With 15 seasons under their belt and showing no signs of stopping, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the longest-running scripted primetime TV shows and is on its way to becoming the longest-running primetime medical drama, beating out the much loved ER.
Grey’s began in 2005 and immediately had fans and critics hooked with its shocking twists and turns, played out by an incredible cast. While Dr. Meredith Grey seems to have a solid position on the show, other actors didn’t and were killed off one by one. But was it all for the storyline? We reveal why they really left the show.
Isaiah Washington caused trouble on set
Washington played Dr. Preston Burke and was an important character on the show for the first few seasons. However, in 2006, rumors began circulating that the actor was stirring the pot behind the scenes and used a homophobic slur in an argument with Patrick Dempsey, only to later reveal he was gay and the backlash grew even more.
Even after issuing a statement apologizing, ABC refused to keep him on the show and Washington released another statement, fuming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Kate Walsh got a spinoff
The second major character to leave the show was Addison Montgomery, played by Kate Walsh. Instead of being involved in a scandal, the actress was cast in a leading role in ABC’s new spinoff called Private Practice.
Despite it being quite abrupt for fans, Walsh later admitted “it totally felt like the right thing,”and that she believed her character on Grey’s had done all she needed to do and it was the best time to move on.
Brooke Smith’s sparkle went out
Brooke Smith’s exit from Grey’s Anatomy surprised a lot of fans, and even Brooke herself. She played Dr. Erica Hahn and when executives informed her that they were cutting her part, she was “floored” as she had previously been given feedback that her coming out scene was “one of the best they ever shot on the show.”
Things got messy when Smith believed they fired her as they didn’t want her gay character on the show, but ABC vehemently denied this and explained that producers “did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke’s character would sustain in the long run.”
T.R Knight had an issue with Shonda Rhimes
T.R Knight made the decision to leave the show himself after finding his character, George O’Malley, disappear into the background. After getting less and less screen time, Knight told Entertainment Weekly that he had a “breakdown of communication” with Shonda Rhimes.
He explained “My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George],” adding, “And with respect, I’m going to leave it at that.”
Katheryn Heigl seriously clashed with executives
After winning an Emmy in 2007 for her role as Izzie Stevens, Katheryn Heigl’s relationship with the executives at Grey’s took a serious turn and she refused to submit her name for consideration of the award the following year as she didn’t believe she was “given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.”
Network executives were furious and in 2010, ABC announced she would be leaving the show. Heigl said of the situation “Everyone had been working really hard to find an amicable and gracious way of letting go and moving on. It’s sad but it’s what I wanted.”
Chyler Leigh was ready to move on
When Chyler Leigh’s character Lexie Grey was killed off the show, everyone was shocked and devastated, except Leigh herself. It was reported that the Leigh made the decision herself and told the press “I am very lucky to have worked with this amazing cast and crew for five seasons.
My experience on Grey’s Anatomy is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.” The response from Shonda Rhimes was loving and thoughtful, but there was no real reason given as to why Leigh wanted out.
Kim Raver’s character took a ‘vacation’
Kim Raver’s character Teddy Altman left the show in the season eight finale. She was fired from the hospital so she would accept a position at a military hospital. Not killing her off left executives with the option to bring her back.
As for her departure, it turns out that Raver was giving her character “a much-needed vacation,” adding “I like to imagine that Teddy is still out there in the Grey’s Anatomy universe, running Army Medical Command and building a new life.” It wasn’t until the series 14 finale that producers brought her back, and made her a regular on season 15.
Eric Dane got another gig
Eric Dane played Dr. Mark Sloan and was loved and adored by fans. They were devastated to see him leave the show, but the departure was very amicable and Dane just decided that his time was up and he was ready to move on to other endeavors.
Soon after, Dane landed the leading role in TNT’s The Last Ship, produced by Michael Bay. Dane said of leaving the show, “I loved doing Grey’s Anatomy. I would have done it until the final episode, but this was something I couldn’t pass up.”
Sandra Oh was ready to let go
Sandra Oh was a main character of Grey’s Anatomy and it really came as a surprise when she decided to leave the show after playing Dr. Christina Yang for so many years. After season 10, her departure was announced, with Oh explaining “Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go.”
Creator Rhimes gave a thoughtful tribute to Sandra, adding “One of the best days of my life as a writer happened the day Sandra Oh walked in my door to audition and forever changed the course of Grey’s Anatomy with her brilliant, nuanced portrayal of Cristina Yang.”
Gaius Charles and Tessa Ferrer had a short stint
In season nine, Gaius Charles joined in the role of Dr. Shane Ross while Tessa Ferrer was Dr. Leah Murphy. The two came on as new interns in the hospital before being promoted to regulars for season 10.
Dr. Leah Murphy was a second-year resident who went onto date Alex Karev and Arizona Robbins, while Dr. Shane Ross was written to become involved with Stephanie Edwards and Cristina Yang. While their storylines were strong, both of them left after season 10, but Ferrer later returned for six more episodes.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan didn’t want to be killed off
Jeffrey Dean Morgan played Denny Duquette and his character was always destined to die. He played a patient needing a heart transplant and when the time came, he did not want to go. Nevertheless, when the episodes which led to his departure were upcoming, he begged Shonda Rhimes to “let me live,” but she wasn’t caving.
On the fateful day of his characters death, Morgan explained “”It was a grim day, let me tell you. …A dark, grim day. I’m still not over it. It broke my heart to leave that show.”
Sara Ramirez was ready for something new
In 2016, Dr. Callie Torres, played by Sara Ramirez made the decision to leave Grey’s Anatomy. Ramirez decision came purely off the fact she had tired in the role and was ready to move on from the show after being on it for so long.
She said in a statement that she needed some “welcome time off” and praised Shonda Rhimes for the atmosphere she had created on set which is what kept her there for so many seasons.
Jerrika Hinton had other offers
Jerrika hinton played Dr. Stephanie Edwards on Grey’s Anatomy between 2012 and 2017. When Hinton was written out of the show, it was a long time coming as rumors of her departure had been circulating for about two years prior.
Hinton was cast in a leading role in another Shonda Rhimes pilot, Toast, but the show was never picked up. Hinton revealed her experience with that gave her a “spiritual summer” and she knew she was ready to leave Grey’s in the end.
Martin Henderson had a timeline
Martin Henderson played Dr. Nathan Riggs for two seasons. While many questioned why his stint on the show was so short, Henderson explained that he “only had a short-term contract with the show,” and he was very aware that his second season would be his last.
Martin added “It was always a short-term thing and I was happy to spend a few years doing the show.” However, when asked if he would consider a possible return, he added, “I would never close the door. In my mind it’s been left open-ended enough.”
Jason George swapped hospitals for fire stations
Jason George played Dr. Ben Warren on Grey’s Anatomy, but in 2017, the actor revealed he would be leaving the show after getting another offer. Geroge was offered a role as a series regular on a Grey’s spinoff, a firefighting show called Station 19.
George explained when he got the news from Shonda Rhimes, saying “We talked and she ran it down for me and had me at hello.” He added that he was excited to start in a new role and that the Grey’s door was always open.
Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew were cut
Jessica Capshaw played Dr. Arizona Robbins and Sarah Drew played Dr. April Kepner on Grey’s Anatomy until the end of series 14. When it was announced that their characters were facing the axe, rumors arose that it was due to Ellen Pompeo’s salary increase.
However, a showrunner tweeted that the decision was a “creative” one and the actors felt it was time to move on and end their story. Both Capshaw and Drew released their own statements how they were sad to leave.
Melissa George wanted out
Melissa George joined the cast of Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Sadie Harris in season 5. News outlets had reported that George’s contract allowed her to sign for 8-11 episodes which, depending on the reception, could have grown into a series regular position.
George later said that the decision to leave was her own and she wanted to “do something else,” but according to another source, executives weren’t eager to keep her on the show after her contract was up.
Loretta Devine had too many projects
Loretta Devine played Dr. Webber’s wife Adele, and won an Emmy for her outstanding performance when her husband succumbed to Alzheimer’s. While it seemed that her storyline came to a natural end, people were still surprised when she exited the show.
Devine was also starring in The Client List and had many other offers, adding “The contracts are coming up, they’re getting ready to go into the second season of that. So all of that is in the air.”
Patrick Dempsey’s 10 years was long
After 10 years on Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd was killed off, leaving fans in total disbelief. There was of course plenty of backlash in this decision, leading Shonda Rhimes to comment “The decision to have the character die the way that he did was not a difficult one in the sense of what were the options?”
Dempsey reiterated the comments, saying “Look, 10 years is a long time to be on any show. It’s very hard to keep the storylines intriguing, especially on a network show with 25 episodes a year.”