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Pam Dawber Lost On-Screen Sister Rebecca Schaeffer — She Switched Focus from Her Career to Her Family with Mark Harmon

Gracious Egedegbe
Mar 12, 2022
01:00 P.M.
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American actress Pam Dawber's life was changed after her onscreen sister Rebecca Schaeffer's death. Find out about their close bond and what happened to Dawber after Schaeffer's passing. 


Pam Dawber is best known for portraying Mindy McConnell in "Mork & Mindy" and then Samantha Russell in "My Sister Sam." In "My Sister Sam," Dawber co-starred with Rebecca Schaeffer, who played her younger sister Patti on the show. 

Due to starring on the same show, Dawber and Schaeffer became incredibly close. However, when Schaeffer died tragically, it ultimately transformed Dawber's life and greatly impacted her career and personal life. Find out how. 

[Left] Picture of actress Pam Dawber and husband actor Mark Harmon; [Right] American actress Rebecca Schaeffer on the set of the TV comedy series 'My Sister Sam,' circa 1987 | Source: Getty Images



Dawber was born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 18, 1951. She started as a singer and model before moving into acting. In 1978, she landed two movie roles before getting the chance of a lifetime when she got the role of Mindy McConnell on "Mork & Mindy."

In 1986, Dawber landed the lead role in "My Sister Sam." Then she met Schaeffer and grew so close to her that they lived together for a short time. Dawber opened up about her close bond with Schaeffer, saying

"We just kind of fell into this sisterly thing. Cause I'd had a sister. My sister passed away when she was 22 and I was 25. And so having another young girl in the house was something I was very comfortable with. It was good for us."


Actress Pam Dawber poses for a portrait in 1978 | Source: Getty Images


Schaeffer died on July 18, 1989. She was preparing to audition for a role in "The Godfather Part III" at her Los Angeles home when her doorbell rang.


Rather than receiving a "Godfather" script that she had been expecting, Schaeffer met a man she did not recognize at her door. The man claimed to be her biggest fan and carried an autographed picture of her. After talking to him briefly, she closed the door, and he left. 

Press photo of Rebecca Schaeffer for "My Sister Sam" in the 1980s | Source: Public Domain,Wikimedia Commons


However, the man returned. He shot her with a handgun when she opened the door and fled. Schaeffer died at the hospital. She was 21. The shooter, Robert John Bardo, was arrested the following day and was later sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Schaeffer's death sent shockwaves through Hollywood and drew attention to the privacy and safety of celebrities. It also unearthed the issues about gun control and stalking. 

Eventually, it led to better protection laws for celebrities and made the industry take stalking much more seriously though it remains present today. 



Besides Hollywood, one person that was greatly affected by Schaeffer's death was her co-star and "sister" Dawber. In an interview with ABC, she said

"I [had guilt] for years because I was so devastated, as everyone else was as well. I thought of Rebecca every day of my life probably for two years."

Dawber also expressed rage for how Schaeffer's murderer found her house address easily. After Schaeffer's passing, she made a PSA for gun control with her "My Sister Sam" castmates. 

Studio portrait of American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer and Pam Dawber, for the TV comedy series 'My Sister Sam,' circa 1987 | Source: Getty Images


Dawber also testified before Congress and urged that there should be saner gun laws in the country. Those efforts led to results as Bardo was convicted while California passed the Driver's Privacy Protection Act that prevented the Department of Motor Vehicles from releasing private addresses. 

During that difficult period, Dawber quit acting. According to Biography, she had stopped acting by 2000 and would have continued on that path if not for her former co-star Robin Williams, who brought her back onto the small screen in 2014. 

American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer and Pam Dawber face off in a scene from the television series 'My Sister Sam,' circa 1986 | Source: Getty Images



When Dawber quit acting, she focused on her family. The actress is married to "NCIS" star Mark Harmon, who plays Leroy Gibbs on the show. The couple perfectly depicts relationship and marriage goals due to their long-term relationship and love story.

Dawber and Mark's relationship began in the mid-1980s. They met through a mutual friend and kept their relationship a secret after they started dating.

Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber at the American Film Institute Honors Gregory Peck on March 09, 1989 | Source: Getty Images


Dawber once said keeping things private was a way to prevent the press from exploiting them. The lovebirds tied the knot in March 1987 and welcomed their first child Sean Harmon in April 1988. In June 1992, their second son, Ty Harmon, was born.

Besides being parents to two wonderful sons, Mark and Dawber have maintained a strong bond and are a solid couple. An insider revealed

"They are best friends who respect and are truly devoted to each other. Pam is more outgoing than Mark, who's shier, but they are both similar in their priorities."

Actress Pam Dawber and husband actor Mark Harmon attend the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures 52nd Annual Awards Dinner on September 14, 2013 | Source: Getty Images


The source disclosed that the sweet couple does not argue a lot and loves their quiet. They also value hard work and are genuinely decent people. 

The source further said Mark and Dawber appreciate finding each other because they know how treacherous Hollywood marriages can be. 

Although Mark and Dawber are Hollywood stars, they did not appear in any movies or series together. However, that changed earlier in 2021 when she made her first appearance on "NCIS" as a character named Marcie. 

Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber during The 15th Annual People's Choice Awards at Disney Studios in Burbank, California | Source: Getty Images



Dawber once disclosed that she quit acting because she wanted to be there for her kids. She said she wanted to drive them to school and be present for their birthdays. 

An insider told Closer Weekly that Mark and Dawber prioritized parenthood because they did not want their kids to engage in drugs, alcohol, and partying. They felt they needed to be strict, and their methods worked because it has helped them raise two terrific boys. 

Pam Dawber as Marcie Warren and Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, in March 2021 | Source: Getty Images


Sean and Ty are doing well and have followed in their famous parents' footsteps. Sean is an actor and has starred in series like "CSI: NY," "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Major Crimes," "Hold On" and "NCIS" alongside his dad. 

Sean is also a director with directing credit in "Catholic Schoolgirl Chainsaw Showdown." Besides acting and directing, he is a stuntman and has worked in several films in that capacity.

Meanwhile, Ty is a screenwriter and wrote "Catholic Schoolgirl Chainsaw Showdown," which his older brother directed. Dawber is an iconic actress, loving wife, and doting mom and has done incredibly well to rise from the tragedy of Schaeffer's passing to raise a beautiful family. 

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