Actor and founder of The Dempsey Center Patrick Dempsey chats with The Nite Show host Danny Cashman at a taping of the show Friday at Sanford Performing Arts Center. The show will air April 27. Journal Tribune photo by Tammy Wells

SANFORD – Yes, Patrick Dempsey really is as handsome in person as one would expect. He’s got a great smile, and the lock of white in his salt-and-pepper hair lends a distinguished look to the Maine-born actor.

Smiling and personable,  he signed autographs, posed for selfies, and interacted with audience members after the filming of The Nite Show at the Sanford Performing Arts Center on Friday.

The man who is arguably Maine’s most famous actor was a no-holds-barred hit.

“I’m looking for a hug,” said Linda Champagne, who said she planned to be in the audience or the show. And while we don’t know if she got one, a smiling Dempsey willingly posed for a photo with a contingent of delighted nurses seated in the front row after the show was over.

During his interview with host Danny Cashman of The Nite Show and with local reporters afterward, is was clear there’s more to this guy than smiles and good looks. Dempsey touched on his career, growing up in Maine, and two projects very close to his heart, The Dempsey Center and the Dempsey Challenge.

Dempsey said he is committed to make life better for people managing the impact of cancer. In 2018 he became a board member of The Dempsey Center, which he founded in 2008 in Lewiston to honor his mother Amanda Dempsey, who lived with ovarian cancer for 17 years. She died in 2014.

“We don’t treat the disease, we treat the challenges,” he said   of The Dempsey Center, which provides services like support groups, yoga, reiki, acupuncture and more free to those living with cancer and to their caregivers.

“I’m absolutely committed,” to The Dempsey Center cause, said Dempsey, who spent most of Friday in board meetings. He said the passion of those involved for what they do was evident.

“(It is) one cause and one focus, and it’s really transformable,” he said.

The center, initially affiliated with Central Maine Medical Center, became its own nonprofit a year ago and later merged with the Cancer Community Center in South Portland – which allowed an expansion of services to a new population of people living with cancer and their caregivers.

Dempsey said about 8,000 people in Maine are diagnosed with cancer every year. “We reach 2,000,” he said. “Our goal is to reach everybody.”

The largest fundraiser for the center is  The Dempsey Challenge, which includes a non-competitive bike ride, a run and a walk, and will take place Sept 28 and 29. It brought in $1 million in its first year.

Dempsey is a participant.

Living in rural Turner and Buckfield as a child, he said he got used to riding a bicycle to get around.

“I lived in the middle of nowhere, so you walked or biked, and you hoped you’d get your driver’s license the first time out,” he said. “And I did, in South Paris.”

His love for auto racing was sparked in his childhood, at such venues as the Oxford Speedway.

He said he tries to get back to Maine at least once a month, for board meetings of The Dempsey Center,  and planned to be in Maine with his family until Sunday.

“Its nice to come back and get grounded,” said Dempsey. “Every time I come back, I feel at home.”

He talked about his work, including two projects he produced, a documentary called ‘Hurley” on race car driver Heywood Hurley, now available for live stream, and ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain,” which he said was 10 years in the making, which will be released in September.

He was the sole guest on one of two episodes of The Nite Show, taped at the Sanford Performing Arts Center before  an audience of 500 to 600 enthusiastic folks eager to see and hear him.

The Nite Show first aired in 1997. Most episodes are taped at Gracie Theater  at Husson University in Bangor, but occasionally, the show goes on the road. The show takes more than 60 people to produce, about half of whom are students at the New England School of Communicators in Bangor.

The episode featuring Dempsey will air April 27. Producers say The Nite Show airs on WABI-TV 5 in Bangor at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays; 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on Fox 23 in Portland and at 1 a.m. Saturdays on WGME 13 in Portland.

Back to Dempsey.

On stage, Cashman asked how much Maine has stuck with the actor, who is best known for his role as a neurosurgeon nicknamed  “McDreamy” in Grey’s Anatomy.

“Initially, I just wanted to get out of here,” he said. “I think it’s really important to get out and see the world, get a different perspective and some back. You forget how amazing the state is.”

He related that he once tried out for Ringling Brothers Clown College but didn’t make it, and performed a quick juggling demonstration with apples for Cashman and The Nite Show cameras.

Aside from Grey’s Anatomy, other acting gigs,  and his work producing two films, Dempsey has just completed a new series called Devils, a financial thriller due to debut sometime next year.

He didn’t divulge many details – except one.

Did he play the good guy or the bad guy?

“I’m the bad guy, which is great,” he said with his characteristic smile.

Earlier, Dempsey took time to tour the school’s video production lab and is looking at how the students can do some film work for  The Dempsey Center.

Sanford Regional Technical Center video production teacher James Harmon said the details of the potential collaboration have to be worked out, but having Dempsey stop by the control room and talk about the possibilities was cool.

“My students and I are thrilled,” Harmon said.

The Nite Show came to SPAC through a conversation the center director, Brett Williams, had with Ryan Peters – who is the musician known as Spose.

“Spose has been on The Nite Show and thought it would be a good fit,” said Williams. “He made an introduction, and they came to look it over. They were blown away with the space.”

Guests for the first show, which airs April 20, were Boston comedian Jody Sloane, two former Maine Black Bear hockey champions from 1999, Ben Guite and Alfie Michaud, and several former television journalists doing a skit on the good points of being “former.”

They all sparked enthusiastic applause.

Dempsey got even more applause, hoots and hollers when he arrived on stage, and when he left.

“Everyone wanted tickets for Dempsey,” said Williams.

Before the show, Shannon Hupe of Sanford was at the head of the line to enter the SPAC.

Who was she there to see?

“Mostly, Patrick Dempsey,” she said.

Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]


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