Born the youngest son of two lawyers, Harris jumps into the spotlight at age 16 as a medical prodigy on ABC's Doogie Howser, M.D.. During the show's four-year run, the teen star wins a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Performer in a New Series (1990) and earns a Golden Globe nomination (1990). In 1993, ABC "shockingly" cancels the show. "We never had a final episode," he tells PEOPLE in 1998.
After appearing in a string of TV movies, Harris earns his stripes on stage as Mark Cohen in the L.A. production of the musical, Rent. After earning a Drama League Award for his performance, Harris takes on Broadway, with roles in Proof (2002), Cabaret (2003) and 2004's Assassins, where he played John F. Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Harris completely ditches his goody-good child star past by surprising audiences as a fictionalized, drug-crazed version of himself in the cult comedy, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. With such quotes as, "The Doogie line always works on strippers," Harris proves he's all grown up. The actor reprises his role in the 2008 sequel.
Harris returns to TV in CBS's new sitcom How I Met Your Mother, as designer-clad ladies' man Barney Stinson. His part as the womanizing instigator of the BFF ensemble cast (which costars Alyson Hannigan, Josh Radnor, Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders) earns him three Emmy Award nominations.
With the success of HIMYM, Harris's private life becomes tabloid fodder when he's spotted with boyfriend, stage actor David Burtka – whom he met while performing in Cabaret on Broadway. Harris releases an exclusive statement to PEOPLE: "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."
Appearing on the cover of Out nearly two years after revealing he's gay, Harris addresses the perception that he was reluctant to come out. "My job is jester–not advocate," he tells the mag. "The Internet stuff threw me for a loop because I didn't understand where the vitriol was coming from. I thought I had been representing well, and in turn it seemed like I was quickly condemned to step to the plate, and I was fine with that...I'm striving to be an example of normalcy."
Harris hosts the 63rd Tony Awards, earning the TV vet an Emmy nomination and praise from the New York Times, which calls him "completely charming." The gig helps him land hosting duties at the Primetime Emmy Awards that September, where last year's host, Jeff Probst of Survivor, says, "This is how you host the Emmys. Nice job!"
Harris appears on the cover of New York Magazine, which proclaims him "Hollywood's first (openly) gay breakthrough star." Harris – who is cast as a married father in the indie The Best and the Brightest – says, "So long as you’re representing yourself well, you’re making good choices for good reasons, all of the circumstantial things will vanish."
Hard work pays off for Harris, who takes home two statues at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards for his hosting duties at the Tony Awards and his guest-starring role on Glee.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Everett; Brian To/FilmMagic; Everett; CBS; Jen Lowery/Startraks; Courtesy OUT Magazine; Monty Brinton/Landov; Mathew Imaging/WireImage; Stefanie Keenan/WireImage