The Biggest 'Grey's Anatomy' Cast Exits

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Greys Anatomy Departures
ABC

Grey's Anatomy has had its fair share of goodbyes.

As the 14th season winds down, ABC's long-running medical drama has gone through significant cast changes in front of the camera and its fair share of on-set drama and scandals. While Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr. are the only remaining members of the original ensemble who have been with the show since its March 2005 debut, many of their colleagues have come and gone -- some in tragic fashion and others with hopeful beginnings.

With Sarah Drew and Jessica Capshaw's exits looming ahead of the 15th season, there promises to be even more transitions for the veteran series. From T.R. Knight and Katherine Heigl to Sara Ramirez and Patrick Dempsey, ET chronicles the history of Grey's' biggest and most dramatic cast exits over the past 14 seasons.

Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington)

Greys - Isaiah Washington
ABC

Washington was one of the original doctors on Grey's when it debuted in 2005. He was fired in 2007 after the third season, following an incident where Washington allegedly used a gay slur in reference to T.R. Knight during an on-set argument and clashed with other co-stars. The actor eventually returned to Grey's for a 2014 episode to help kick off Sandra Oh's exit.

Dr. George O'Malley (T.R. Knight)

Greys - TR Knight
ABC

Knight was the first major cast departure for Grey's, leaving in tragic yet heroic fashion at the end of season five. In his final episodes, his beloved character, George, ran in front of a bus in an effort to save a woman but was hit himself -- still one of TV's most shocking moments -- resulting in being completely unrecognizable to the doctors when he was rushed in. He would later die from his injuries, which became the topic of early season six, as his former colleagues mourned his death and attended his funeral. One of the original interns on Grey's, George was a puppy-eyed doctor whose close friendship with Meredith, fumbling romances with Izzie and Callie and adversarial dynamic with Alex made him even more relatable to viewers.

Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)

Greys - Jeffrey Dean Morgan
ABC

While Morgan only appeared in about two dozen episodes, he remains one of Grey's most memorable characters, playing Denny, a patient-turned-love interest for Izzie in the second and third seasons. Though the heart transplant Denny came in for was successful, he died suddenly after a stroke -- but not until after he'd proposed to Izzie and she'd accepted. Later, Izzie used the money he left her to open up the Denny Duquette Memorial Clinic. In season five, Morgan returned for a new arc when Izzie began hallucinating Denny around the time she discovered she was diagnosed with cancer. 

Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl)

Greys - Katherine Heigl
ABC

One of the original Grey's stars, Heigl left midway through season six after playing the bubbly, upbeat intern-turned-surgical resident Izzie for over 100 episodes. In her final episode, Heigl's character discovered she was cancer-free, attempted to reconcile with her ex, Alex, and turned down an offer to get her job back after getting fired, opting to move on for a fresh start. Heigl, who won the Emmy for her Grey's role in 2007, memorably took her name out of consideration in 2008 because she didn't feel she "was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination," a reference to her reduced workload that year.

Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh)

Greys - Kate Walsh
ABC

Addison's introduction on Grey's at the end of the first season is still one of the most memorable moments of the series. Still, she left after season three after deciding to have a baby and visiting her friend Naomi, a fertility specialist in California at Oceanside Wellness Group, making the move to the Golden State permanent. Walsh's spinoff, Private Practice, debuted in the fall of 2007 and ran for six seasons, but she would pop back in and out on Grey's through its eighth season.

Dr. Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh)

Greys - Chyler Leigh
ABC

Meredith's half-sister Lexie entered the picture in season three as part of that year's new class of interns, but became an integral part of the fabric of the series when she was upped to series regular at the start of season four. She became romantically involved with Mark in an on-again/off-again romance, and the two eventually reunited not long before they were both victims of a horrific plane crash at the end of season eight, during which she was the first to die. "My experience on Grey’s Anatomy is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I want to take this time to say thank you to the fans," Leigh told TVLine. "Your unconditional love and support have made these last five years very special for me. I look forward to my next chapter and I hope you will continue to follow me on my journey.

Dr. Mark Sloan (Eric Dane)

Greys - Erik Dane
ABC

The "McSteamy" to Patrick Dempsey's "McDreamy," Dane joined the ABC drama as a recurring guest star in the sophomore season before being promoted to series regular in season three, and his character, Mark, was immediately dubbed the ladies' man of the hospital. His presence at the hospital caused more wrinkles than it stabilized the staff, with spicy affairs with Derek's estranged wife Addison, Callie and Lexie -- the latter a relationship he grew to embrace. Dane was written off in dramatic fashion; after Lexie's death following the eighth season finale plane crash, Mark succumbed to his injuries. 

Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh)

Greys - Sandra Oh
ABC

Oh was one of the original cast members on Grey's when it debuted in 2005 and was on the show for 10 seasons until she left in 2014, when Cristina made the leap to relocate and start anew in Zurich. As Meredith's "person," Owen's on-again/off-again love and a star surgeon, Oh's character was one of the most beloved of the series and speculation of a potential return has permeated ever since her departure. "I've gotta tell you, those rumors, I don't know who starts them but it really is tough," Oh admitted to ET Canada in 2016. "No, I have no plans to return to Grey's any time soon." But Oh did say in a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter that she'd be game to return for the series finale. 

Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey)

Greys - Patrick Dempsey
ABC

Dempsey's exit in season 11 was one of the most shocking moments in the history of Grey's, as his character, also known as "McDreamy," was one-half of the main couple on the series alongside Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey. In his final episode, Derek was rushed to the ER after a large semi truck struck his car and the team of under-trained doctors were unable to save him in time, forcing Meredith to pull the plug. “Derek Shepherd is and will always be an incredibly important character -- for Meredith, for me and for the fans. I absolutely never imagined saying goodbye to our 'McDreamy.' Patrick Dempsey’s performance shaped Derek in a way that I know we both hope became a meaningful example -- happy, sad, romantic, painful and always true -- of what young women should demand from modern love,” creator Shonda Rhimes said in April 2015. “His loss will be felt by all.”

Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez)

Greys - Sara Ramirez
ABC

Ramirez announced her decision to leave the show after 10 seasons of playing one of TV's groundbreaking bisexual characters following the season 12 finale. In Ramirez's final episode, she and her ex, Arizona, agreed that they would co-parent their daughter together. “I’m deeply grateful to have spent the last 10 years with my family at Grey’s Anatomy & ABC but for now, I’m taking some welcome time off,” Ramirez wrote in her note in 2016. “Shonda been so incredible to work for, & we will definitely continue our conversations!”

Dr. Stephanie Edwards (Jerrika Hinton)

Greys - Jerrika Hinton
ABC

Hinton joined the medical drama in its ninth season, staying on for five seasons as Stephanie, one of Grey Sloan's surgical residents, and leaving at the end of the season 13 finale after suffering devastating burns following a fiery explosion in one of the hospital wings. Her near-death experience was enough for Stephanie to change course, and she made a declaration that she wanted to live her own life now. Hinton revealed to ET in February that she pitched a version of Stephanie's final episode where she died. "My heart grows to think that I did get a hero's end -- that I got to go out in a way that was not just incredibly human and honest, but also inspirational."

Dr. Nathan Riggs (Martin Henderson)

Greys - Martin Henderson
ABC

Though Henderson's time as Riggs on Grey's was relatively brief -- he joined midway through the 12th season and left early on in season 14 -- he made his time on the series count. An Army doctor who had a friendship and deep history with fellow Grey Sloan doc Owen, he grew to become Meredith's main love interest following Patrick Dempsey's departure, but Riggs and Meredith's romance was cut short when he was reunited with his former love, Owen's previously presumed dead sister, Megan. In the end, the pair decided to move to Los Angeles together.

Dr. April Kepner (Sarah Drew)

Greys - Sarah Drew
ABC

Drew, who has played April since season six, was written out of the show at the end of season 14 and she got her happy ending, walking down the aisle in a surprise wedding with an old flame, Matthew, with her ex-husband Jackson witness to the happy day. She also decided to leave Grey Sloan to do God's work, helping homeless communities in Seattle. But there was some worry that she wouldn't survive the season. Things weren't looking good for the devout Christian doctor in the penultimate episode as she was seen unconscious and barely clinging to life after being in a car accident. Thankfully, she made it out with barely a scratch. Whew. Ellen Pompeo hinted to ET in May that Drew's character would not meet a horrific end -- and thankfully, she was right. "You only get killed off when your behavior is bad. If you're a nice actor, you die nice. ... But, yeah, these endings aren't tragic."

Dr. Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) 

Greys - Jessica Capshaw
ABC

In the penultimate season 14 episode, details of Capshaw's departure from Grey's were revealed: She was moving to New York City to be closer to the daughter she shares with her ex, Callie, and helping Nicole Herman open up a new clinic. In the finale, it was hinted that she and Callie may also be rekindling their romance. The announcement in March that she would be leaving after playing one of TV's few LGBTQ characters for 10 seasons was a shock to the system for fans. "I am sad to see her go, but I am consoled by the idea that she will continue to live on and on in all of our consciences and our imaginations," Capshaw wrote at the time.

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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