor Harmon’s responded to requests for comment on the matter. But the actress did conclude her postings by saying how pleased she felt with her new work environment on a new CBS sitcom called Broke. Perrette wrote, “I have a new show that is safe and happy,” and that series will start airing before the end of 2019.
But whatever the truth may be, this isn’t the first time that Harmon has been at the center of a high-profile feud. Incidentally, the NCIS star found himself in some serious hot water back in the ’80s – and this time, the root of the issue was a lot closer to home. Harmon, you see, became embroiled in a very public court battle over the custody of his sister’s child.
Hardcore Harmon fans will know that the star is part of a family of famous faces. In fact, among his direct relatives are football players, models and actors. His sister Kristin, on the other hand, perhaps falls more on the side of infamy. And it’s probably thanks to the tragedy that has defined her life – and the major rift that developed between her and Harmon.
It’s safe to say that the Harmons have conquered virtually every aspect of the entertainment industry over the years. Family patriarch Tom was a famous football player in the 1940s, for example, before becoming a popular sportscaster. Plus, he was married to actress Elyse Knox Harmon from The Mummy’s Tomb fame, and they had three kids: actor Mark, model Kelly and Kristin.
Of course, celebrities tend to mingle with fellow stars, and this perhaps explains why many of the Harmons hooked up with famous people. For example, since 1987 Harmon has been married to Mork & Mindy actress Pam Dawber. And Kelly was once wed to John DeLorean – the man whose company created the iconic car from the Back to the Future movies.
As for Kristin, meanwhile, she became involved with teen pop idol Ricky Nelson. He was the son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, who became massive stars in the 1950s thanks to their sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ricky began starring alongside his parents in the show when he was eight years old, and it was at the tender age of 12 that he met his future wife.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was considered a wholesome, all-American type of show. And yet behind the scenes, the reality was a far cry from what was portrayed onscreen. Over the years, in fact, tales of addiction, scandal, trauma and tragedy would eventually emerge.
When Kristin was 18, she became the wife of her childhood sweetheart Ricky. But it may have been a shotgun wedding, since at the time of the ceremony, Kristin was already expecting Ricky’s child. And in those days, of course, having a baby out of wedlock would have created a scandal. So, Ozzie and Harriet sprang into action.
According to a 1998 documentary called Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America’s Favorite Family, Ricky’s parents took steps to cover up the fact that the baby had been conceived before the couple had married. Indeed, with the assistance of the hospital at which the birth took place, they falsified records to create the misleading impression that the child, whom they named Tracy, had entered the world prematurely.
Unfortunately, though, the union between Kristin and Ricky wasn’t to last. And after welcoming three more children, twins Gunnar and Matthew in 1967 and son Sam in 1974, the relationship began to fall apart. Apparently, the couple’s difficulties included arguments, an alleged incident in which Ricky cheated with two cheerleaders and, according to Kristin herself, substance abuse.
Reportedly, both Kristin and Ricky had found it difficult growing up in the spotlight. “[Ricky] was a paradox. He was so charming, so manipulative. But he did not ultimately take responsibility for his life,” Peter Jones, the man behind the Ozzie and Harriet documentary, told The New York Times in 1998.
According to Jones, Ricky “didn’t know how to be a grown-up, which was chilling.” But there was more. “He once said that he didn’t see himself getting older,” Jones added. “He believed that. In a way, he was trapped by his television identity.” What’s more, it seems as though Kristin had some similar demons.
In 1987 – in the midst of her painful feud with Harmon – Kristin gave People magazine an insight into her childhood. And it sounds as though her early years were rough. Kristin explained that her family had always counted on her being “a perfect person.” But despite her best efforts, she’d always felt like “kind of a pariah” among the famous Harmon family.
Kristin found interactions with her mother particularly difficult. “I had a hard time with my mom,” she admitted. “I never cared much about being on the covers of magazines. She did – and cared about her children being there, too. More than once, I was told to pinch my nose so the nostrils wouldn’t flare. Her values are different.”
In that same interview, Kristin also admitted that she and Ricky had enjoyed a certain lifestyle at the start of their romance. “We were hippie rock ’n’ rollers. We did what everyone else was doing all those years,” she said. “At first, we were in it together. I tried to be one of the guys – to fix the marriage by going on the road and being involved in road stuff that is really not good for anyone.”
And things got worse and worse for Ricky and Kristin. “After a while, we were totally messed up – both of us,” Kristin told People. “I got into therapy, and so did he for a while. But then he started not showing up. I tried telling my family, ‘There’s a drug problem here, and we’ve all got to help.’ But they totally denied there was anything wrong.”
Moreover, just two years prior to that interview, Tom Harmon had spoken to People about how he’d raised his kids. “I never spared the rod, and [Mark would] get whacked if he did something wrong,” he said. “But look at my kids now. They all know the difference between right and wrong, and there isn’t a druggie in the bunch.”
Kristin began divorce proceedings in 1977 but subsequently returned to Ricky. However, this only delayed the inevitable. And in 1980 she filed again. By the time the split became official two years later, the couple’s substance abuse was common knowledge, and Ricky was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In her interview with People, Kristin expressed regret about the divorce. “I wish I had been able to delve deeper then – to bring Rick along with me,” she said. “I knew that if I didn’t leave, we would both die. I knew that I would just somehow try to make it for my kids. I couldn’t help Rick anymore.”
And indeed, Ricky couldn’t be saved. Tragically, in December 1985 the musician’s private aircraft, which was known to have mechanical issues, crashed into a field in Texas. Nine people had been on board – including Ricky – and seven of them were killed. The only survivors were the pilots.
Ricky was laid to rest at L.A.’s Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, after hundreds of his fans had gathered for a memorial service. But the battles between Kristin and her ex-husband continued even after his death. She was left nothing in his will, you see, and so she fought to gain control of the late pop star’s estate – only for a judge to rule against her.
And throughout this time, drugs unfortunately continued to feature in Kristin’s life. As a result, Harmon began worrying about his sister’s youngest child, Sam, who was living with Kristin following the bitter divorce. According to their sister, Kelly, Sam at one point actually phoned Harmon up and begged him for help.
Then, a couple of days after the alleged phone call, Harmon and his wife, Pam, encountered Kristin on the street – and apparently, it seemed as though she’d taken drugs. “She was mumbling and stumbling and bumping into things,” Pam told People in 1987. And so, Kristin’s siblings began planning for her to go into rehab.
Kristin, meanwhile, denied that she had any substance abuse issues. “What Harmon and Pam saw was an extremely exhausted individual,” she told People in response to Pam’s comments. “I’d had a relationship go bad – a good, long-term relationship – and I hadn’t slept for four nights. Also, I’d been going to a diet clinic because I was up to 142 pounds, and I wanted to be thin for [my daughter] Tracy’s wedding.”
Plus, Kristin alleged that it had been diet pills – not hard drugs – that had caused the episode that Harmon and Pam had apparently witnessed. “They give you liquid stuff, powdered stuff and some pills. I still don’t know what it all was, because it was not labeled. I honestly didn’t know it was making me crazy,” she said. “My kids noticed it. So did my friends. But to my way of thinking, I wasn’t abusing drugs. I was very innocent.”
Eventually, Harmon managed to convince his sister to start rehab at a clinic called New Beginnings. But Kristin made it clear that she wanted to pay for the stay herself. “Nobody but my brother could have talked me into this,” Kristin informed People. “Because I trusted him. A voice inside me said, ‘For once in your life, let somebody help you.’”
But while Kristin had agreed to go to rehab, Harmon believed that her condition wasn’t improving. Apparently, you see, Kristin continued to refute that she’d used narcotics. And instead, she maintained while at the facility that she’d been taking prescription medication. The whole family became increasingly concerned for Sam, too, who reportedly seemed to be suffering as a result of his unstable environment.
And so, the Harmon family made the difficult decision to fight in court for Sam’s custody. “The intention was never to take a child away from its mother,” Kelly informed People in 1987. “The intention was to put Sam in a healthy environment where he could feel safe and go to school while his mother got well.”
In court, Harmon was given interim custody of Sam, and Kristin was told that she had to stay at least 200 yards away from her brother and sister-in-law. And during the hearing, Harmon reportedly exchanged some heated words with the judge. “I want this child to see his mother,” the judge said, according to People. “This child does not want to see his mother,” Harmon answered.
Multiple media outlets covered Sam’s custody case, and the scrutiny was intense for the family. But the sympathy of most commentators lay with Kristin – rather than Harmon. Apparently, the latter was irritable and wouldn’t answer reporters’ questions, while Kristin seemed to be staying calm and acting politely despite the stress that she must have been under.
Things became even more problematic for the family, meanwhile, when Pam was questioned. She was asked whether Harmon and herself had taken pill bottles from Kristin’s house and given them to Harmon’s lawyer, and she admitted that they had. Kristin’s lawyer then began questioning Pam as to whether she herself had ever taken drugs.
Pam denied the accusation but allegedly appeared shaken by the line of questioning. And the next day, Harmon brought proceedings to an end. According to People, he approached Kristin’s lawyer and told him, “We don’t want to go any further with this. Too much blood has been spilled. This is an unconditional surrender.”
So, Kristin was given custody of Sam, with Harmon being permitted to visit him. The three of them consented to undergo group counseling, too. And according to People, Harmon and Kristin were even witnessed leaving court with their arms locked together. It appeared as though events had reached the most peaceful ending that they could have done under the circumstances.
In the years that have followed, though, Harmon has seemingly never spoken to the media about the custody battle. In fact, he’s always maintained his privacy and that of his family very fiercely. “It’s not even a choice. It’s who we are,” he told Closer Weekly in 2018. “We stay at home – a lot. I’m not a Twitter guy or a Facebook guy. Our sons aren’t into that, either.”
However, Sam – the little boy at the center of the court case – did speak out eventually. In 2016 he told Medium, “When I was growing up, my parents were going through a divorce that lasted about seven years.” He added, “I think I’m being conservative when I say seven years, because it feels like forever. That happened all through my childhood.”
Plus, the death of Sam’s famous father had understandably taken a major toll on him. “The whole thing was very hard to wrap my head around. And for a long time, I was lost,” Sam admitted. “I didn’t have a clue about what had happened, who he was, who I was [or] who my family was.”
What’s more, Sam explained in the interview that his relationship with his mother had healed over time. “We’re absolutely close,” he said. “She lives in New Mexico, so it’s a little bit of a trip to visit her. She’s incredibly creative. I’ll call her and ask her about ideas and what she thinks.”
However, in 2017 RadarOnline reported that Kristin was “gravely ill” in hospital and that her brother Harmon was “refusing to see her before she dies.” They quoted a “family insider” as saying, “Almost two years ago, Kris took a bad fall and had to have fluid drained from her skull to relieve pressure on her brain. Harmon was aware of it but chose not to visit her.”
Whether or not this particular story was true, Kristin did pass away the following year. And her daughter, Tracy, subsequently wrote a tribute post on Facebook. Tracy is another member of the family who has gone on to achieve success in the acting world: she’s perhaps most famous for her role in The Father Dowling Mysteries.
Tracy’s tribute to her mother was very touching. “No one could light up a room like she could – or a conversation – or lead an army of friends into joyful noise like she could. If you knew her, you knew this,” she wrote. “She knew where the party was, she was the party, she didn’t just know the cool people, she was the cool people.”
“[My mom] was a lesson – like many of our mothers are – in how to be and not to be,” Tracy continued. “She never ever ever said she was sorry, but one day after a hellacious fight the night before, I came home from school to find her on my floor, wordlessly painting a tiny mural on the wall of the tiny bathroom in my dollhouse.”
So, fans may never know whether or not Kristin and Harmon ever fully buried the hatchet before she passed away. But as Sam put it when talking about his mother to Medium, time heals a lot of wounds. “As you get older, things that were important aren’t important anymore. Problems aren’t problems anymore,” he said. “You work through them, or you don’t. But for the most part, you hope to.”