From the very first episode, aired in March 2005, Grey's Anatomy found a way to the heart of all medical drama fans. But something we did not know when Grey’s broadcasted for the first time was how many times we would have cried during the series, watching all our favorites leave the show.
Now the series is well-known for Shonda's ability to write off the plot even the main characters of the show, and the ones fans love the most (let's take Derek for example!).
From Sara Ramirez (Callie) to Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the adorable Denny Duquette in the show) many actors had to leave the show at one point - some were cast in the series from the beginning and some only in a few episodes. And while for some of them starring in Grey's was a launching pad and an amazing experience, for others the opposite is true.
Keep reading to know what happened to these 20 actors who left Grey's Anatomy.
20 Made It Big: Sara Ramirez - From Beloved TV Star To Activist & Singer
If there’s one star that made it big after leaving Grey’s Anatomy, that’s Sara Ramirez for sure. From her wide range of projects as an activist and supporter of the LGBT community to the Disney animated series Sofia the First and a TED Talk, she really did it all.
Sara Ramirez has been a member of the Grey’s family as a main cast member from season three (but she also appeared in the second) through season twelve - when her departure was formalized right before the finale of the twelve season got released (19 May 2016). Sara played the role of Calliope “Callie” Torres, an orthopedic surgeon, for 10 years on the ABC drama. In the storyline, Dr. Torres abandons the Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to follow her new love, colleague Penny Blake, and move to New York (we’re so glad she didn’t get written off negatively!).
Callie’s role helped Ramirez make a strong name for herself, and opened many doors for her career.
In fact, after leaving Grey’s Anatomy, she appeared regularly on both the Disney animated series ‘Sofia The First’ (as Queen Miranda) and Madam Secretary (as Kat Sandoval).
Apart from her regular acting work, Ramirez got more and more involved in the fight for LGBTQ rights - working along with many other associations, such as the True Colors Fund, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and the [Bi-gender] Organizing Project.
We don’t know how she found the time to do so, yet she also produced several films, including the drama Loserville and two documentaries (In Daniel's Shoes and The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson).
19 Made It Big: Jeffrey Dean Morgan - From Heart Patient To Loved Villain
We started loving him as the adorable Denny Duquette, a transplant patient, fell for his romance with Izzie (played by Katherine Heigl) and cried all the way when he had a stroke after receiving a new heart on the second season.
No doubt about it: Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s interpretation of Denny instantly stole our hearts. Indeed, the character became a fan-favorite from the very beginning, leaving a sour taste in our mouths when he left. But if something good came out of his sad character’s story, it was providing a launching pad for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s future career.
Since leaving Grey’s Anatomy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan have had a pretty good time as an actor for the tv screen. He’s now undeniably most well-known for his role as the villain Negan on The Walking Dead. And he got right to fans’ heart once again - his interpretation of this bat-wielding villain with a tough past is outstanding.
In addition to these two main roles, Morgan has also recurred on the cult hit Supernatural and starred in countless genre movies, such as Watchmen and Batman vs Superman.
18 Failed: Brooke Smith - From Grey’s Anatomy Star To Minor Roles Actress
Just like we said, some characters find a way to your heart, like it or not. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen for every character, even though you love the general show.
This was the unfortunate case of Brooke Smith’s role, Dr. Erica Hahn. Extremely competitive, Hahn was a very difficult character to connect - or sympathize - with. And not even the romance with the more likable Callie (played by Sara Ramirez) helped.
Actually, that’s the reason why Brooke had to leave Grey’s cast - according to Rhimes, she was dropped because there was no chemistry between the two women.
On November 3, 2008, Weekly Show reported that on November 6th the actress Brooke Smith would have left the cast of the series - and that the exclusion would have been made public during the seventh episode of the fifth season (Hahn has a fight with Dr. Callie Torres, her lover, and walks off the screen, never to be seen again).
Since Hahn’s unceremonious departure from Grey’s, Smith’s career hasn’t quite had the upward trajectory she was hoping for. She went on to have small, recurring roles in series such as Bates Motel, Ray Donovan, and Bosch, but never the main role. Similarly, she had a small role in the popular movie Interstellar and horror tv series American Horror Story.
17 Made It Big: Kate Burton - From No-Nonsense Mother To ‘Scandal’s’ Emmy Nominee
Kate Burton made recurring appearances on the series as Ellis Grey, Meredith’s no-nonsense mother, considered a legend in the medical world. In fact, she’s remembered as the creator of numerous medical research and avant-garde operations, among which the pioneering Laparoscopy Method Gray stands out. Ellis has always had a difficult relationship with Meredith, as she was totally focused on her career, quite cold and not very present in her daughter’s life. During the series, she’s recovered into the Seattle Grace Hospital several times because of her illness (early onset Alzheimer's), which makes her believe she still works as a surgeon and still has a relationship with Richard Webber (an extra-marital relationship that led to the end of her marriage to Meredith's father).
Ellis leaves the show during the third season, while Meredith is in a coma due to an accident. She appears on the show from time to time in the memories of her daughter and Webber (her love interest).
In contrast with Ellis' sad story, Kate Burton collected a few successes after leaving Grey’s Anatomy. Burton has made the jump over to "Scandal" as Sally Langston, a character people love to hate. And most recently appeared on the second season of another popular show,"This Is Us," as Kevin's therapist.
Once a doctor, always a doctor!
16 Made It Big: Kate Walsh - From Controversial Character To ‘13 Reasons Why’
Sometimes an actor's leaving not only suits the plot but also leads to greater opportunities for him or her. And that’s definitely the case of Kate Walsh.
Dr. Addison Montgomery (played by Kate Walsh) first entered the Grey’s cast as McDreamy’s ex-wife (causing him a love crisis with Meredith) but quickly became much more than that. Actually, the whole situation got to a point where she cast her own spin-off.
In 2007, Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy showrunner) approached Kate Walsh about leaving Grey's Anatomy at the end of Season 3 for bigger purposes - being the lead on a spin-off show called Private Practice. For Shonda, writing Addison off the show was easy, as she was both Dr. Shepherd's and Dr. Sloan's ex and seeing them move on with their lives makes her want to move on with hers. In the show, she leaves Seattle Grace Hospital to work at Oceanside Wellness Center in Santa Monica. Her California experiences are shown in the Private Practice spin-off. However, in addition to Private Practice and a few crossovers between the two series, Walsh appeared as a guest star in many other Grey’s Anatomy episodes, until its eighth season.
The strength of Kate Walsh’s performance as Addison is remarkable, and it earned her many other working opportunities.
She starred in the short-lived series Bad Judge and is currently starring in the wildly popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (the second season will be released on Netflix in a few days - on May 18th). She has also appeared in Girls Trip and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
15 Failed: Melissa George - From Poor Fit To Short Stints
Melissa George’s career as a whole hasn’t been a huge success. Even before joining Grey’s Anatomy (which was supposed to be her big opportunity) she had already had her fair share of fan backlash for her turn as Lauren Reed on Alias, another ABC series.
For eight episodes during season five of Grey’s Anatomy, Melissa George played the role of Sadie Harris, an old friend and study partner of Meredith Grey. She initially arrives at the Seattle Grace Hospital to attend the surgery training and ends up falling in love with Callie Torres.
Melissa’s character didn’t get much luck during the show, not only because of some fans backlash, but also because she was reconceived multiple times during the writing process, and didn’t quite find her spot in the show. At first, she was meant to be involved romantically with Callie and Erica Hahn in some capacity, but the story plot didn’t work out - thus Melissa was forced to leave the cast. In the show, George O’Malley (played by T. R. Knight) realizes Sadie has some serious lack of theoretical medicine knowledge and convinces the boss to fire her.
After departing Grey‘s cast, her career has been filled with short stints on successful shows, such as The Good Wife - or leading roles on shows that didn’t succeed, such as The Slap or Heartbeat (have you even heard of those?).
14 Made It Big: Sandra Oh - From Main Character To Golden Globes & Emmys Nominee
We loved Sandra Oh’s character, cardiothoracic surgeon Cristina Yang, in every shade and moment. She has been arguably one of the most inspiring (and hard to let go!) characters of the entire series. She presented the perfect example of someone that refuses to let anything stand in the way of achieving their dreams - and she truly deserved all the five Emmy nominations for it!
After playing Meredith’s best friend role for 10 seasons, Oh left the show in 2014 (despite having two more seasons in her contract) to focus on other work projects.
Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes commended her decision by thanking the actress for the work done and promising to give a worthy conclusion to the plot of Cristina. And Shonda definitely kept her word. Yang leaves Grey Sloan Memorial when Dr. Burke offers her the position of Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Klausman Institute for Medical Research in Zurich, taking intern Shane Ross (Gaius Charles) with her.
Since starring on Grey’s Anatomy, Oh has had a considerable amount of successful work. She had roles in the anthology series Thorne and American Crime - and is now starring in the drama series Killing Eve.
In 2014, she even took part in the comedy Tammy, playing Susan - next to Melissa McCarthy and Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates.
13 Made It Big: Patrick Dempsey - From Mr. Perfect To Romantic Comedies
Grey’s Anatomy fans got used to saying goodbye to their favorite characters from the very beginning, but this one was like a thunderbolt. Probably the most shocking departure in Grey’s history is Derek Shepherd’s, in the episode ‘How to save a life’. After saving two teenagers involved in a car accident, McDreamy (played by Patrick Dempsey) gets hit by a semi-truck while trying to drive away from the scene. Unfortunately, when he is brought to Dillard Medical Center, they declare they’re not ‘a trauma center’ and they can’t handle the extent of his injuries.
Right before the tragic event, Meredith and Derek had decided to work on their marriage instead of getting a divorce. Such a cruel ending, isn’t it?
However, Patrick Dempsey revealed to People Magazine that he was happy to leave the show for good and that the decision had been made along with Shonda Rhimes.
“It’s financially rewarding but there comes a point where how much is enough, really? I think after a certain period of time, no matter how much money you make, you want control out of your own schedule. It had been long enough. It was time for me to move on with other things and other interests. I probably should have moved on a couple of years earlier. I stayed a bit longer than I should have." he told People.
Patrick Dempsey is a huge car fan and has appeared on CNBC’s “Jay Leno’s Garage” and Esquire's "Car Matchmaker." He also appeared in various romantic comedies such as Enchanted and Bridget Jones’s Baby, alongside Renee Zellweger.
12 Failed: T.R Knight - From Loved Character To Unfortunate Theatre Appearances
George O’Malley was one of Grey’s most likable characters - the perfect mix between awkward and kind. In the show, George is on his way home to tell his mom he's joined the army, when he is hit by a bus, pushing a stranger out of the way. His exit from the fifth season of Grey’s Anatomy represented the show’s first big loss. It definitely proved that the series was capable of taking away even our most relatable and loved characters - causing us to hold our breath during the many years to come.
It’s reported Knight quit the show for various reasons: decreased screen time, what he called a "breakdown in communication" with showrunner Shonda Rhimes and the decision to return to the stage.
T.R Knight’s portrayal of George earned him multiple award nominations over the years, but his post-Grey’s career hasn’t exactly measured up to his previous success. After leaving the Grey’s Anatomy cast, Knight appeared in various theatrical roles on and off-Broadway - like David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre in 2010 (where he played the role of John). He also recurred in various theatre productions in his home state, Minnesota.
He also made appearances in popular shows such as Law & Order: SVU, The Good Wife, The Catch, and When We Rise. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any recurrent role and nothing has been able to match his success as George.
11 Made It Big: Chyler Leigh - From Adorably Nerdy Half-Sister To 'Supergirl'
Grey’s Anatomy may have been all focused on Meredith Grey at first, but it’s her younger half-sister, Lexie Grey (also known as “Little Grey” and “Lexipedia”) that truly stole our hearts. Her adorably nerdy ways - not to mention the fact she was always the smartest in the room - made their way into Grey’s fans souls, earning her a special spot in the show.
Chyler Leigh started playing Meredith Grey’s little sister in season 3 and was kicked off after five seasons, in the season eight plane crash, right after Mark professed his love for her. Following the season eight finale, Leigh admitted to E! News that she was grateful for working with such an amazing cast:
"I met with Shonda and we worked together to give Lexie's story appropriate closure. 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. I want to take this time to say thank you to the fans. 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."
However, we’re happy Shonda Rhimes allowed the world to experience so much more of Chyler Leigh’s incredible talent in other shows. Since 2015, Leigh has starred as Alex Danvers on the CBS/CW series Supergirl, a role that has earned her considerable accolades. Once again, she’s the title character’s sister.
10 Made It Big: Eric Dane - From Guest Star To Regular To ‘The Last Ship’ Producer
We also had to say goodbye to another main character - Mark Sloan, also known as McSteamy and Lexie’s love interest. Just like Meredith’s younger half-sister, Mark left the show after the eighth season plane crash. Later in the series, the Seattle Grace hospital gets renamed Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital as a tribute to Lexie and Mark.
Mark Sloan (played by Eric Dane) started off on the show as a guest star but quickly earned his way to the top as a series regular after developing his friendship with Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey).
However, in July 2012, his departure was announced.
It’s speculated Dane (and Leigh) may have been cut due to the network’s desire to reduce the show's budget, but officially he left to pursue other projects.
Dane’s biggest work after Grey’s Anatomy has been beyond any doubt TNT’s tv series The Last Ship, which he both starred in and produced (along with Michael Bay and others). The Last Ship is a drama that portrays the adventures of the members of the ship USS Nathan James while trying to halt a global pandemic from wiping out the rest of the world’s population. In the series, Eric Dane plays Captain Tom Chandler. The show's fifth season should be released during this summer.
9 Made It Big: Rachael Taylor - From Minor Character To Upward Trajectory
Lucy Fields (Rachael Taylor) was never a crucial character and didn’t even have enough time to be either loved or hated - since she appeared on the series for only five episodes (7x13-7x18). On the show, Lucy is gynecologist whose only important role was serving as an attendant for Callie’s pregnancy. She is also remembered for having a brief yet incredibly complicated romantic relationship with Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers). Rachael left Grey’s cast when her character decided to take a job opportunity at the Nambooze Clinic in Malawi.
However, the short-lived character can be considered Rachael Taylor’s launching pad.
In 2011, Taylor joined the cast of the remake of the television series Charlie's Angels, which unfortunately has been short-lived. Also in 2011, she had a major role in the film Red Dog and starred in the Russian science-fiction thriller film The Darkest Hour, directed by Chris Gorak. In 2012 she had the key supporting role in the Australian comedy Any Questions for Ben? Even though the film performed disappointingly at the box-office, Taylor was praised for her role.
In 2015, finally, Taylor starred in Jessica Jones as the titular character's adoptive sister Trish Walker. She then reprised the role in a voiceover cameo in Luke Cage (2016), in The Defenders (2017), and in the second season of Jessica Jones this year.
8 Failed: Isaiah Washington - From Hardly Favorite To Loaded Accusations
Apart from being Cristina Yang's mentor and love interest, Preston Burke was never fully a fan-favorite - especially when he leaves the hospital and town, abandoning Cristina on the altar (3×25).
Burke then reappears on Grey’s Anatomy during season ten, to propose Cristina (Sandra Oh) takes his place as director of a private clinic in Zurich.
Isaiah Washington played the role of Preston Burke from 2005 to 2007 - and his departure from Grey’s was extremely abrupt.
It’s reported he left the cast after insulting his colleague T.R.Knight during an argument with Patrick Dempsey on set.
Washington publicly apologized for his unfortunate use of words. The fact, however, resurfaced at the 2007 Golden Globe ceremony, when, after the event, the actors were asked some questions in the press room. One of the journalists asked Washington about the incident but, unexpectedly, he denied the episode. A week later, Knight, while a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, said that other colleagues had also heard Washington use the language. Right after, the LGBT GLAAD organization demanded Washington's apology.
Washington’s departure from Grey’s - and the incident itself - led to a much quieter career for the actor - currently, he stars on the CW’s The 100.
7 Made It Big: Wilmer Valderrama - From Brief Appearance To ‘NCIS’
Wilmer Valderrama joined Grey’s Anatomy cast during the 12th season, but his appearance was unfortunately brief. In fact, he starred on the series only for five episodes … right enough time to find his way to Stephanie’s heart (Jerrika Hinton) - and ours! He played the role of Kyle, a musician suffering from multiple sclerosis. After some heavy flirtation, a short-lived romance with Stephanie and recovering from a hand tremor twice he left the show.
Valderrama spoke to Variety about his experience on Grey’s:
“I got a message from my agent saying that Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers had created this character that is loosely based on what they thought would be fun for me to play, and they sent me a couple of scenes so I could see what the character would read like… When I found out that they had called my agents to come and play with them for a portion of the season, I ran it by my mom and my sister and my friends, and everyone flipped out.”
After leaving Grey’s, Valderrama appeared in four episodes of The Ranch - and is currently playing the main role on NCIS as Special Agent Nicholas "Nick" Torres.
6 Made It Big: Scott Foley - From Sweet-But-Sickly Lover To Main Character In ‘The Scandal’
On the show, Scott Foley plays the role of Henry, a patient with leukemia. After Henry is no longer able to pay for medical care, he and Dr. Teddy Altman make an agreement - the two will get married to guarantee the care he needs, using her insurance. But when Teddy’s story with Andrew Perkins, the psychologist, gets serious enough he proposes that she go with him to Germany, Henry, jealous, asks for a divorce. At this point, the two kiss and start a real relationship - but right when everything seems to be going well Henry is diagnosed with lung cancer. Soon after, Altman decides Cristina Yang will be the one that operates on him, but without knowing the patient’s identity. Henry, unfortunately, doesn't make it.
Foley’s acting talent really impressed Shonda Rhimes.
The showrunner of the show, after he had to leave the cast, Shonda proposed him to star in another of her tv series - the popular Scandal.
In Scandal, Foley plays one of the main characters, Jake Ballard, director of the NSA.
Before his run as on the political drama, however, Scott appeared on season five of HBO's True Blood.
5 Made It Big: Loretta Devine - From Guest Appearances To ‘Supernatural’
Loretta Devine made guest appearances as Richard’s wife, Adele on over 20 episodes of the series.
Adele Webber is Richard Webber’s wife, but they often argue due to excessive work commitments (many fans sympathized with her and proudly took her side when Richard’s scandal with Ellis got revealed).
During the series, the two split up, after Adele gives him an ultimatum - he has to choose between her and his job - but they get back together later on. During the seventh season, Adele is affected by Alzheimer's and in the eighth season, Richard is forced to hospitalize her in the same clinic where Ellis Grey (Kate Burton) had lived. While in the clinic, Adele has a relationship with another patient and no longer recognizes Richard - he then accepts seeing her happy with someone else. Later on, Adele has a heart attack.
After leaving the Grey’s Anatomy cast, Devine went on to play Cynthia Carmichael on The Carmichael Show. She also appeared on the wildly popular Supernatural. Devine also starred in the TVOne Original Movie Behind the Movement which tells the story of Rosa Parks.
She also got a recurring role as Cece on BET's Being Mary Jane back in 2015.
4 Failed: Katherine Heigl - From Polarizing Character To Moving To The Mountains
Katherine Heigl's departure, surrounded by a lot of drama, was one of the most publicized of the series. Some of the trouble was self-inflicted, however, as she publicly declared that she wouldn’t submit herself for the 2008-2009 Emmy race due to ‘poor quality material on Grey’s’. What came after is history. The comment obviously did not go unnoticed, and Shonda Rhimes, along with the entire production, decided to abruptly write her character off the show during the sixth season.
Heigl told Good Housekeeping she left the show to focus better on her family and new-mum lifestyle:
"We had big dreams of expanding our family, moving to the mountains and having a quieter life. Utah is spectacularly beautiful, the people are wonderful and kind, it's an easy commute from L.A. — and there's no traffic!"
However, we don’t know to which extent this might be actually true. Indeed, she apologized to showrunner Shonda Rhimes and the rest of the productions, saying she would have been glad to guest star on Grey’s to close the storyline between Dr. Stevens and Dr. Karev, left in part open. But the damage was done. In January 2012, Shonda Rhimes said that the production, despite being aware of the actress' desire, was not planning on having Izzie (Katherine Heigl) in future seasons of the show. Ouch!
After leaving Grey’s cast, Katherine has starred in unsuccessful works on both the large and small screens - including One for the Money, The Big Wedding, State of Affairs, and Doubt. By 2014, she was once again cast in another TV drama: NBC’s State of Affairs, which was unfortunately canceled after only one season.
3 Made It Big: Chris O’ Donnell - From Brief Love Interest To ‘NCIS’ Star
Finn Dandridge (played by Chris O’ Donnell) was never meant to be a main character on Grey’s. Also known as McVet, Finn had been one of Meredith’s ill-fated love interest for nine episodes across Grey’s second and third seasons. He could never compete with Derek in any way - in fact, Meredith will leave him because she’s still in love with Derek. There was nothing particularly wrong with Finn, but he was never meant to last in the end - Meredith and Derek had to find their way back together at some point. And it’s no surprise Chris’ character couldn’t actually exist in the show without Meredith, so when they split, he simply disappeared. But that was good news for Chris O’ Donnell - leaving Grey’s Anatomy allowed him to pursue other, better projects. And even though he had been only a quick appearance on Grey’s, O’ Donnell went on to have so much more success after leaving the show. Ever since 2009, indeed, the actor has starred on the NCIS offshoot, NCIS: Los Angeles, in the leading role of G. Callen, the lead special agent.
Starting from 2009-2010, NCIS has established itself as the most watched television series in the United States - a survey conducted in 2011 by Harris Interactive indicated NCIS as the "all-time favorite TV show" by the US public.
2 Made It Big: Mare Winningham - From Lexie’s Mom To ‘American Horror Story’
Susan Grey (played by Mare Winningham) is Thatcher Grey’s second wife and Molly and Lexie's mom. Susan meets Meredith during the hospitalization of her daughter Molly, who’s having some complications while pregnant. From the very first moment, Susan tries to have a friendly relationship with Meredith, but she doesn’t want to have any type of relationship with her father's new family. In the third season, Susan supports Meredith after Ellis passes, and the two get closer.
After leaving Grey’s Anatomy’s cast, Mare Winningham came back on the tv screens in 2013, when Ryan Murphy chooses her to be in the third season's cast of the horror series American Horror Story: Coven to play a strange mother. During 2014 she starred in one episode in the fourth season of the same tv series, American Horror Story: Freak Show, in which she plays the sister of the micro-speaker Pepper, creating a connection between the fourth and the second season, American Horror Story: Asylum.
In 2015 she was reconfirmed to be in the cast, in the role of the maid on the floors of the hotel where the fifth season is set.
Winningham has also recently appeared on Showtime's "The Affair" and in last year's disaster movie "Geostorm".
1 Made It Big: Mandy Moore - From Simple Patient To Matriarch in ‘This Is Us’ & Voice-Over Movie Actress
Even though Mandy Moore starred in Grey’s Anatomy as a guest star for only four episodes, she left a distinct mark. Indeed, she starred in one of the most breath-taking episodes of the show, when Gary's incident at the hospital.
During that day, Mary (Mandy Moore) comes to the hospital for a colostomy bag reversal surgery, but soon after the whole building is put under lockdown. Fortunately, Dr. Bailey, who was staying with her in the room, tells Mary to play dead and covers her with the bed sheet. Dr. Bailey hides in the bathroom, but Gary finds her soon after. The whole event shakes Mary up, and she decides to take a break and travel with her husband Bill (they visit Paris, Morocco, Alaska, and go on a cruise through the Baltic).
Because of the incident, Mary’s surgery had been postponed, but when she returns to the hospital six months later, she never wakes up from the anesthesia.
Moore is now playing Rebecca, the matriarch of the Pearson family on NBC's new hit show, "This Is Us." - she plays her character as both a young and older age.
She also starred in Disney's "Tangled" as Rapunzel and lends her voice to the movie's tv series.
References: Screenrant.com; Ew.com; Thisisinsider.com