ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is an unforgettable series with an even more unforgettable cast. Throughout the last 14 seasons of production, fans have fallen in love and created forever bonds with the main characters of the show.
The actors and actresses of the series have taken the amazing work of the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, and pushed it to the next level of greatness. Over the years, Grey’s Anatomy has been nominated and won several awards for Best Drama Series and Favorite TV Stars. The success of the series is largely due to the talented people portraying all our favorite characters. As the show grew in popularity, the team behind it found their very own place in Hollywood’s bright spotlight.
No one besides Patrick Dempsey could be McDreamy and the only person who could ever portray Meredith Grey was Ellen Pompeo. Grey’s Anatomy has produced a long list of amazing fan-fav actors, but it also makes sure the door of stars is forever revolving.
We never know when one of the show’s stars is going to be making their exit or when a new character will be introduced to the family. To make it all a little easier to handle and understand, we’ve put together a list of Grey’s Anatomy actors who are forever fan-favorites, those who unexpectedly left, and those who came in as replacements.
SPOILER ALERT: This article includes details from Seasons 1 - 14.
21 Fan-Favorite: Ellen Pompeo As Meredith Grey
Ellen Pompeo is one of the few actors who has stayed with Grey’s Anatomy since the beginning of the series. She has been a part of the show since 2005 and has starred in all 321 episodes.
As the show enters its 15th season, we can expect more amazing things from Pompeo in the role of Meredith Grey.
So far, Meredith has proven to be an unstoppable character. She has overcome several unimaginable obstacles and traumas, including a bomb, a shooting, drowning, and the death of the love of her life. There is no one on television like Meredith Grey (or Ellen Pompeo).
20 Fan-Favorite: Patrick Dempsey As Derek Shepherd
Oh, McDreamy. Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd made every single woman who watched Grey’s Anatomy fall in love with those pretty blue eyes of his. In this role, Dempsey showed a softer side, adding to his already established acting resume.
No one knew ever really knew what to expect from the good-looking neurosurgeon- sometimes not even Meredith. He entered the show as Meredith Grey’s casual date and exited the show as a kind and maturing father. The journey Dempsey took us on with Derek is unforgettable. The loss of Derek is still one of the most heartbreaking deaths in all of television.
19 Unexpectedly Left: T.R. Knight As George O'Malley
George O’Malley was an early fan favorite of the series. The goofy and lovable intern was just trying to find his way among all his oddly super attractive peers. T.R. Knight pushed the warmer side of George to a deeper level than intended.
The character of George wasn’t expected to become so beloved by fans, but he did.
Knight’s character was always on an up and down rollercoaster but forever found a way to adapt to all the changes being thrown at him. Unfortunately, George became one of the first main characters to shockingly leave the series. The death of George was one of the most unexpected of the show.
18 A Replacement Character: Jessica Capshaw As Arizona Robbins
When Jessica Capshaw entered Grey’s Anatomy toward the middle of the fifth season, no one really knew what to expect from her. Dr. Arizona Robbins was first billed a recurring character to the series, but after fans started to get a better sense for who she was, it was clear she needed to be promoted to the main cast.
Arizona is a strong lesbian role model, but Capshaw’s real talents and depth to the character didn’t shine until Arizona tragically lost her leg during the devasting plane crash of season eight. Arizona overcame the impossible and learned to move on from tragedy the best way she knew how.
17 Fan-Favorite: Sandra Oh As Cristina Yang
Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang is one of the greatest depictions of a brilliant and successful working woman on television to date. Sandra Oh’s acting put emotion and love into an otherwise tough character. Cristina was forever a vision of girl power at its finest.
Yang knew what it took to get to where she wanted in life, despite all odds.
Like Meredith, Cristina went through several different traumatic experiences during the ten seasons she starred in the series. Even though she didn’t die in some horrible accident, Sandra Oh’s exit from the series was devastating in its own painful ways. After all, we lost our person.
16 Unexpectedly Left: Kate Walsh As Addison Montgomery
When Kate Walsh entered Grey’s Anatomy as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd during the first season, she was everything we ever needed in a drama series’ villain. Addison came in raging with a vengeance. After all, her husband Derek Shepherd had been heavily involved with another woman (Meredith).
Everyone wanted to hate Addison, but with Walsh playing the role, it wasn’t always easy. We saw a strong woman struggling with her past choices desperately trying to save her marriage. After it became clear that Derek would never forgive her or make her a priority, Addison left the show to work in a Private Practice.
15 A Replacement Character: Caterina Scorsone As Amelia Shepherd
Amelia Shepherd is everyone’s favorite little sister. Caterina Scorsone takes on the part of McDreamy’s little sister perfectly.
She shows all the right emotions at all the right times and is everything a little sister is in real life – annoying, frustrating, and loving.
Amelia is a forever growing character. Her addictions struggles stand as an inspiration to those struggling with similar issues. After losing Derek, Amelia had to find her place in the world without her big brother’s shadow. Just when fans think they have Amelia and Scorsone figured out, we are hit with a frightening brain tumor and the promise of a new life for Amelia.
14 Fan-Favorite: Justin Chambers As Alex Karev
Alex Karev is the epitome of a character who grows and matures with the show’s audience. When Justin Chambers first stepped into the role of intern Alex, no one could have guessed he’d end up where he does. To put it plainly, Alex was just plain awful in the beginning years of the show. Only Meredith saw a silver lining in this handsome bad boy.
As the show progressed though, Chambers took us on a journey of a man who, despite being dealt all the wrong cards in life, fought his way toward success. This pediatric surgeon is definitely full of surprises.
13 Fan-Favorite: Chyler Leigh As Lexie Grey
Little Grey, our hearts are forever tied to yours. The loss of Lexipedia was one of the most unexpected shocks in the history of Grey’s Anatomy. Meredith Grey’s little sister, Lexie Grey, was so full of life and hope. Her future was expected to be one of the brightest.
Chyler Leigh was absolutely perfect for this role; she took us into a life of a brilliant woman who had her own share of love troubles.
No one really knew just how Meredith was going to be able to survive with the loss of her younger half-sister, and maybe no one could handle it, because Shondaland gave Meredith another little sister.
12 Unexpectedly Left: Katherine Heigl As Izzie Stevens
Fans went through so much with Katherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens during the six seasons we shared with her on Grey’s Anatomy. It was probably almost too much for one character; the show’s creator never really could settle in on one storyline for this lady.
Izzie stirred up trouble after she fell in love with heart patient, Denny Douquette, and was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he lived, literally. She home-wrecked her best friend’s marriage and started hallucinating about her long-lost love. Then, to top it all off, the character got cancer and subsequently married Alex Karev. After surviving her cancer, Izzie just took off and never really came back. Okay, sure, that’s cool.
11 A Replacement Character: Camilla Luddington As Jo Wilson
Alex Karev deserved to find true love after everything Izzie Stevens put him through. Enter the pretty and spunky intern, Jo Wilson. For the longest time, Camilla Luddington’s character was just a background filler. We finally got to see the talent in Luddington after Jo started fighting through her own past traumas, including escaping her abusive husband.
Alex and Jo proved to be a perfect match for each other.
They both had a rough upbringing and relied on only themselves their whole lives. Grey’s Anatomy is just beginning to touch on everything Jo (and Luddington) has to offer the world.
10 Fan-Favorite: Chandra Wilson As Miranda Bailey
Dr. Miranda Bailey is the perfect character to show the power in a strong woman of color. Bailey can pretty much do anything; not even a heart attack can knock her down for long. Chandra Wilson is one of the few actors who has starred in the show from day one.
With Bailey, Wilson is able to show all sides of her acting talent. Bailey is tough and warm, smart and sensible, strong and emotional, all at the same time. Despite being one of the most powerful characters in the show, Bailey has had her own share of issues that she has had to overcome and will probably keep having to work on.
9 Unexpectedly Left: Isaiah Washington As Preston Burke
Dr. Preston Burke has to be one of Grey’s Anatomy’s characters who left the show way too prematurely. We believe Burke had so much more to offer the series, but unfortunately, due to some behind-the-scenes quarrels, Isaiah Washington was written off the show abruptly.
Burke was a bullheaded cardiothoracic surgeon in love with our favorite Cristina Yang.
They shared a lot of the same interests but were very different. He all but forced Cristina to marry him, and then just walked out on her without so much of an apology. The departure of Burke left the show open to a series of confusing cardiothoracic surgeon enters and exits.
8 A Replacement Character: Kelly McCreary As Maggie Pierce
When Kelly McCreary joined the Grey’s Anatomy family after Cristina Yang left, we had no idea who she would ultimately become to us. The reveal of Maggie Pierce’s true identity was one of the series’ best OMG moments of all time. Pierce turned out to be the secret love child between Dr. Richard Webber and Meredith’s mom, Ellis Grey.
Meredith found herself a new little sister to lean on and find comfort in. Not only did Maggie take on the role left open by Lexie’s death, but she also fills in Cristina’s hole. McCreary will hopefully stick around for a while, because there is so much more Maggie can give us.
7 Fan-Favorite: Eric Dane As Mark Sloan
Grey’s Anatomy was in desperate need of some more man candy, and who better to join the family than Eric Dane as Mark Sloan, Derek’s best friend? Dane’s character grew up during his time on the show. Mark Sloan seemed like just another good-looking, conceited player type, by the time of his tragic exit, we knew he was so much more. The love Mark Sloan and Lexie Grey felt for each other is one for the books.
Unfortunately, they both realized too late that their love was what was most important.
Mark Sloan’s story couldn’t fully continue without Lexie, so the show’s creators decided to kill him off, too. And I’m not sure we have forgiven that one, yet.
6 Fan-Favorite: Kevin McKidd As Owen Hunt
Cristina Yang deserved a strong and handsome man in her corner. When Kevin McKidd first appeared as Owen Hunt, he truly was a knight in army print armor. The way he came to her rescue made us all Team Owen. After he became a main character, the darker side of Owen started to come out.
McKidd outstandingly portrays all parts of Owen’s many-sided character. He fights through the P.T.S.D, deals with a loss of love, and handles the discovery of his long-lost sister. Owen has had a tough time in the relationship department, that’s for sure. Hopefully, he is able to navigate all the big changes coming to his life in season 15.
5 Unexpectedly Left: Sara Ramirez As Callie Torres
We all hate Penny for taking Callie Torres away from us. Sara Ramirez is definitely a strong female and the perfect fit for Grey’s Anatomy’s resident weirdo, Callie Torres. Callie first appeared in the show as a potential love interest for George O’Malley, which was definitely a strange pairing.
It took a while for everyone to fully embrace Callie, but once they did, she became a great part of the story.
Callie became a role model for the LGBT community in her own way. She wasn’t afraid to bust down barriers and cause controversy. When she left Seattle with Penny, we hoped she would change her mind, but so far, she hasn’t.
4 A Replacement Character: Jason George As Ben Warren
Who better to tame the wild beast within Miranda Bailey than this hunk of man. Jason George came onto Grey’s Anatomy as an anesthesiologist, Ben Warren, when Seattle Grace and Mercy Southwest merged. Ben quickly started a flirtatious relationship with stubborn Bailey and we were all giggling right along with her.
After Ben became a resident, George’s character went through a whole lot more than the others had to. He broke rules for the “greater good of patients,” but his rationality was always questioned. Just when Ben finally seemed to get his head back on straight, he decided to leave the hospital to become a fire fighter at Station 19.
3 Fan-Favorite: Jesse Williams As Jackson Avery
Jesse Williams, with his pretty smile and bright blue eyes, was everything we never knew Grey’s Anatomy needed. Jesse Williams makes hearts swoon in the role of Jackson Avery. He first joined Grey’s Anatomy with the new residents from Mercy Southwest. We were supposed to hate these newcomers, but some of them were so hard to hate.
Avery has had to live up to the certain unattainable expectations placed on him by his family.
Even though he was well off from birth, Avery has had to deal with things no one should have to, including the loss of a child.
2 Unexpectedly Left: Kim Raver As Teddy Altman
Being in love with someone who always seems to be in love with someone else isn’t fun for anyone. Kim Raver as Teddy Altman shows us all how to deal with this heart wrenching situation. Teddy is best friends with Owen Hunt; they’ve been a part of each other’s lives since their time together in the army. When Teddy came to Seattle Grace as the new cardiothoracic surgeon she was forced to rise above her own feelings to teach Owen’s newest love interest, Cristina.
Teddy has gone through so much, and now that she rejoined the cast during the 14th season and is now pregnant, we expect more Owen and Teddy drama.
1 Fan-Favorite: Sarah Drew As April Kepner
April Kepner is a special kind of person. Sarah Drew is the perfect actress for the role of this heavily Christian and kind doctor. Her smile makes us all feel safe and loved. There aren’t very many positive religious figures in primetime television, but April can handle the heat. She knows where her faith stands and isn’t afraid to speak out on it.
April isn’t perfect, though; after losing her child, April goes on a different type of self-discovery journey.
She joins the Army and starts questioning her faith. In a way, April loses herself. Sadly, Drew has announced she will not be back for the new season, and we are definitely left with a big loss.