How Did Neil Patrick Harris Become Famous?

Neil Patrick Harris is an actor and comedian known for hosting many award shows as well as playing Barney Stinson on all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother.

He is currently a famous name in Hollywood, but it was not always like that for Neil Patrick Harris. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to see just how his acting career got started and which role kick-started his rise to stardom.

What was Neil Patrick Harris’ early life like?

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Harris was born on June 15, 1973, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He actually grew up more south in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Harris came from a middle-class family and both of his parents were lawyers.

He got interested in acting very early on in his life. While at a drama camp, he was discovered by playwright Mark Medoff, who cast him in the film Clara’s Heart alongside Whoopi Goldberg.

Harris’ work in Clara’s Heart earned him a Golden Globe nomination at just 15 years old.

What was Harris’ breakout role?

The following year, Harris went on to have his own television show Doogie Howser, M.D., about a child prodigy who becomes a teenage doctor.

David E. Kelly, one of the creators on the show, said that it took them a long time to find a suitable actor for the part of Doogie Howser. Namely, they were looking for someone who could be believable both as a young doctor as well as an average teenager.

“[Neil Patrick Harris] has got an intellect you can actually believe in as he’s spewing up the medical jargon, and there’s something about him — you care about him as a kid,” Kelly shared with Vulture.

The network did not actually agree with the creators choosing Harris, but the show was allowed to continue because it did very well with viewers. In the end, that was a good choice as Doogie Howser, M.D. won numerous awards throughout the course of its four-season run, and it also made Neil Patrick Harris a star.

What other roles is Harris known for?

After the success of Doogie Howser, M.D., Harris was able to land many interesting roles in the acting world.

In 2005, he started playing Barney Stinson, an extreme womanizer, on How I Met Your Mother. Although Barney Stinson was not necessarily the main protagonist, he became one of the most iconic people from the show.

Many of his catchphrases stuck with viewers everywhere and even some of his seemingly-ridiculous dating rules became pop culture phenomenons. How I Met Your Mother lasted for a whopping nine seasons and it won a lot of awards along the way.

On the big screen, Harris is also known for playing an exaggerated version of himself in Harold & Kumar films. Additionally, in 2011 and 2012, he played Patrick Winslow, one of the main humans who help the Smurfs in The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2.

From 2017 to 2019, Harris played the evil Count Olaf in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series was well-received by both viewers and critics alike, and Harris also was nominated for several awards for his work.

What else is Harris famous for in the media?

Harris has a variety of acting experiences under his belt, but aside from his career, fans know the 46-year-old from his personal life as well.

He came out as gay in 2006 and later revealed that he has been in a relationship with actor/chef David Burtka since 2004. The couple has two children who are twins. In 2014, Harris and Burtka got married in Italy.

Harris and Burtka can often be seen with their children on Halloween and other holidays where the family dresses up in elaborate costumes. They also been praised for being a positive representation for the LGBTQ+ community.