Kristin Harmon, Sister Of "NCIS" Star Mark Harmon, Dies At Age 72

By Paul Gaita 05/16/18

The actress-turned-artist credited her brother with helping her to gain lasting sobriety in the late 1980s.

Mark & Kristin Harmon
Photo via YouTube

Kristin Harmon, the older sister of NCIS star Mark Harmon, died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 72 on April 27, 2018.

Harmon, an American primitive painter and actress, was perhaps known for her tumultuous marriage to singer-actor Ricky Nelson, which was marked by drug dependency and legal battles over custody of their four children, including actress Tracy Nelson and twins Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, who formed the pop-rock act Nelson.

After losing her husband in a 1985 plane crash, Kristin returned to the headlines when she successfully fought her brother in court for the custody of her youngest son, Sam. She married the producer-director Mark Tinker in 1988, and enjoyed a well-regarded career as an artist prior to her death.

Born Sharon Kristin Harmon on June 25, 1945, she was the eldest of three children by football player and broadcaster Tom Harmon and his wife, actress Elyse Knox. She met Ricky Nelson at the age of 12 and married him in 1963 when she was 18; Nelson also followed him into an acting career, appearing opposite him on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and in other television series and features.

Off-camera, the couple became immersed in the '60s counterculture, and Kristin began using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. 

The marriage soon deteriorated, and the couple underwent an acrimonious divorce in 1980. Kristin Harmon's substance issues worsened, and on the advice of a therapist, began attending AA meetings, which she attributed to her initially gaining sobriety in 1983.

However, her personal life was still marked by chaos, including financial instability and bouts with dependency; following Ricky Nelson's death in 1985, she attempted to regain custody of her youngest son, Sam, who had been living with her parents. 

A return to rehabilitation in 1987 prompted her brother, Mark, and his wife, actress Pam Dawber, to petition for custody of Sam. A protracted legal battle ensued, culminating in Harmon and Dawber dropping the petition—allegedly due to questioning by the defense over Dawber's own drug use—and Kristin retaining custody of Sam.

She married Tinker in 1988 and began painting, which earned a following among public figures like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A coffee table collection of her work, Out of My Mind, was published in 1999.

Despite the acrimony between them, Harmon credited her brother with helping her to gain lasting sobriety in the late 1980s. "Nobody but [he] could have talked me into this, because I trusted him," she said in 1987.

Though she split from Tinker in 2000, Nelson appeared to gain a degree of connection with her children at the end of her life. Her son, Sam, said in 2016 that he and his mother were "in a good way together."

And in a Facebook post penned after her mother's death, Tracy Nelson described her as "a force. A reckoning. Artist, first, always. Anarchist, bohemian, beauty. Hurricane Kris. No one could blow the house down like she could. And no one could make something out of nothing like she could."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.