Actors whose careers were ruined by Shonda Rhimes' shows

It's a dangerous world. What's twice as dangerous? Shondaland. If an actor crosses showrunner Shonda Rhimes, she will cut him — or at least cut his character out of her show. (And she'll make that death particularly unpleasant, undignified, and unequivocally bloody.) But don't take our word for it: In 2015, the reigning queen of prime-time drama admitted as much on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

In the segment, Wilmore asks Rhimes if she's ever killed off a character because she couldn't stomach the actor portraying it. "Extra bonus points," he nudges, "Who was it? Don't even think about lying!" 

Laughing and clearly game, Rhimes says: "Yes … and I'm not naming names." With those words, she opened up a modern-day mystery befitting of the mind behind How to Get Away with Murder

But which former colleague was Rhimes referring to? Grey's Anatomy alum Patrick Dempsey? His equally ill-fated costar Eric Dane?  Let's take a look at the many stars that have dimmed since passing through Shondaland. Since she's sent so many actors packing, let it suffice to say there's a lot to unpack here. 

​Was Patrick Dempsey backstabbed over backstage antics?

In 2015, Page Six reported that Patrick Dempsey, who portrayed fan favorite Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy, had been written off the show due to "diva" antics that "infuriated" Shonda Rhimes. "She suspended him for a while," the source claimed, "and the word on set is that he isn't coming back full time." 

Though Dempsey had signed a two-year deal in 2014, fans had noticed that his character was only popping up around Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital sporadically — never a good sign on a Shonda Rhimes show. As the Page Six source foretold: "There is little tolerance on the show for troublesome talent."

In an apparent attempt to steer his own narrative, Dempsey told the Press Herald in 2014 that his involvement with the show "has been a blessing … but it's transitional for me right now. I'm looking forward to the next thing, creatively." Well, be careful what you wish for. 

The "next thing" to happen to Dempsey's character — creatively — was a fatal car accident that blindsided audiences as much as it did Dr. Shepherd. "I think it was time for us both to be finished," Dempsey told ABC News (as though he had say in the matter). He also admitted he couldn't bring himself to watch the final episode. 

The burning question: Was Rhimes referring to Dempsey in that aforementioned Wilmore interview? Entertainment Weekly couldn't resist asking him if he felt implicated, but he dodged the question with a decided non-answer: "I think she loves being provocative, and that's fine for who she is."

Katherine Heigl made life very difficult for herself

In 2007, actress Katherine Heigl was on top of the world. That proved a very long way to fall. That year, she earned an Emmy for her work on Grey's Anatomy and was beginning to demonstrate she could headline major motion pictures such as Knocked Up and 27 Dresses! But around the time her 2009 film The Ugly Truth hit theaters, Heigl began earning a reputation for being "difficult."

Most of this was arguably brought on by her own own naiveté and hubris. In 2008, she made the unheard-of decision to bow out of her second Emmy nod, releasing a very lengthy public statement explaining why: "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination, and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention." That's a bananas move for an actor, but there's more: "In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials." You don't have to be Shonda Rhimes to feel the eyes involuntarily roll in your head.

According to The New York Timesstaffers in the writer's room were insulted and furious. She likely offended the entire academy too. As for Rhimes? In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she had this to say about the incident: "On some level it stung, and on some level I was not surprised. When people show you who they are, believe them." 

Heigl was written off the show in 2010, telling the Today show, "I am done!" 

Little did she know how done she was.

Shonda Rhimes continues making Heigl's life difficult

Heigl later told Vanity Fair that she wished she had just said to herself, "Shut up, Katie." The aftermath of her Grey's Anatomy departure made her feel like her own career had "betrayed her," leaving her "traumatized." She ventured into therapy for the first time in her life. That's understandable, considering how Rhimes continued trash-talking Heigl for years after the fracas.

Discussing the comparably harmonious Scandal cast with The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, Rhimes blithely invoked Heigl's name as shorthand for "troublesome talent," saying, "There are no Heigls in this situation … I don't put up with bulls**t or nasty people. I don't have time for it." Rhimes chalked up the philosophy to her newly-minted "No A**hole Policy." 

That statement messed with Heigl's head in a big way. "It sucks," she told Extra's Mario Lopez. "I'm sorry she's left with such a crappy impression of me. I wish I could do something to change that. Maybe I will be able to someday." 

Alas, Heigl's recent acting won't go far in repairing Rhimes' impression (or anyone else's, for that matter.) In 2016, Heigl returned to the public eye to shill a kitty litter brand called Cat's Pride. She stars in a series of television commercials in which she assumes the role of an uppity cat therapist, crisply spouting lines such as: "Why did you dookie on Derek's pillow?" (Spoken to a shell-shocked cat, of course.)

Suffice to say, Heigl's career is now a long way from Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. She needs a better opportunity, right meow.

Did the stress of Scandal break Columbus Short?

There's no dark humor or schadenfreude to be found in the case of Columbus Short, who portrayed crisis-management team member Harrison Wright in Rhimes' ABC saga Scandal from 2012 to 2014. Talking to Access Hollywood Live, Short claimed that he "had a lot on my plate" and was "dealing with the stress" by "medicating with anything." (Mostly cocaine.) That self-destructive behavior came to a head in the summer of 2014, when he was arrested following a vicious bar brawl. According to TMZ, he allegedly threatened his first wife, Tanee Short, with a knife and was subsequently issued a restraining order.

In the wake of these incidents, a HipHollywood source alleged Rhimes told the troubled actor she would not "tolerate negative press" and "issued him a warning to get his personal issues sorted out." He was fired from Scandal that year. "Shonda Rhimes put the last nail in Columbus Short's career," blared BET during the aftermath. 

Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter: "His absence will be explained definitively. What you think happened to his character happened to his character." 

What happened to his character: a bullet to the head.

Soon after his termination, Short issued a remorseful statement: "Everything must come to an end, and unfortunately the time has come for Harrison Wright to exit the canvas." Short's career completely petered out, and his demons have continued to haunt him. In February 2018, he was sentenced to a year in prison for hitting his second wife, Aida Abramyan.

Did Eric Dane's McSteamy get McFired?

Before McDreamy's nightmare, McSteamy went up in smoke. In 2012, Eric Dane's chiseled physician Dr. Mark Sloan was killed off in a jet crash after "the network requested budget tightening," according to E! NewsReportedly, Dane "did not ask to leave the show … there were 'very legitimate reasons' for Shonda's decision to let him go." 

Did Dane's painkiller addiction or the, um, "Celebrity Nude Threesome" scandal rankle Rhimes? If so, that's not telegraphed in her official statement to Entertainment Weekly: "It was a thing that Eric had been thinking about for awhile," Rhimes said. "I'm happy he's going to go on and do other things."

But there does seem to be some animosity between these two behind the scenes, judging by Danes' bizarre Twitter rant in 2016. After Rhimes tweeted a critique of Trump's disparaging comments about women, Dane shot back: "… I could give no [f**ks] about @shondarhimes opinion…"

Rhimes' response: "Um?"

In a 2017 Build a Series interview (via Just Jared), Dane said the nickname McSteamy is "not what I'm doing now, so it does get a little tiring." So what is he doing now? Since 2014, Dane has starred in TNT's The Last Ship — which RogerEbert.com called "stale and manipulative." He took an extended hiatus from that series due to depression. "I felt very conflicted about it," he told People in 2017, "because I didn't really feel like I had anything to be depressed about." In September 2017, Deadline alleged no new episodes of The Last Ship will be made. Perhaps that ship has sailed.

​Isaiah Washington trashed his career with backstage buffoonery

Isaiah Washington will be better remembered for his backstage antics than his portrayal of surgeon Preston Xavier Burke. In 2007, ABC News announced the actor wouldn't be returning to Grey's Anatomy following a widely-publicized on-set spat. During a heated debate with Patrick Dempsey, Washington allegedly called co-star J.R. Knight a "fa**ot." 

When word got out about the F-word, Washington went into damage-control mode, issuing a boilerplate statement to People: "I sincerely regret my actions and the unfortunate use of words during the recent incident on-set." Then came his inexplicable proclamation at the 2007 Golden Globes: "I love gay," he sniped. "I wanted to be gay, Please let me be gay." And the corker: "No, I did not call T.R. a fa**ot."

Gay activists were outraged, suggesting producers turn Burke into a gay character to punish Washington. Even co-star Katherine Heigl put in her two cents: "He needs to not speak in public." Producers evidently agreed. 

On June 7, 2007, Washington received a phone call informing him he was "not invited back to the show," according to E! News. "It was a decision that was a long time coming," Shonda Rhimes told TV Guide, "and it felt like it was the right decision for all of us." Washington blamed the move on racismannouncing, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" 

But this saga wasn't over — even if Washington's acting career was…

Washington says Shondaland 'killed the actor in me'

News that Isaiah Washington would return to Grey's Anatomy in 2014 perplexed audiences. People declared that actress Cristina Yang "deserved better." Twitter lit up with comments like: "Shame on Shonda Rhimes for allowing Isaiah Washington back!" 

Rhimes attempted to address these concerns in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: "Isaiah is a person that we all love and have loved for a very long time," Rhimes said. "And I feel very strongly and fully believe in people's ability to grow and change and learn from their mistakes."

"The script is so amazing, it will blow you away," Washington gushed to Access Hollywood. His return episode generated decent reviews, with Entertainment Weekly proclaiming, "Bringing Burke back was a brilliant, brilliant decision, and I'm way too emotional about it." So was Washington. In an unusual bid to drum up publicity, he wound up watching the premiere of the episode alongside Star News' Ashley Withers at her own house, predicting: "This is going to be historic!"

Ultimately, the episode didn't provide enough of a spark to reignite Washington's acting career. He affirmed as much to I Am Entertainment that same year: "I don't worry about whether or not the stories I tell will destroy my acting career because you can't take away something that doesn't exist. They killed the actor (in me) on June 7, 2007." 

Well, if the actor within him is dead, at least the drama isn't.

Knight chalks up Rhimes fallout to 'breakdown of communication'

After the high-profile ballyhoo of "IsaiahGate," Grey's Anatomy actor T.R. Knight came out in 2007, telling People: "While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I'm gay isn't the most interesting part of me." 

In a 2009 Entertainment Weekly interview, he claimed Shonda Rhimes opposed his decision to come out, "I think she was concerned about having my statement come out so close to the [initial] event," he said. 

Rhimes insisted that wasn't the case: "I said, 'If you want to come out, that's awesome. We'll totally support that.'"

Winding up on the receiving end of Isaiah Washington's tongue-lashing ultimately didn't win Knight any special favor. In the Season 6 premiere, his character, Dr. George O'Malley, is hit by a bus and winds up so hideously disfigured that his peers at Grey Sloan don't even recognize him (until after he flatlines.) Knight — who was making $180,000 per episode — chalked up his departure to a "breakdown of communication."

"My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George]," Knight told Entertainment Weekly. "And with respect, I'm going to leave it at that." It sounds like Rhimes deliberately gave Knight less and less to do so that he'd ultimately quit on his own: O'Malley "just kind of disappeared," Knight said. 

Then again, getting hit by a bus will do that to a guy.

Life after Shondaland?

Despite his character's gruesome end, T.R. Knight is one of the lucky ones: He's worked consistently since his bloody Grey's Anatomy bow out, appearing in Season 4 of The Good Wife, an adaptation of Stephen King's 11.22.63, and even circling back to Shondaland on The Catch (canceled in 2017 after two seasons). Katherine Heigl might finally be digging herself out of the kitty litter: She's been announced as a series regular on USA's lawyerly drama Suits, but the jury is still out if audiences will warm to her. While Knight and Heigl no doubt regret not being on a show as popular (and lucrative) as Grey's Anatomy, their post-Rhimes projects are certainly more palatable than what Patrick Dempsey's got on his plate. In 2015, Dempsey told Entertainment Weekly he had two projects in the pipeline: A television drama called The Limit and — glurp — "a travelogue spy thriller called Fodors."

As you can see, careers lose some of their luster after a stay in Shondaland. As Columbus Short steels himself for prison and Eric Dane waits to hear if The Last Ship has sunk, Isaiah Washington only occasionally steps back into the public eye … to, like, stick up for Mo'Nique on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, Dempsey sits around worrying about typecasting: "Is Derek so identifiable that I can't go on and be someone else?" Well, for now, his focus is on "developing [films] and racing and being a father to my children." Oh, and don't forget that travelogue spy thriller.