Born January 13, 1966, in Lewiston, ME; son of William (an insurance salesman) and Amanda (a high school secretary) Dempsey; married Rocky Parker, 1987 (divorced, 1993); married Jillian Fink (a celebrity makeup artist), July 31, 1999; children: Tallulah Fyfe.
Addresses: Contact—c/o The Burstein Co., 15304 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 208, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.
Actor in films, including: Heaven Help Us, 1985; Meatballs III: Summer Job, 1987; Can't Buy Me Love, 1987; In the Mood, 1987; Some Girls, 1988; Loverboy, 1989; Happy Together, 1989; Coupe de Ville, 1990; Run, 1991; Mobsters, 1991; Bank Robber, 1993; Face the Music, 1993; Ava's Magical Adventures (also director), 1994; With Honors, 1994; Outbreak, 1995; Hugo Pool, 1997; The Treat, 1998; There's No Fish Food in Heaven, 1998; Denial, 1998; Me and Will, 1999; Scream 3, 2000; Sweet Home Alabama, 2002; The Emperor's Club, 2002. Television appearances include: Fast Times, CBS, 1986; A Fighting Choice (movie), ABC, 1986; Merry Christmas Baby, 1991; For Better and For Worse (movie), 1993; J.F.K.: Restless Youth (miniseries), ABC, 1993; Bloodknot, Showtime, 1995; A Season of Purgatory (miniseries), CBS, 1996; The Right to Remain Silent, Showtime, 1996; The Escape, TMC, 1997; 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea (movie), CBS, 1997; Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (movie), NBC, 1998; Jeremiah, PAX TV, 1998; Once and Again, ABC, 2000-02; Will & Grace, NBC, 2000-01; Blonde (miniseries), CBS, 2001; The Practice, ABC, 2004; Iron Jawed Angels, HBO, 2004; Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 2005—. Stage appearances include: On Golden Pond, Maine Acting Company, c. 1983; Torch Song Trilogy, San Francisco, c. 1983; Brighton Beach Memoirs, touring group, c. 1985; The Subject was Roses, Roundabout Theatre, New York, 1991.
Awards: Young Artist Award for best young actor in a motion picture comedy, for Can't Buy Me Love, 1988.
For awhile it looked like Patrick Dempsey would never amount to much more than a distant memory as one of yesterday's forgotten teen idols. During the late 1980s Dempsey graced the pages of Tiger Beat magazine and drew teenage audiences to theaters playing sophomoric, underdog boys in a series of hits that included 1987's Can't Buy Me Love and 1989's Loverboy. In the 1990s Dempsey struggled to find breakthrough roles and faded from view. He returned with a matured vengeance in 2002's Sweet Home Alabama, opposite Reese Witherspoon. In 2005, Dempsey earned a role as Dr. Derek Shepherd on ABC's doctor drama Grey's Anatomy. Thanks in part to Dempsey's winsome onscreen chemistry, the show became an instant hit and returned Dempsey to pinup status. Older, more muscular and mature, Dempsey was named to TV Guide's list of the 50 sexiest men on television.
The youngest of three children, Dempsey was born in 1966 in the rural Maine town of Lewiston. His father, William, sold insurance and his mother, Amanda, worked as a secretary. The Dempsey family was Catholic. As such, Dempsey attended St. Dominic's Regional High School, as well as Buck-field High. As a child Dempsey struggled academically, leaving teachers to conclude he was lazy. In seventh grade, however, Dempsey was diagnosed with dyslexia. The experience made Dempsey feel like an outsider and he turned to skiing as a diversion for his loneliness. He was good enough to win a state downhill championship. Over time—and in a roundabout way—Dempsey's love for skiing led him off the slopes and onto the stage.
As a young adolescent, Dempsey felt driven to perfect his skiing and often tuned into Wide World of Sports to study the pros. One day the show featured a ski champ who demonstrated unicycle riding, claiming it improved his skills. Dempsey had to try it, too. Once he mastered the unicycle, juggling seemed like a natural progression. "Learning how to juggle changed my life, " Dempsey told the New York Times' Lawrence Van Gelder. "It gave me a purpose. It led me toward performance."
At 15, Dempsey won second place in the junior division of the International Jugglers' Competition. He added magic and puppetry to his repertoire and developed his own act, performing locally. In the early 1980s Dempsey's act caught the attention of the Maine Acting Company and he was cast in its summer production of On Golden Pond playing Billy, a teenage boy forced to spend the summer with an aging couple. Dempsey traveled to New York during the summer of 1983 to compete in a talent competition and snagged an agent. Within months he earned a role in a San Francisco production of Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award-winning play Torch Song Trilogy. Just 17, Dempsey quit school.
Spending several months onstage with professional actors convinced Dempsey that he did not want to attend college or acting school. "I think it's better to learn from actors who are working than study with actors who aren't working, " he told the Washington Post's Megan Rosenfeld. Next, he spent a year touring in the leading role of Eugene Jerome in Neil Simon's coming-of-age comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs. In 1985, Dempsey made his first film appearance in Heaven Help Us and in 1987 scored a starring role in Meatballs III. Success followed with 1987's teen cult-classic Can't Buy Me Love, which featured Dempsey as a high school geek who tries to improve his status by paying a cheerleader to be his girlfriend. Dempsey followed with 1989's Loverboy, where he played a pizza delivery boy who offered customers more than just pizza.
At the age of 21, Dempsey married his 48-year-old manager, Rocky Parker. "I was a bit of a Freudian nightmare at the time, " he admitted to TV Guide's Steve Pond. "Those type of relationships are fun and exciting and sort of rebellious, but they just don't work out." Dempsey and Parker divorced in 1993, about the time his career began to stall. For the next decade Dempsey struggled to convince directors he had matured as an actor capable of moving beyond his earlier, juvenile roles. In 1994 Dempsey met then-salon owner Jillian Fink at her Los Angeles hair salon. After three years of haircuts they finally started dating and married in 1999. Meanwhile, Dempsey, with his career in the dumps, returned home to Maine, where he bought and restored a farm.
Once Dempsey relaxed, the roles started coming and he was able to project a more confident, mature person onscreen. In 2000 Dempsey earned a recurring role as Sela Ward's schizophrenic brother on the ABC drama Once and Again and earned a 2001 Emmy nomination for his performance. He also made repeated appearances on shows like Will & Grace and The Practice. Dempsey's career revived on the big screen as well in 2000's Scream 3 and 2002's Sweet Home Alabama.
In 2005 Grey's Anatomy, a pilot in the waiting, hit the television lineup as a midseason replacement. The show centers around a set of surgical interns at a fictional Seattle hospital. One key character is Meredith Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo, a first-year intern who has a one-night stand with a stranger at a party the night before she begins her internship. When she shows up at the hospital, she discovers that the man she shared a bed with is her supervisor, surgeon Derek Shepherd, played by Dempsey. The show became an unexpected hit, drawing an average of 17 million viewers, making it the most-watched new midseason drama since 1993's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
The show's success catapulted Dempsey back into heartthrob status. In 2005 TV Guide named Dempsey one of the 50 hottest men on television. Speaking in that issue of TV Guide, co-star Pompeo summed up Dempsey's allure this way: "Dr. Mc-Dreamy, that's what I call Patrick's character, Derek Shepherd. He's gorgeous, he's got a great body, and he's got [fantastic] hair."
As an actor who has been around the block, Dempsey is taking success in stride these days. He told TV Guide's Pond that following the success of Grey's Anatomy, people kept asking him if he was excited. "And it's funny, [because] mostly it's just a big sigh of relief that now I have some opportunities. I don't need to be a huge superstar."
Entertainment Weekly, June 24/July 1, 2005, p. 78.
New York Times, October 2, 1987, p. C32.
People, October 21, 2002, pp. 111-12.
Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), August 7, 2005, p. X12.
TV Guide, May 15-21, 2005, pp. 36-38; June 5-11, 2005, p. 28.
Washington Post, December 24, 1984, p. B7.
"Sweet Home Harpswell: Patrick Dempsey's Maine, " Portland magazine, http://www.around maine.com/Around_Town/features2002/portlandmag/dempsey/default.asp (July 31, 2005).