The Real Reasons Why Main Characters Left Grey's Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy recently premiered its 15th season, and fans have seen so many main characters leave the show over its 14 years. Some characters have been killed, and others have merely disappeared to another state, but we have to wonder what happened behind the scenes to make actors leave. Let’s dive into the details, but remember there will be many spoilers ahead.

Isaiah Washington – Dr. Preston Burke

The actor played the role of the chief of cardiothoracic surgery for the first three seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. He was Christina Yang’s mentor and lover, but the actor suddenly disappeared after abandoning her at the altar. The truth is that Washington was fired from the show, after a huge scandal off-cameras.

He insulted his fellow cast mate, T.R. Knight, who played the role of George O’Malley, using homophobic slurs. The actor later apologized for his actions, especially because T.R. Knight didn’t want to come out of the closet yet. Isaiah even tried to take back his confession, saying it never happened, and due to the backlash, he was let go. The actor is currently working on the CW’s The 100.

T.R. Knight – Dr. George O’Malley

George was one of the main characters of the show, one of the five interns along with Meredith, Christina, Izzie, and Alex, and he was much beloved by fans. However, the actor left the show after being killed off on season five. If you remember that season, George didn’t appear much in most of the episodes, and no one knew why.

Later, the actor revealed that Shonda Rhimes supported him after what happened with Isaiah Washington. The creator confirmed these claims and wanted to make it clear to Knight that his sexuality would not affect his character in any way, but the distancing between them led Knight to leave the show.

“The idea that a gay actor can't play a straight man is insulting.”

Katherine Heigl – Dr. Izzie Stevens

The year after Isaiah and T.R. Knight’s scandal, Heigl decided to take herself out of the running for an Emmy, despite earning her first one the previous year. The actress said:

“I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention.”

Shonda responded to her comments stating that the actress had asked for a lighter workload because of her many movie obligations. People were sure that Katherine would be fired soon enough, but they kept her for two more seasons. After filming her last episode, she said:

“Everyone had been working really hard to find an amicable and gracious way of letting go and moving on.”

It was seemingly amicable, but as you know, Heigl’s career took a nosedive after exiting Grey’s Anatomy, as she had gained a diva reputation. She’s currently trying to get to TV after joining the cast of Suits, playing the role of Samantha Wheeler. We just hope that she appreciates things more now that she has faced hardships. 

Chyler Leigh – Dr. Lexie Grey

Lexie was killed during the tragic plane crash at the end of season eight, and fans were left devastated because we never got to see her finally happy with Mark Sloan. Furthermore, her departure was completed unexpected, but the actress opened up a bit a couple of weeks after the episode aired.

“Earlier this year, I made the decision that Season 8 would be my last.”

The actress sat down with Shonda to discuss how they would say goodbye to the character. Rhimes said:

“It was not an easy decision. But it was a decision that Chyler and I came to together. We had a lot of thoughtful discussion about it, and ultimately we both decided this was the right time for her character’s journey to end.”

Eric Dane – Dr. Mark Sloan

Fans of Grey’s Anatomy received another devastating blow when season nine premiered, and McSteamy died having never recovered from his injuries after the plane crash. Fortunately, Eric Dane started working with Michael Bay on TNT’s The Last Ship, but the actor revealed that it was hard to leave the show after so many years.

“I loved doing Grey’s Anatomy. I would have done it until the final episode, but this was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Rhimes said that she decided to kill Mark because she didn’t want to leave him depressed over the loss of his girlfriend, Lexie. She believes that in that way, their love remains real. Unfortunately, Eric Dane had to leave The Last Ship after falling ill with depression. We hope that he recovers entirely soon and moves on with his career.

Kate Walsh – Dr. Addison Montgomery

The actress did such a great job as Dr. Addison that the creators made the spin-off series Private Practice. The show follows the doctor after she leaves Seattle Grace Hospital, and starts working in a completely different environment of co-op medicine with different specialties. The actress was moved by such a fantastic opportunity.

“I was shocked and excited and mostly just totally blown away. Then I was nervous, like, 'Wait, really? Why me?'"

Sadly, the show was canceled after six seasons, and Kate had to say goodbye to the world of Shonda Rhimes. The actress currently stars on Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, but many fans would like her back on the show. Rhimes agrees with them.

“I need Addison Forbes Montgomery, too. “[But] I can’t bring back people who don’t exist in terms of availability. Kate’s busy, people!”

Patrick Dempsey – Dr. Derek Shepherd

The worst death so far in the series was Derek Shepherd freak accident, Meredith’s husband. He was one of the characters all fans considered safe, but the character was killed off a year before his contract expiration. Shonda Rhimes took a huge risk killing off Derek, putting an end to the central love story in the show.

There were many rumors about the reason for Dempsey’s departure, from diva attitude to affairs with extras on set. Either way, when Shonda is not happy with an actor, she merely removes him from the show. The decision was surprising even for Dempsey, but he has nothing but appreciation for Rhimes, though she admitted not liking him on an interview with Larry Wilmore.

Sara Ramirez – Dr. Callie Torres

Fans were glad that Callie wasn’t killed off the show, but the character left to move to New York with her new girlfriend, Penny. Sara and Shonda remain good friends, and the actress expressed pure gratitude for her time on the show.

“I'm deeply grateful to have spent the last 10 years with my family at Grey's Anatomy and ABC but for now I'm taking some welcome time off.”

Furthermore, on the final episode of season 14, fans had to say goodbye to Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew, who played the roles of Dr. Arizona Robbins and Dr. April Kepner. It was a bittersweet goodbye, where April married Matthew and Arizona went off to New York, but at least both characters still exist somewhere in Shonda's world. 

It is crazy how many things have happened on Grey’s Anatomy after years on the air, and we are looking forward to new characters, as well as what happens with the original still starring on the show. If you liked this article, binge-watch the show with your friends from season one. See you next time!

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