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NCIS star Mark Harmon played Special Agent Gibbs for 18+ seasons and more than 400 episodes. During that nearly two-decade run, it’s safe to say that the character suffered more than his fair share of heartbreak. Here are Harmon’s 10 most heartbreaking moments as Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Mark Harmon on ‘NCIS’ | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

10. Gibbs says goodbye to Ziva in ‘NCIS’ season 11

At the beginning of season 11, Cote de Pablo decided to leave NCIS. Which meant her character Ziva David had to say goodbye to Gibbs — a man who’d become a father figure to her during her time at NCIS.

It was difficult for fans to watch their final phone call because as soon as Gibbs heard Ziva’s voice, he realized the former Mossad agent was staying in Israel and wouldn’t be returning to NCIS. Luckily, the two were able to reunite in season 17.

9. Tobias Fornell loses his daughter Emily

Season 18 was a difficult one for the NCIS team because it featured two character exits — Emily Wickersham’s Agent Bishop and Maria Bello’s Jack Sloane — and two character deaths.

It was heartbreaking enough watching Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) deal with the death of his wife due to COVID. But NCIS fans had to really break out the tissues when Gibbs’ close friend, FBI Agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano), lost his daughter Emily to a drug overdose.

Gibbs actually left the crime scene he was working to sit with Fornell in the waiting room of the trauma center, hoping for good news. But it never came.

8. The shocking death of Agent Kate Todd

The first time NCIS truly shocked fans was in the season 2 finale titled “Twilight.” When Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander) — someone who Gibbs had recruited from the Secret Service — was tasked with protecting Gibbs from terrorist Ari (Rudolf Martin).

After she saved her boss from the first attacker, Ari shot and killed Kate from a neighboring rooftop in front of Gibbs and Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly).

7. Why does Gibbs only listen to five songs?

During season 5, forensic scientist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) buys everyone on the team an iPod. But when she excitedly explains how much music Gibbs could download to it, he gives her a heartbreaking reply — “I only listen to five, Abs.”

It’s later revealed that the only five songs Gibbs listens to are recordings of his late daughter Kelly playing the piano.

6. The Death of Diane

Gibbs has been married four times, and he surprisingly shared an ex-wife with Fornell — a woman named Diane, played by Melinda McGraw. She only appeared in a handful of episodes, but that didn’t make her death any less brutal or heartbreaking for fans, or for Gibbs. To make matters worse, he witnessed Diane getting shot and killed. Just like he did with Agent Todd.

5. Gibbs gets shot in the ‘NCIS’ season 12 finale

Season 12 of NCIS ended with Gibbs getting shot by a boy in Iraq while investigating a terrorist group known as the Calling. The following season opened with Gibbs fighting for his life while in the hands of surgeon Dr. Cyril Taft (Jon Cryer).

Gibbs obviously survived, but fans witnessed him struggling to confront his feelings and cope with his near-death experience.

4. Gibbs loses his father, Jackson

The last time NCIS fans saw Gibbs’ father Jackson, played by Ralph Waite, was in the season 11 episode “Better Angels.” Just a few weeks later, Waite passed away in real life.

Then-executive producer Gary Glasberg wanted to honor The Waltons star with a special episode titled “Honor Thy Father” for the season 11 finale — a heartbreaking episode focused on Gibbs losing his father.

“We had something very real happen to us off-screen. We lost someone we truly cared about. And now it was time to let Leroy Jethro Gibbs say goodbye to his father, too, ” Glasberg told Entertainment Weekly at the time.

3. The death of Gibbs’ bestie, Mike Franks

For multiple seasons, NCIS made it clear that Gibbs’ oldest and closest friend was former Supervisory Agent Mike Franks (Muse Watson). That’s why the season 8 episode “Swan Song” was so heartbreaking.

At the end of the episode, Mike becomes the latest victim of the Port to Port Killer after getting stabbed. Even though he was already sick and dying — and Gibbs was building his casket — watching Gibbs lose his friend in such a devastating way was almost too much for fans to handle.

This wasn’t the last time fans saw Mike, though. He returned numerous times in later seasons as “Ghost Mike” — a manifestation of Gibbs’ subconscious due to his own lingering feelings of guilt and despair over his friend’s death.

2. Gibbs loses his memory

At the end of NCIS season 3, the two-part episode titled “Hiatus” sees Gibbs severely injured in a ship bombing. The explosion leaves him with severe memory loss, as he doesn’t recognize anyone from NCIS. With the exception of Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) and Dr. Ducky Mallard (David McCallum).

It’s incredibly sad to see Gibbs not recognize anyone from his team. But the episode gets even more heartbreaking when it delves into Gibbs’ past.


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1. Season 3 of ‘NCIS’ reveals how Gibbs lost his wife and daughter

The special two-part “Hiatus” episode also saw Gibbs relive the painful memories surrounding the death of his wife Shannon (Darby Stanchfield) and their 8-year-old daughter Kelly (Mary Mouser) while he lay in a coma.

Fans find out that Shannon and Kelly were killed when a member of a Mexican drug cartel shot and killed the Marine who was driving the vehicle they were in.

The loss of his wife and daughter is something that Gibbs carried with him in every episode of NCIS. Fans could see it written all over his face — until he finally found peace in Alaska in season 19. However, he will always have a broken heart because he lost the two people in his life whom he loved the most.

New episodes of NCIS air Monday nights on CBS. Fans can revisit episodes from the first 18 seasons on Netflix.