Grey's Anatomy has been on the air since 2005, which means the show has aired more than 400 episodes (and counting).
With such a long run, characters have come and gone on the show — some with perfect exits, and others with not so great ones — so here's a look back at some of the biggest actors who have departed Grey's Anatomy over the last 19 seasons and what went down behind the scenes:
1.First, Katherine Heigl left the show in the middle of Season 6, with Izzie deciding to take a new job away from Seattle Grace. At the time, Katherine's departure came after several behind-the-scenes moments where she criticized Grey's Anatomy. Notably, she dropped out of the 2008 Emmys race, which was reportedly seen as a "swipe at producers for diminishing her presence on the series."
2.Sandra Oh exited the series at the end of Season 10, with Cristina deciding to move to Zurich and work at the top cardiothoracic hospital, which was founded by Burke. When she announced her exit, Sandra said, "Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go."
3.Patrick Dempsey departed the show in Season 11, with Derek dying after succumbing to head injuries following a car crash. At the time, Patrick said his character's exit "unfolded in a very organic way," however in 2021 it was reported that he was "terrorizing the set," which led to his exit. There was apparent fighting between him, Ellen Pompeo, and Shonda Rhimes, and "cast members had all sorts of PTSD with him."
4.Ellen Pompeo recently left the show as a series regular when Meredith and her family moved to Boston. After more than 400 episodes, Ellen wanted to explore other projects and she'll now be starring in a new limited series, which marks the first time she's played a different character since Grey's started in 2005.
5.At the end of Season 5, T.R. Knight left the series with George dying after he saved someone from getting hit by a bus. T.R.'s exit was a shock to fans and came after a lot of offscreen drama, namely with Isaiah Washington, who called him an anti-gay slur before T.R. publicly came out. Ultimately, T.R. departed the show after realizing George's storyline was hitting a standstill.
6.Isaiah Washington was fired from Grey's Anatomy in 2007 — Burke left Cristina at the altar in the Season 3 finale — after calling T.R. Knight an anti-gay slur on set. Reportedly, this led to a physical altercation between him and Patrick Dempsey, who had been at odds with each other.
7.Chyler Leigh exited Grey's Anatomy after Season 8, with Lexie Grey shockingly dying after the infamous plane crash episode. At the time, Chyler said she made the decision to step away and worked with Shonda Rhimes to give "Lexie's story appropriate closure." She wanted to have more time to spend with her family, namely her three children.
8.Eric Dane departed Grey's Anatomy at the beginning of Season 9 after Mark died due to the injuries he sustained in the plane crash. At the time, Eric wanted to explore other acting opportunities, and killing Mark was what made sense for the writers and Shonda Rhimes, who explained that Mark would never get over Lexie's death.
9.Justin Chambers departed Grey's Anatomy during Season 16, with Alex deciding to leave Grey Sloan to go be with Izzie. At the time, Justin said he left because he wanted to "diversify [his] acting roles and career choices" and that it was a hard decision to make.
10.Giacomo Gianniotti left Grey's Anatomy during Season 17 when Andrew died after he was stabbed while pursuing a human trafficker. Giacomo was told about this storyline by showrunner Krista Vernoff, who had the idea to kill off his character in this way.
11.Sara Ramirez exited Grey's Anatomy in Season 12 as Callie left Seattle to go live and work in New York City with Penny. Reflecting on their decision to depart the show, Sara recently said, "I had reached a physical, emotional, mental capacity for playing the character — and had sort of lost myself with it."
12.Jesse Williams departed the show in Season 17 when Jackson decided to move to Boston to lead the Catherine Fox Foundation. Jesse decided to leave after realizing Jackson's storylines were reaching an "organic" change, and he felt this was the best move. While he left as a series regular in 2021, he has appeared in a few episodes since.
13.Jessica Capshaw left the show after the Season 14 finale when Arizona decided to move to NYC with Sofía so they could be closer to Callie. Jessica's departure was a shock for fans and was said to be because of "the show's creative direction." However, at the time, people wondered if it was connected to Ellen Pompeo's new salary, which Ellen denied.
14.Sarah Drew exited the show following the Season 14 finale after April married Matthew and quit her job at Grey Sloan to work at a charity clinic. Sarah and Jessica Capshaw's exits were announced at the same time. Again, people speculated if it was related to Ellen Pompeo's new $20 million per year salary, but it was said to be because of new storylines.
15.Gaius Charles left Grey's Anatomy following Season 10, with Shane deciding to go work with Cristina in Zurich. His exit was a bit of a surprise considering he was only upped to a series regular that same season after joining in Season 9.
16.Jerrika Hinton departed the show after the Season 13 finale, which featured Stephanie escaping a fire at Grey Sloan and deciding that she didn't want to be a doctor anymore. Prior to her official exit, Jerrika was already exploring other acting options, which made fans speculate that she was ready to leave.
17.And finally, Kim Raver originally exited Grey's Anatomy after Season 8, with Teddy deciding to take a new job. However, she returned in Season 14. Kim's original exit happened when she elected to not renew her series option as she "was ready to give Teddy Altman a much-needed vacation," according to Shonda Rhimes.