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Why Each Original Cast Member Left Grey’s Anatomy

When Grey’s Anatomy first premiered in 2005, audiences immediately fell in love with the drama, the new relationships, and Patrick Dempsey’s boyish smile along with his fabulous hair. Now, 19 seasons (soon to be 20) later, it comes as no surprise that most of the original cast have left for various reasons. Some wanted to move on in their careers, some butted heads with others on set, and a few respectfully wanted more time to focus on their families. Stream Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix and Hulu.

With Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey finally stepping away from the spotlight — a choice that Pompeo is over the moon about — Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey) and James Pickens Jr. (Richard Webber) are the only original cast members left on the show. Fans are excited to see how things will progress with the new interns and everyone else, but for those who regularly rewatch the show and constantly see all the originals smiling and walking down the halls, it feels like a bittersweet end is near.

Before you click ‘play’ for the thousandth time, check out exactly why each original cast member left Grey’s Anatomy.

10.Ellen Pompeo – Meredith Grey

Meredith Grey’s Last Episode – Season 19, Episode 7 – “I’ll Follow the Sun”

Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is the glue that held everything together during the first 18 seasons. She fell in love, had her heart broken, became a mom, won the most prestigious award in medicine, and ultimately conquered every challenge that came her way. In the 19th season, the focus of the show shifted away from Meredith after she and her children moved to Boston, where Zola could attend a prestigious STEM school for gifted children. Now with season 20 approaching, fans are clearly upset that Meredith’s time is over, but the actress herself is actually pretty ecstatic.

Ellen Pompeo Wanted to Move on to Other Things

While on The Drew Barrymore Show, Pompeo said that she is super happy to leave Grey’s Anatomy because she feels like it is time to move on to other things. She has three children and a business, and she deserves to take time away from the craziness that has dominated her life for two decades. Ellen Pompeo left the character of Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy behind to accept other projects. In the interview, Pompeo mentions that she will be a part of Hulu’s new limited series (that is based on the real story behind the 2009 horror movie Orphan), so fans can still get excited about seeing her on the screen.

9.Patrick Dempsey – Derek Shepherd

Derek Shepherd’s Last Episode – Season 11, Episode 21 – “How to Save a Life”

According to Cristina, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) may not have been the sun, but he certainly brought a particular quality to the show that fizzled out when he was written off. For 11 seasons, fans watched the back-and-forth relationship between Meredith and Derek erupt all over the hospital, but when it seemed like they were finally going to put their family and one another first, Derek ends up in an accident, ultimately costing him his life.

Dempsey Was Tired of the Long Hours

While Dempsey told People that he had wanted to walk away from the show for a while due to not having enough time for his family and other projects, a few others have said that there was more to his leaving than just that. In Lynette Rice’s book, How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy, a couple of producers revealed that Dempsey and Shonda Rhimes were not seeing eye to eye on several things, and even Ellen Pompeo was getting tired of Dempsey’s complaining about the long work hours.

A bad attitude behind the cameras does not make for good chemistry on-set, so with a heavy heart, it was the best decision to kill off Dempsey’s character. Patrick Dempsey’s run as Derek Shephard in Grey’s Anatomy came to an end when he died in the 11th season.

8.Justin Chambers – Alex Karev

Alex Karev’s Last Episode – Season 16, Episode 16 – “Leave a Light On”

Though Justin Chambers‘ Alex Karev was not originally part of the storyline — Chambers was digitally added to the pilot after a test group gave their feedback on the episode — fans are truly grateful that the director saw that a “bad boy” influence was needed to round out Miranda Bailey’s interns.

For 15 seasons, Alex proved to audiences as well as himself that one’s past, no matter how horrible it may be, does not dictate their future. Alex found love, he rose to the top, and most importantly, he realized he was worthy of success and greatness. His leaving was not taken lightly by anyone, but in the end, it was the best decision for the actor.

Simply Time to Move on

Like several others, Chambers felt like he had done everything he could do with his character, and it was simply time for him to move forward from the blue scrubs. At the ripe age of 50, Chambers wanted to branch out and see what else he could do in film and television. Justin Chambers left Grey’s Anatomy in season 16 after deciding it was time to move on from the Alex Karev character.

Since his leaving, he has been a part of the miniseries The Offer, a biographical drama that shows how the legendary gangster film The Godfather was created and produced. Chambers portrayed Marlon Brando, the incredible actor who landed the part of Vito Corleone back in the day. With so much talent, fans expect great things to come from Chambers in the near future.

7.Sandra Oh – Cristina Yang

Christina Yang’s Last Episode – Season 10, Episode 24- “Fear (of the Unknown)”

Seeing one of the “twisted sisters” leave was not something any fan wanted, but it was what was needed for Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh). Cristina was a force no one wanted to reckon with, and while she would have been an amazing Head of Cardio at Grey Sloan Memorial, she deserved to be somewhere that constantly challenged her. Cristina’s farewell episode was one of the best because fans knew she, much like Oh herself, was off to bigger and better things.

A Satisfying Ending to Oh’s Character

Oh was one of the cast members of Grey’s Anatomy who did not leave any bad blood behind after her departure in Season 10. She and Rhimes had spoken about how it was time to let Cristina go, and rather than being killed off or abruptly leaving, Oh’s character was allotted a satisfying ending that respectfully lasted a whole episode. Since leaving Grey’s, Oh has lent her voice to a number of TV shows and movies, including Raya and the Last DragonTurning Red, and Invincible, and she has starred in Umma, The Quiz Lady, and The Chair.

6.T. R. Knight – George O’Malley

George O’Malley’s Last Episode – Season 17, Episode 4 – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

George O’Malley (T. R. Knight) was like the little brother of the original intern group. He wanted everyone to get along, he helped where he could, and he loved Bailey almost as much as he loved his very own mother. When it was revealed in the season five finale that the mangled John Doe on the table who was hit by a bus was in fact George, fans were left in shock.

O’Malley was supposed to go off to the army, eventually settle down, and give his mother so many grandchildren. What had George (or more like Knight) done to deserve such a horrible fate?

Creative and Personal Differences with Co-Actors

Knight’s decision to leave Grey’s Anatomy was not an easy one to make He left after five seasons, but returned for one episode in Season 17. He said that between his screen time getting significantly cut and the creative differences between him and Shonda Rhimes, things just felt like they would never go back to normal (per EW). This all came after the issue with Isaiah Washington calling Knight a homophobic slur, as well as Knight coming out as gay.

Happily, Knight has found quite a bit of success away from his breakout role. Most notably, he has been in the biographical musical Hello Again, the dark comedy The Flight Attendant, and he even voiced the openly gay protagonist in The Bravest Knight.

5.Katherine Heigl – Izzie Stevens

Izzie Stevens’ Last Episode – Season 6, Episode 18 – “Suicide Is Painless”

Much like Katherine Heigl on the Grey’s set, Izzie Stevens went through a whirlwind while at Seattle Grace Hospital. Izzie originally felt like she was left out of things between Meredith and Cristina; she fell in love only to have her fiancé killed off shortly after the proposal, and she battled and beat brain cancer. Within six and a half seasons, the young doctor had certainly been through a lot, but in comparison to Heigl, it was only the tip of the iceberg.

Written Out of the Show

After Heigl withdrew her name from an Emmy nomination in 2008, a public feud erupted. She felt like she had not earned the honor with the things she had done in the past year on the set of Grey’s Anatomy (an opinion Shonda Rhimes did not take lightly). Heigl went on to openly talk about her work schedule and how 17-hour-long work days were more frequent than anything.

In the end, Katherine Heigl’s character of Izzie Stevens was written out of the Grey’s Anatomy, and she admitted it was hard to bounce back after being labeled “difficult to work with.” Happily, Heigl did find her footing in a number of comedies, but Firefly Lane is where she really reestablished her name in the industry.

4.Isaiah Washington – Preston Burke

Preston Burke’s Last Episode – Season 10, Episode 22 – “We Are Never Getting Back Together”

Much like Preston Burke, Isaiah Washington‘s exit from Grey’s Anatomy was messy, complicated, and left fans with more questions than answers. In the season three finale, Burke walks away from Cristina on their wedding day, saying he wished Cristina knew she wanted to marry him rather than just think she wanted to. It came as a shock to many to see Washington leave so soon in the series, but the reason why he got the boot makes many fans a bit happy that he did.

Written Off After Problems with Co-Actors

It was initially said that Washington called T. R. Knight a homophobic slur, but in How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy, it is revealed that Washington and Patrick Dempsey got into a verbal and physical altercation, and Washington used the slur that many felt was directed at Knight. By the end of the season, Washington was a bit surprised to know his character of Preston Burke had been written off in Season 3, though he made a brief appearance in Season 10. Seven years later, he appeared as a main cast member in The 100. More recently, he has written, directed, and starred in the American western Corsicana.

3.Kate Walsh – Addison Montgomery

Addison Montgomery’s Last Episode – Season 19, Episode 11 – “Training Day”

Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) first waltzed into Seattle Grace Hospital with confidence for two reasons: her presence was the cause of the major cliffhanger in the finale, and she was determined to get her husband back. Given that Addie created the love triangle between Meredith and Derek, fans did not know what to think about her.

However, after she was hired, made some friends, and showed her genuine feelings, she quickly became a fan-favorite. Like Isaiah Washington, Walsh also left Grey’s Anatomy at the end of season three, but her exit was for a great reason that allowed her character to come back whenever needed.

She Rejoined in Season 18

Shonda Rhimes created a spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy that had Walsh’s character move to Los Angeles to be a part of the Oceanside Wellness Group, a practice that has a more holistic approach with a personal touch. Fans were not exactly sad to see Walsh’s character move away because it gave Meredith and Derek room to grow in their own relationship. Walsh would also come back as a guest star several times until she fully rejoined the Grey’s cast in the 18th season.

2.Kate Burton – Ellis Grey

Ellis Grey’s Last Episode – Season 19, Episode 15 – “Mama Who Bore Me” (Flashbacks)

Kate Burton may not have been on the screen as much as the other original cast members, but her legacy as Ellis Grey certainly lived on in every single episode. Richard Webber would constantly bring up Ellis; practically every intern lived in her house at different points throughout the show, and eventually, Meredith even came to accept the characteristics she shared with her mother. When it was time to say goodbye to Meredith’s mom, fans were bittersweet about her inevitable passing.

Her Character Reached Her Story Conclusion

Unlike everyone else who felt like they wanted to move on to other things or were getting into arguments behind the scenes, Kate Burton’s departure was one that needed to happen due to her character’s story coming to a natural end. Meredith did not need to be burdened by her mother any longer, and with Ellis gone, Richard could also find some peace and move on. Burton’s last regular performance as Ellis Grey was in Season 3.

Burton has reprized her role through flashbacks, but she has found quite a bit of success away from the Grey’s Anatomy set. Burton held multiple supporting roles in films, but landing the role of Vice President Sally Langston in Scandal is what really kept her in the industry.

1.Sara Ramirez – Callie Torres

Callie Torres’ Last Episode – Season 12, Episode 24 – “Family Affair”

While Sara Ramirez was not technically an original cast member from the first season, no one can imagine the series without them, so we will call them an “honorary original.” Ramirez’s Callie Torres became an instant hit in the medical drama because she was sarcastic and witty, and she refused to back down from a challenge. Over the course of 10 seasons, we saw her fall in love with several people, but most importantly, she learned to love and choose herself. In the end, Callie’s move to New York was well received by fans because it was a change she deserved.

Ramirez Needed a Break from the Character

After going through the roller coaster of emotions as Callie, Ramirez felt like they needed a break from the character. Shonda Rhimes openly heard them out and decided an open ending was best for when Ramirez wanted to return. However, that has yet to happen. Sara Ramirez’s last episode Grey’s Anatomy episde as Callie Torres was at the end of Season 12. Instead, Ramirez has been doing quite a bit of voiceover work, and they joined the main cast of Madame Secretary and the Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That… Just like Callie, Ramirez seems to have found their own happiness far away from Grey Sloan Memorial.


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