What Happened To These Grey's Anatomy Stars Since Leaving The Show

"Grey's Anatomy," the longest-running medical drama in primetime television history, has kept viewers captivated and on the edge of their seats since 2005, and shows no signs of slowing down. "I think maybe eight seasons ago I stopped thinking about [the ending]," series creator Shonda Rhimes told People in 2022. "There's nothing that's changed because there was nothing there to change." In 2019, star of the show Ellen Pompeo insisted she wasn't thinking about the finish line either. As she said in People, "How do you walk away from a hit? The fans will dictate when the show ends." That said, there has been talk of her character, Meredith Grey, appearing in less episodes of Season 19, which kicked off in October 2022. 

While the dramatic storylines undoubtedly keep viewers coming back year after year, there's no doubt the actors all bring something special to the operating table, too. And with Season 19 of "Grey's Anatomy" underway and the very obvious way they are giving viewers that flashback to Season 1 feel, it seems appropriate to look back over the long history of the series and all the stars who graced the show, made an impact, then went on to other things. Here's what's happened to these "Grey's Anatomy" stars after leaving the show.

Sandra Oh killed it in Killing Eve

From the onset of "Grey's Anatomy," Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh, saw something of themselves in each other. They might not have jumped into being fast friends due to the competitive nature of their jobs, but there was a mutual respect there. It wasn't long before the two became each other's "person," the one who helped them through all the heartache and tragedy they endured while becoming superstars in the field of medicine. Which is why Cristina leaving the show was one of the toughest for viewers to endure. In fact, Oh was awarded the People's Choice award in 2015 for Favorite TV Character We Miss Most for her character of Cristina.

Oh told The Hollywood Reporter she had no regrets about leaving the show and was open to new possibilities. "I've been given such a bountiful gift of the past 10 years and, at this point in my life, I choose not to live my life from fear," she said.

Oh's last appearance was in Season 10, and there was certainly no shortage of roles for her from there. That same year, 2014, she appeared in the big screen film "Tammy" starring Melissa McCarthy. From 2015 to 2022 she had recurring roles in several series, including the starring role in the British thriller series "Killing Eve" in 2018. For her role as Eve, Oh received multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. 

T.R. Knight is a star of stage and screen

One of the more heart-wrenching character exits on "Grey's Anatomy" was that of George O'Malley — aka 007 — played by T.R. Knight. Knight's portrayal of this hapless underdog, who grew to be an exceptional doctor, despite nearly killing a patient in one of his first surgeries (hence the "license to kill" nickname), captured viewers' hearts and had them rooting for George. In 2007 he was nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Emmy.

Unfortunately in Season 5, tragedy struck for O'Malley, who was hit by a bus. But why would writers kill off such a popular character? According to Entertainment Weekly, it was Knight's decision to leave, though there were certainly a lot of issues surrounding his departure. First, there was an incident with co-star Isaiah Washington, who was fired after reportedly directing a homophobic slur at Knight. Then, Knight grappled with his decision of when/how to publicly come out. He told the outlet that he felt like he wasn't being supported, while Rhimes maintained that wasn't the case. So, this along with Knight feeling George had reduced screen time, prompted him to leave.

Since leaving "Grey's" Knight has done both on- and off-Broadway productions and nabbed roles in "The Good Wife," "The Catch," "Genius," and "The Flight Attendant." Knight also had the opportunity to work with Ellen Pompeo again on "Grey's Anatomy" as he appeared in her dream sequence when she was fighting for her life.

Isaiah Washington moved on after a scandal

Dr. Preston Burke, played by Isaiah Washington, was one of the original characters on "Grey's Anatomy." Burke was a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon with a mostly type A personality who could let his hair down from time to time while still maintaining his high moral standards — at least for the most part. While he wasn't the best at navigating relationships, especially with George O'Malley, whom he disliked at first and made no secret about, he eventually came around. At one point, O'Malley even moved in with Burke

Washington's time on "Grey's Anatomy" came to an end after he reportedly used homophobic language in regards to T.R. Knight during a heated argument with Patrick Dempsey. In a statement to People, Washington apologized for using the word. In a separate interview with Larry King, he said the word was not directed at Knight. Washington was released from the series after the third season.

Since leaving the show in 2007 — the same year the actor appeared as a series regular in the short-lived "Bionic Woman" series — Washington snagged roles on television shows like "The Cleaner" and "Law & Order: LA" and movies including "The Undershepherd," "Blue Caprice," and "Blackbird." He also appeared in five seasons of the popular SciFi series "The 100." His most recent gig, "P-Valley," also came to an abrupt end. According to CheatSheat, he claimed on Instagram in December 2021 that he was fired from the show for statements he made about Vice President Kamala Harris.

Patrick Dempsey hopped behind the wheel

It may have been seven years since Dr. Derek Shepherd took his last breath on "Grey's Anatomy" in 2015, but fans of the show will never forget "McDreamy" and the impact he had on Meredith Grey's life and the show. As stunning as it might've been to see him go, Patrick Dempsey told Entertainment Weekly that it felt like the right time to move on — even though he actually still had a contract with "Greys." But as time went on, more was revealed about his departure, and some of the accounts featured in Lynette Rice's 2021 book "How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy" paint a less breezy picture. As director James D. Parriott said of Shepherd, "He had this hold on the set where he knew he could stop production and scare people." On the flip side, a writer described him as a sweetheart and a crewmember said he was a "Lone Ranger." Whatever the actual truth was, execs for the show likely couldn't ignore his adoring fans begging for his return, and Dempsey came back in 2020 and twice in 2021.

In 2016, Dempsey appeared in the film "Bridget Jones's Baby;" in 2018, he starred in the thrilling mini series "The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair;" and he appeared in two seasons of "Devils." What's more, he's in Michael Mann's "Ferrari," which filmed in 2022. In it, Dempsey plays Piero Taruffi, a racecar driver from Italy.

Katherine Heigl made family a priority

Katherine Heigl had been in the entertainment business for more than ten years before she appeared as Izzie Stevens on "Grey's Anatomy" in 2005. And she continued to pursue other projects during her run on the show, starring in successful movies like "Knocked Up" and "27 Dresses." In 2007 she won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress, and in a shocking move the following year, Heigl turned down the nom entirely. "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," she said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times' Gold Derby (via Today).

As for why she left "Grey's Anatomy"? Of course, there have been rumors, but she's tried to set the record straight. In Lynette Rice's 2021 book "How To Save A Life: The Inside Story Of Grey's Anatomy" (via The Daily Telegraph), Heigl said, "I started a family, and it changed everything. It changed my desire to work full-time."  Heigl was in two movies in 2010: "Killers" and "Life as We Know It." After that, she appeared in "Doubt," "Suits," and "Firefly Lane." 

The pressures that came with work, family, and the court of public opinion took a toll on her. As she shared in a 2021 interview with The Washington Post, she sought help for her mental health in 2015. Thankfully, she found balance, enjoying her family and country home in Utah.

Loretta Devine has been on show after show

Loretta Devine, who played Adele Webber, wife of Chief of Surgery Richard Webber, on "Grey's Anatomy" has quite the impressive resume on IMDb, dating back to the early '80s. And she has a nice statue on her shelf for her work on "Grey's." In 2012, the Broadway icon received an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, and strangely it was not long after this that her character was killed off the show. In 2019, the actor laughed about it in a People interview. "I got an Emmy for this show for best guest spot and then they fired me right after that," she said. "They killed me with that damn Alzheimer's." But, the actor also shared, sometimes you can't understand the business and you just have to keep moving forward. And that's just what she did.

In 2012 and 2013 she had regular roles on "The Client List" and "The Doc Files," and what followed was dozens of spots on TV shows and movies like "Comeback Dad" and "Welcome to Me." And if you think she's all about the drama after watching her on "Grey's," Devine starred in the hilarious sitcom "The Carmichael Show" from 2015-2017, had 3 episodes on "Black-ish," and a whopping 134 episodes doing the voice of Hallie McStuffins on "Doc McStuffins. The actor's other more recent credits include "P-Valley" and "Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem."

Eric Dane nabbed a major role on Euphoria

If there was anyone at Seattle Grace (now Grey Sloan Memorial) who could give Derek Shepherd a run for his money in the hotness department, it was Mark "McSteamy" Sloan. Unfortunately, Sloan died from injuries from a plane crash in 2012. It sounds like the decision was mutual between actor Eric Dane and show execs. "[A]fter much consideration and conversations, he and I have decided that this is the right time for his storyline to end," Shonda Rhimes said in a statement to TVLine. In a follow-up interview with Entertainment Weekly, Dane pointed to a specific project: "The Last Ship," an action/drama series he starred in for five seasons. "I loved doing 'Grey's Anatomy.' I would have done it until the final episode, but this was something I couldn't pass up," he said.

Just before "The Last Ship" ended, Dane starred in "Grey Lady" and in 2021 he starred opposite Teri Polo in "The Ravine." As far as television goes, Dane found his way onto another wildly popular Emmy-winning show: "Euphoria." Regarding his experience on the hit HBO series, Dane said on "Today," "You want your work to be seen so it's kind of the best of both worlds because it's executed at such a high level and people show up for it." And as for how he feels about being called "McSteamy" to this day? "I've been called a lot worse, and I think it's a name that's been good to me over the years," he quipped.

Chyler Leigh has given directing a shot

When Chyler Leigh was brought on to "Grey's Anatomy" to play Meredith Grey's half-sister, Lexie, it gave viewers a chance to see a softer, more nurturing side of their tough leading lady... eventually. Sadly, Lexie died in the same plane crash that killed her one-time boyfriend, Mark Sloan. And while her departure was heart-wrenching for viewers, the actor's reason for leaving the show was far less dramatic. In a statement released to TVLine in 2012, Leigh shared she felt it was time to move on, adding, "My experience on 'Grey's Anatomy' is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life."

After Leigh turned in her mask and scrubs, it wasn't long before she was wearing a badge, playing a detective on "Taxi Brooklyn," which only lasted one season. The following year, 2015, Leigh was cast as Alex Danvers in "Supergirl," a recurring role, though she didn't get to wear a cape. The show lasted six seasons, and the actor got the opportunity to sit in the director's chair in the final season. Leigh told ET, "Watching the whole process and being part of it from the start of the show, just picking up on things and story, having a love for storytelling in general, I feel like I was already always directing."

Leigh also appeared in four episodes of "The Flash" series, and as Deadline reported in 2022, she joined the Hallmark series "The Way Home."

Sara Ramirez joined the Sex and the City universe

When Sara Ramirez was cast as Callie Torres toward the end of Season 2 on "Grey's Anatomy," who knew what dramatic storylines would unfold around their character. In some ways, it was a bit like a new student causing uproar in a high school, but at some point, Callie became a respected and valued part of the hospital with real connections to most of the other characters — not to mention, the actor was applauded for their portrayal of a character exploring bisexuality.

After Ramirez left the show at the end of Season 12, they came out publicly as bisexual. At the 2016 40 to None Summit, Ramirez shared the intersections that shape who they are: "Woman, multi-racial woman, woman of color, queer, bisexual, Mexican-Irish American, immigrant."

The actor continued their role voicing Queen Miranda on "Sofia the First," which the voice over actor started in 2012. In 2017, Ramirez sported a bold new hairstyle (buzz cut on the sides) and joined the cast of "Madam Secretary" to play a political strategist in Season 4 and 5 but would not return for the final season. In 2020, NBC reported the actor came out as non-binary. In 2021, they joined the cast of "And Just Like That," a "Sex and the City" spinoff.

Brooke Smith's got a long list of TV credits

Veteran actor Brooke Smith joined the cast of "Grey's Anatomy" at the end of Season 2 and continued on until a few shows into the fifth season when her character was written off. Dr. Erica Hahn was brought in as new Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery but also as a love interest for Callie Torres. But according to EW, execs didn't like the character or the couple. "Unfortunately, we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke's character would sustain in the long run," Shonda Rhimes said.

While it took the actor about a year and a half to get her acting bearings back, in 2010 she started appearing on TV screens again in shows like "Criminal Minds," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and "American Horror Story." Smith also snagged roles on the big screen with "Labor Day" starring Kate Winslet and "Interstellar" starring Matthew McConaughey. In 2013, she landed in another series, "Road Hard," as a regular and from there the guest roles kept coming.

One of Smith's more notable roles came as a series regular in the David E. Kelley drama, "Big Sky" in 2020. And when her work was not recognized via an Emmy nomination, the actor made the risky move and petitioned for herself. As she told IndieWire, though she's paid her dues over a 30-year career, that doesn't always matter in showbiz. "In Hollywood you're either making gajillions or you're really not making much," she said.

Jessica Capshaw took a brief break

Jessica Capshaw might be considered Hollywood royalty — her mother is Kate Capshaw and stepdad Steven Spielberg — but she made her own mark in the industry when she was cast as Arizona Robbins in "Grey's Anatomy," an openly gay pediatric surgeon. After she'd played the character for several seasons, Jessica told Yahoo! Life, "I never would have imagined that I would be able to play a character that would feel like it does so much good, whether it's people who feel like the character resonates with them and it makes their day a little easier to see themselves represented."

Jessica's last appearance was in Season 14, when she then had about a two-year hiatus from acting, likely enjoying time with her family, which includes a husband and four children. In 2020, she showed up in the Netflix movie, "Holidate" with Emma Roberts and in 2022 she was in "Dear Zoe."

In March 2022, Jessica shared an adorable pic on her Instagram of herself and Camilla Luddington, the latter of whom was sporting a doctor's coat, sparking questions from fans about Jessica's possible return to the show. Alas, it was a false alarm. As Luddington told Extra, Jessica just happened to stop by the set that day, but wasn't allowed in due to Covid regulations. "I'm sorry. I know. I'm crossing my fingers one day too," she added. For now, you can catch Jessica Capshaw in the new 2022 drama series "Tell Me Lies" streaming on Hulu.

Jerrika Hinton has 'other irons in the fire'

Season 9 of "Grey's Anatomy" was a new beginning in more ways than one. In the aftermath of the plane crash, a new set of interns comes to the hospital, including Stephanie Edwards, played by Jerrika Hinton. Edwards, a promising doctor who overcame childhood illness, becomes a hero when she saves a little girl from a fire during a hostage situation and sustains burns that ultimately result in her leaving the hospital. As far as leaving the show, the actor told TVLine she was grateful for the opportunity and that it opened many doors for her. "I am genuinely incapable of looking back on my time that way and thinking with 'If only ...' reservations," she said.

A year before her exit, Hinton chatted with "Good Day LA" about her role on the show and what she has planned beyond acting. "I still write and I still direct," she said. "I'm also a photographer and I've got a few other irons in the fire as well."

Those irons and her ambition had her continuously working, including a mini series, "Flip the Script" and a new series regular role in 2018 on the short-lived "Here and Now" with Tim Robbins. That same year she did a couple movies like "A Majestic Christmas," which she starred in, then in 2019 she snagged recurring roles on "Doxxed" and "Servant." Hinton's most recent project is playing an FBI agent on the series "Hunters," a crime show about Nazi hunters.

Geena Davis uses her platform for good

A-list actor Geena Davis has been a force ever since she made her big screen debut alongside Dustin Hoffman in the iconic comedy "Tootsie." When the Oscar winner was cast in Season 11 of "Grey's Anatomy," it had viewers and critics buzzing — and speculating bringing in a big gun was due in part to Sandra Oh's departure. Davis's character, Dr. Herman, was a fetal surgeon with a brain tumor, who worked to pass on her knowledge to Amelia Shepherd. Though her character left in 2011, she came back for a visit in one episode of Season 14.

In that gap, Davis had a recurring role in the TV series "The Exorcist" and appeared in the film "Marjorie Prime" with Jon Hamm. In 2019, she joined both "Glow" and "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power." The "Thelma & Louise" star also has several projects in the works, including in "Cowgirl's Last Ride," in which she plays an ailing cowgirl who escapes a nursing home to live her final days.

One of Davis's most important roles is that of champion for gender rights with her organization, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. She told People in 2020, "The goal is to have fictitious worlds that are created reflect the real world, which is half female and incredibly diverse." For the effort she's put into educating and fighting for how women are portrayed in the media, she received the Governor's Award at the 74th Emmys in 2022.

Justin Chambers got an offer he couldn't refuse

Cristina Yang might have been Meredith Grey's first "person" on "Grey's Anatomy" but Alex Karev, who was on the show from day one, took the role to another level, especially when Cristina left. Of course, there was the time he sold Mere out about her Alzheimer's trial — but he also helped her keep her medical license. Though actor Justin Chambers' last physical appearance on "Grey's" was in 2019, Alex didn't officially leave until 2020 via letters he'd written to his friends, relaying how he'd found Izzie and their children — much to the confusion of many die-hard Alex fans, who vented on Reddit how it was out of character and they didn't like the concept of the letters.

But Chambers was ready to move on. As he told Deadline, he'd been thinking about leaving for a while in the hopes of diversifying his career. "And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time," he added. And what better way to start that journey than to play Marlon Brando in "The Offer," the miniseries about the making of the "Godfather"? After all, as he told USA Today, he was called "Baby Brando" early in his career. He recognized playing such a legend was a tall order, but he was up for the challenge. "I had wanted to push myself and do something different," he said.