One night in 1986, Mark Harmon was with his buddies when he looked up and saw something surprising.
“I’d done an interview with PEOPLE about leaving St. Elsewhere and I went up to play basketball and both backboards on either side of the court were plastered with the [Sexiest Man Alive] cover,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “So that’s how I found out.”
Though he initially felt “silly” about scoring the coveted title – “there are people who take it certainly much more seriously than I do,” he admits – it certainly didn’t hurt his career. After leaving St. Elsewhere, he went on to appear in Moonlighting and a slew of TV movies before landing his current role in NCIS, now in its 13th season.
Of his long-term success in Hollywood, the 62-year-old tells PEOPLE, “To be around a while, [you have] a perspective so much time later that maybe you didn’t have then. But longevity in the business can be relatively rare.”
Also rare: Earning the Sexiest Man Alive title! So what advice would he give to this year’s honoree (for the record, his pick is the pope)? “Have a sense of humor,” he shares.
PEOPLE will be catching up with several former Sexiest Men Alive leading up to the 30th anniversary reveal the week of Nov. 16. Hear more from Harmon in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
• Reporting by JULIE JORDAN