What You Don't Know About David Harbour

The following article references suicide, mental health struggles, and addiction.

Forget the precocious young cast, the vibrant Steven Spielberg-meets-John Carpenter aesthetics, or even the sparking of an Eggo waffles craze. For many "Stranger Things" viewers, the best thing about Netflix's literal monster hit is Hawkins' grouchy yet strangely endearing chief of police Jim Hopper.

Just like most of his castmates, David Harbour's profile has skyrocketed since the nostalgic sci-fi fantasy first premiered in 2016. He's both appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and fronted his own superhero flick, taken top billing in everything from super-meta mockumentaries to festive thrillers, and in 2019 received the ultimate showbiz honor of being asked to host "Saturday Night Live."

Of course, Harbour was far from a novice when he landed the role that launched him to global fame. His acting career stems all the way back to the late 1990s and although his personal life has only recently made headline news, it was rife with highs and lows beforehand, too. Here's a closer look at the man behind one of Hollywood's best mustaches.

A kitten saved David Harbour's life

David Harbour's struggle with alcoholism has been well documented, and the man himself has been open about how addiction has played a part in his life. As he told "Off Camera with Sam Jones," before he found sobriety, he couldn't keep jobs or relationships, and his mental health was impacted. But you might not be aware that a kitten is responsible for the "Black Widow" star still being around.

In a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Harbour shared that his issues with substance use got so severe in his early 20s that he considered suicide. However, just one look at his beloved pet helped him to see that there was at least one thing worth living for. Harbour explained, "What stopped me was going: 'I love this cat! Who will take care of this cat?'" But it wasn't just animal welfare that helped the actor. "Also I was horrified by the idea of dying in my apartment, not being discovered for a week and having a cat eat me," he said.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

He didn't feel confident when he met his wife

The showbiz world has always been full of unlikely couples. Who can forget Chelsea Handler and 50 Cent, for example? Or Channing Tatum and Jessie J? And what was Cher and Tom Cruise all about? You could argue that gruff man mountain David Harbour and petite confessional singer-songwriter Lily Allen joined that list when they started dating in 2019. Even more so for the fact that they met each other when the former believed himself to be at his most disheveled.

Speaking to The New York Times two years later, Harbour admitted that he didn't exactly consider himself a catch at the time. "It's a true testament to my undeniable charisma when I say that my wife met me at 280 pounds with this beard and this hair," he said. "We went on a date at the Wolseley in London, and she really fell for me at my worst, physically and hair-wise."

The actor went on to add that a mixture of dieting and fitness soon led to him losing some weight, something that Allen — who he's now married to — has mixed feelings about. Yet he argued, "It's really good to start the relationship from that part, as opposed to being the young, handsome buck and watching yourself degenerate over the years."

David Harbour is a father figure to Millie Bobby Brown

In the second season of "Stranger Things," Hawkins' no-nonsense police chief Jim Hopper proves that he's really a big softie at heart when he takes the traumatized Eleven under his wing, essentially becoming the father she never had. And it turns out that he and Millie Bobby Brown have a similar bond off screen, too.

During an appearance on podcast "That Scene with Dan Patrick" in 2021, David Harbour revealed that he's constantly looking out for the co-star who was only 12 years old when the Netflix fantasy drama made her a global star: "Millie and I have always had sort of a special relationship because I knew her when she was so young. I knew her before any of this big fame hit." And the big fame isn't always easy to navigate — especially for a kid. As Brown said on "Guilty Feminist," "I deal with the same things any 18-year-old is dealing with ... the only difference is that obviously I'm doing that in the public eye, so it can be really overwhelming."

Harbour, who is a stepfather to wife Lily Allen's daughters, remains in her corner through the ups and downs. As he said on the aforementioned "That Scene with Dan Patrick" episode, "I have a real protective feeling for her. I have a real, like, worry. I worry about her and the fame and all that she has to struggle with. I've just always felt this kind of deep fatherly affection for her."

David Harbour initially hated Stranger Things

This may come as a shock to the hardcore fans of Netflix's flagship '80s-themed sci-fi fantasy, but one of its key players initially hated "Stranger Things." Well, its title to be more specific. David Harbour believed that creators Matt and Ross Duffer had put the series' potential in jeopardy when they changed the name from "Montauk" to "Stranger Things."

Matt Duffer told Esquire that Harbour reached out to them via email to try to convince them to go with the first name they had in mind because Harbour believed the title that they ended up going with did not pack enough of a punch. And while the Duffer Brothers did not follow his suggestion, they appreciated his passion. "If something feels off to him, he says so and we talk about it and it results in a stronger series," Matt said. "I like to work with people like that. You know what they're thinking the whole time, as long as it's coming from a good place, and with David, it's always coming from a good place, because he cares."

Harbour will be the first to admit he was not into the retooled name at first. As he said on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," "It sounds like some stupid guy going like, 'Oh, I've heard stranger things.'" However, he eventually came round to the Duffer brothers' way of thinking when he saw the two words mixed with all the spooky visuals in the opening credits.

David Harbour didn't always want a family

While appearing on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in 2021, David Harbour freely admitted that he once had a distinct lack of paternal instincts. But luckily that all changed when he married "Smile" hitmaker Lily Allen and became stepfather to her two daughters Marnie Rose and Ethel Mary.

The actor said, "I never really wanted to have kids. [But] I get it now, why everybody has kids. Because it's kind of like the meaning of life, you pass the torch to these other individuals." Harbour, who's also described himself as a father figure to his on-screen daughter Millie Bobby Brown, continued to make viewers hearts' melt, adding, "You love them more than you could ever love yourself, and I never thought that was possible with anyone, I love myself a lot, but it's such a beautiful thing. My heart is just broken wide open and I have a new love I never had." But the actor did joke that there was a downside to his new domestic life: by constantly crawling over him his young stepdaughters have destroyed his back.

On a 2021 episode of "That Scene with Dan Patrick," Harbour got into how "Stranger Things" made him reevaluate his personal life and attitude toward parenthood. "The show sort of opened my heart in a lot of different ways, and one of the ways that it did was it started to make me realize how thin my existence was without a family," he said.

David Harbour's stepdaughters inspired him to get married

During an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2021, David Harbour told a story about a bike ride he took with then-girlfriend Lily Allen and her two young daughters Ethel Mary and Marnie Rose. He shared that after one of the kids said, "He's just some guy in our lives," he was inspired to make a major life change.

Harbour recalled, "The little one was riding along and she was going like, 'David, Dad, David, Dad.' Because the 'd' got her confused. And the older one got very upset with that, which I understand, and was like, 'He's not our dad! He's not our dad!'" Harbour hadn't even been dating Allen for even a full year at this point. But the confusion about his exact relationship to her two kids led him to make things far more official: "I was like, 'I need to marry this woman.' Because of the emotional fallout." Later that year, the unlikely couple had walked down the aisle together.

Harbour and Allen tied the knot in Las Vegas on September 7, 2020. And as he recounted on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," they exchanged vows before an Elvis impersonator and then enjoyed a casual post-ceremony meal. "We had a beautiful reception catered by In-N-Out Burger. It was at the local In-N-Out Burger," he said.

He says Madonna 'made me a man'

In 2011, David Harbour portrayed shipbroker Ernest Simpson in "W.E.," the Madonna-directed retelling of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson's controversial love story. Like most of the Material Girl's cinematic efforts, the film, which also starred James D'Arcy and Abbie Cornish, bombed with audiences and critics alike. But Harbour is unlikely to have been too bothered about the negative response. The role allowed him to meet the star who'd been a formative influence in his youth.

Speaking to Broadway.com the year before its release, the New Yorker revealed that there was one reason and one reason only that he accepted the part of Wallis' second husband: "It's a great script and story, but to be honest I mostly wanted to hang out with Madonna for a couple of months. She made me a man when I was 12 years old. I remember the exact video, 'Open Your Heart.'" In a separate chat with MTV News, he shared that he's also a fan of the tune "Like a Prayer."

Not only did Harbour get the chance to work with his pre-teen idol, he also got to bust a few moves with her, too. The "Hellboy" star told Broadway.com, "The best part is I got to dance with Madonna to Madonna music, which was the most surreal thing ever. It's like watching 'Dog Day Afternoon' with Al Pacino. That's next on my list."

David Harbour enjoys reexamining gender norms

David Harbour may have been raised in a Texan family and around traditional masculinity. But he's all about challenging norms, as he showed in a striking fashion photoshoot for GQ in 2021.

The "Suicide Squad" star sported a skirt for the Thom Browne project which also featured artist Anh Duong, something which may have surprised those who only know him from his macho roles on screen. But the actor, apparently renowned for wearing the same three shirts, told the magazine he'd always wanted to mix up his wardrobe: "I just really like the skirt idea on a man and with gender fluidity being what it is, I think really what we're reexamining is gender roles in a societal structure. It's very serious, but it's also very fun."

In a 2017 chat with The New York Times, he touched on his relationship to masculinity. "One of the things I've been interested in my whole career is exploring masculinity and what it means to be a man," he said. "The sensitivity of a man, but also the violence and power that goes along with it."

A tragedy took place at David Harbour's home

In 2015, a woman died by suicide at David Harbour's Manhattan apartment. According to Metro, she was staying at his place while Harbour was in Toronto for the "Black Mass" premiere. Although it has not been confirmed exactly how the two knew each other, New York Daily News reported that Harbour had been trying to help a person named Christin Croft out during her time of need. According to authorities, the deceased had consistently struggled with her mental health.

The actor later expressed his bewilderment and sadness over the incident. He said in the New York Daily News, "She was in the shelter system. I was trying to help her out. I'm very confused, I don't understand how this happened. She seemed to be a lovely person. It's a terrible tragedy. I'm very shaken by this."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Why David Harbour waited to talk about his mental health

As with his alcohol addiction, David Harbour has been open about being bipolar since his landing his star-making role on "Stranger Things." Before that, however, the man best-known as police chief Jim Hopper kept completely schtum about his diagnosis.

Speaking to GQ in 2019, Harbour admitted he was once scared that his career would be irreparably harmed if he disclosed his diagnosis, but he eventually felt like he could be open about his mental health. The actor also told the outlet that he hoped parents of kids diagnosed as bipolar could see him as an example of someone who pursued his dreams after his diagnosis. He said, "I want to say if you admire this profession, which you don't have to, then I'm no different to that child. That's what I want to share with those people, because they suffer like my parents suffered." 

Harbour echoed this sentiment in a chat with NPR's "Fresh Air." Addressing any neurodivergent kids or parents of neurodivergent kids who might be listening to the radio show, he said, "I want you to know that, like, you know, you can be a powerful, strong, successful — even a strong cultural voice in this world with this, you know, label attached to you."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

David Harbour has danced with penguins

It sounds like the kind of fabricated story you'd find on The Onion. But David Harbour really did once launch a social media campaign to help him achieve his goal of dancing with penguins.

Yes, in 2018 the "Stranger Things" star was told by Greenpeace that if he achieved 200,000 retweets from his followers they'd consider inviting him to join their expedition to the ice-cold continent where he could bust a move with some cute flightless birds. The internet subsequently did their thing and the organization were pretty much forced to offer him a genuine place on the trip.

Within a month, the actor had both fulfilled a lifelong dream and become something of an environmental warrior. Harbour explained in a video, "I thought this was going to be a silly thing — I thought I was just going to dance with penguins. But ultimately ... this turned into another thing about protecting the Antarctic waters and this huge conservation movement that's going on. It humbled me and my narcissism." This development is perhaps even more surprising given the actor has a genuine fear of the ocean. As he told Women's Health, "I think it's beautiful and magical, but I never go in."

David Harbour's true passion is theater

David Harbour may have racked up more than 60 film and TV credits since the turn of the century. But the actor is undoubtedly at his happiest when he's treading the boards. And he appears to be pretty good at the whole theater malarkey, too. In 2005, the New Yorker picked up a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Nick in a Longacre Theatre production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Harbour also made his professional debut on stage in a 1999 revival of "The Rainmaker" and went on to appear in the likes of "The Coast of Utopia," "The Merchant of Venice" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." After a six-year break to focus on his screen work, the star returned to the theater world in 2022 with a role in Theresa Rebeck play "Mad House" at London's Ambassador Theatre.

Speaking to The Guardian the previous year, Harbour explained why he much preferred performing in front of an audience during the early stages of his career: "I was able to do stuff on Broadway that was complex and really rich. In Hollywood, I was relegated to number six or seven on the callsheet; I was basically the guy who runs after Denzel with a gun! I'd let my heart go out of movies and TV. I'd said to myself: 'There's a function I serve in movies. I make money out of them.'"

David Harbour has worn many hats on Law & Order

David Harbour is nothing if not versatile. Long before he landed the major role of police chief Jim Hopper on "Stranger Things," the actor played no fewer than five different characters in the "Law & Order" franchise. He's basically the Mike Myers of the "Law & Order" universe. 

The actor actually made his TV debut playing waiter Mike in a 1999 episode of the franchise starter and nine years later he returned to the same show as an entirely different person, wine dealer Jay Carlin. In between, Harbour hopped over to the "Special Victims Unit" spinoff for the role of murderer Terry Jessup and showed up as sterling silver burglar Wesley John Kenderson in "Criminal Intent." The New Yorker made his fifth, and presumably final, "Law & Order" appearance in a 2009 episode of the latter as serial killer Paul Devildis.

Speaking to Esquire about his early career, Harbour described these one-off parts as "the Dick Wolf subsidy for the theater arts," adding, "It paid my rent in New York for months at a time when off-Broadway salaries certainly would not."

David Harbour had a feud with a Stranger Things co-star

You might be surprised to learn that David Harbour built up such a strong dislike of a particular "Stranger Things" co-star that he asked for their character to be killed off. So who was the actor's nemesis? His on-screen love interest Winona Ryder? Surely not his on-screen daughter Millie Bobby Brown? No, it was the Byers' family dog, Chester.

Yes, while appearing on YouTube series "Hot Ones," Harbour recalled the frustration of working with the cute and cuddly canine on the first season of the Netflix phenomenon: "I hated that f***ing dog so bad. Take after take it would wander off or do something. And then I remember the trainer on the sidelines going, 'Come on! We got to make our money!' Yeah, I walked up to them, and I was like, 'You know, the Byers should probably have that dog put to sleep next season.'"

Chester was no longer a part of the cast after Season 1 and, as Noah Schnapp accidentally spilled at a Chicago fan convention in 2018, apparently a headstone for the pup was created for the show. In the aforementioned "Hot Ones" clip, Harbour joked, "We should find it in the Upside Down in one of these future seasons." Talk about having a bone to pick.