As a star of CBS's sitcom How I Met Your Mother
, Neil Patrick Harris has won raves as cheerfully relentless womanizer and pickup artist Barney Stinson. For all his onscreen braggadocio, though, Harris, 33, had always been discreet when discussing his own love life in interviews. Until now. Accused by Internet bloggers of denying that he's gay, the former child star of Doogie Howser, M.D
. responded Nov. 3 in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE: "The public eye has always been kind to me, and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships. So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."
His life in the spotlight began at age 16; for four seasons Harris starred as the titular prodigy on Doogie Howser, M.D.
After the show ended in 1993, Harris continued to work in TV, movies and theater. In 1997 he starred in the L.A. production of Rent
. In 2004 he landed on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins
, but after that, he said, "I felt the need to come home" to L.A.
Now that Harris has publicly come out, his sitcom colleagues have been supportive. "Calling this 'coming out' seems kind of absurd," says Mother
co-creator Carter L. Bays, "because being gay isn't something Neil has ever hidden from anyone who knows him. He's proud of who he is, and should be—he's ... a terrific guy." Harris's fans agree. "Still got a crush on him," wrote one female admirer in an Internet chat room. "He's a great actor [and] that's what counts."