The Most Dramatic One Chicago Cast Exits

"Chicago Fire" blazed its way into viewers' hearts in 2012 and paved the way for two interlinking spinoffs: "Chicago P.D.," which launched in 2014, and "Chicago Med," which followed suit in 2015. Together, the NBC shows make up the "One Chicago" universe, along with the short-lived series "Chicago Justice." The "One Chicago" universe follows the drama-filled professional and personal lives of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel, and legal professionals in the Windy City, and the shows often have crossover storylines. 

The universe brought fans beloved TV couples, like "Dawsey," "Linstead," and "Manstead." Though none of these couples have survived the longevity of the franchise, "One Chicago" has a strong and dedicated fanbase who continue to support its evolution. Keeping fans guessing is important to the suspenseful nature of the franchise, and "Chicago Fire" showrunner Derek Haas admitted he does whatever he can to do so week after week. "To me, the only defense is to go on the offense," he explained to Entertainment Weekly. "I try to be honest on the feed, but my honesty is also going to mislead you. ... If I can add any piece of doubt into whatever is the pervading theory, that's a victory."

Haas' "honesty" is perhaps how fans didn't see some of the shows' biggest plot lines — or exits — coming. After almost a decade on the small screen, there have been some pretty dramatic "One Chicago" cast departures. Here's everything you need to know about them.

Yaya DaCosta as April Sexton (Chicago Med)

Yaya DaCosta played April Sexton on "Chicago Med" from November 2015 to May 2021 and exited the series during the Season 6 finale. On-screen, April departed because she was accepted into a nurse practitioners' program, an opportunity she was willing to leave the Gaffney Chicago Medical Center for. However, her exit wasn't without complication. Before April could leave the Chicago hospital behind, her significant other, Dr. Ethan Choi (Brian Tee), was shot in the parking lot by a former patient. After his life-saving surgery, April reunited with Choi to tell him how much she loved him, though she still chose to leave.

Off-screen, there was more to the story behind DaCosta's exit — the actor bagged an opportunity she couldn't pass up. "There was a window opening and a question mark as to whether I should stay or go ... [but] I jumped at the opportunity to work with Lee Daniels again," she explained to Deadline. She was also offered more screen time. "Every time someone came up to me to tell me they loved April Sexton, the next thing out of their mouth was that they needed to see more of her," the actor said (via The New York Times). DaCosta also noted that she was ready to carry a show on her own, which no doubt contributed to her decision to take the lead role in "Our Kind of People."

Charlie Barnett as Peter Mills (Chicago Fire)

Unlike some of his fellow cast members, Charlie Barnett's character, Peter Mills, didn't leave Chicago's Firehouse 51 injured or in a body bag. Instead, Mills decided to leave and go back to North Carolina to work in his family's restaurant.

However, the decision for Mills to leave the firehouse had nothing to do with the real-life actor, Charlie Barnett. "Chicago Fire" boss Matt Olmstead revealed Barnett's exit from the show in Season 3 was the result of an executive decision. "It was time to shake things up," he explained to TVLine. "It came solely from a storytelling standpoint. He's an amazing individual and a fantastic actor and gave us so many different things, but it was just this going to give us, hopefully, some new blood in terms of a new character and the departure of [Mills] is going to affect other people."

While Mills' exit made room for characters like Jessica Chili Chilton (Dora Madison), Jimmy Borelli (Steven R. McQueen), and Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo), "One Chicago" viewers were pretty disappointed when he left the show. Since Barnett's still alive and well off-screen, fans are hoping he might make a surprise return to the series in the future.

Steven R. McQueen as Jimmy Borelli (Chicago Fire)

"Vampire Diaries" star Steven R. McQueen joined the cast of "Chicago Fire" in 2015 for the show's fourth season. However, his stint on the series was pretty short-lived, and he departed at the beginning of the fifth season in 2016. McQueen's character, Jimmy Borelli, had been struggling after his brother Danny Borelli's (Andy Ahrens) death at the end of Season 4 and, after losing faith in Chief Boden, things ended badly when Jimmy took matters into his own hands during a call. His injuries were so bad that they warranted his departure from the firehouse — and the show – TVLine reported.

McQueen's exit was a result of creative decisions that brought his character's story arc to a close. "Ultimately, it comes down to creative in terms of who might be leaving the show, and what we liked about this was Jimmy's repairing of his relationship with his brother and then ultimately that being the downfall of the character on the show," explained "Chicago Fire" co-creator and executive producer Michael Brandt, per The Hollywood Reporter. The showrunner also noted that, given the style of the show, there are not always going to be clean getaways and "happy endings," something they tried to show in Jimmy's storyline.

Elias Koteas as Alvin Olinsky (Chicago P.D.)

Elias Koteas' character, Detective Alvin Olinsky, had one of the most dramatic deaths in "One Chicago" history. His fellow detective, Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), had just killed Kevin Bigham (Joseph Sikora), the man who'd murdered his son, Justin (Josh Segarra). Olinsky was unjustly arrested for the crime and soon died after being stabbed in prison before he could be exonerated.

Olinsky's death reverberated throughout the show. "It just evolved from a storytelling perspective," executive producer Rick Eid explained, when asked why Season 5 had to end the way it did, per US Weekly. "Bingham's body being recovered and Olinsky's DNA being found on that body, we started playing it out to its creative, dramatic conclusion, it just felt like an interesting way to wrap up that storyline," Eid added.

The dramatic on-screen death was a result of creative decisions, but the storyline ultimately shaped other characters and plot lines throughout the series. "Over time, we landed on the notion that Olinsky should be the person to pay for Voight's sin, because Voight admired and loved him so much," Eid told TVLine. This left Voight overwhelmed and in the midst of an eternal struggle, so it clearly created the TV drama the showrunners had hoped for.

Lauren German as Leslie Shay (Chicago Fire)

"Chicago Fire" writers and producers have never been afraid to take risks in the name of providing great television drama, even when that meant killing off beloved paramedic Leslie Shay at the beginning of the third season. Lauren German's character, Shay, died as a result of a fatal building fire and its subsequent collapse — which sent Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) on the hunt for the arsonist responsible, with a little help from the "Chicago P.D." detectives, too.

Shay's death was carefully planned by "One Chicago" showrunners and was played out over a two-episode crossover with "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago P.D." "Going into it, we knew if we were going to do it, it had to be someone who was going to give us a big impact, as opposed to going for a lesser-known character, which would equate to a pulled punch," executive producer Matt Olmstead said to TVLine. "So, as opposed to approaching it with timidity, we thought we'd go for it." 

Shay's death was particularly devastating for her friend and roommate, Severide, but her presence is still felt in the "One Chicago" universe, thanks to the ambulance that bears her name, birth, and death dates.

Torrey DeVitto as Natalie Manning (Chicago Med)

"Pretty Little Liars" star Torrey DeVitto exited "Chicago Med" in the same episode that Yaya DaCosta's character, April Sexton, left Gaffney Chicago Medical Center for good. However, DeVitto's character, Dr. Natalie Manning, briefly returned in Season 7 to wrap up her storyline, which saw her moving to Seattle with her son. DeVitto's exit was a blow for "Chicago Med" because she was an original cast member — as well as one half of the fan-favorite relationship "Manstead" between Nat and Dr. Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss).

"All good things must come to an end," DeVitto wrote on Instagram after she departed. "It has been such an honor and pure joy to bring Dr. Natalie Manning to life for all of you on Chicago Med for the past 6 seasons. But it is now time for her and me to bow out and say goodbye." In the post, DeVitto hinted that her exit was because she was pursuing other projects, which included the Hallmark movie, "The Christmas Promise," and her first executive producer credit on the film "Cold."

It was DeVitto's decision to leave the show, but had she stayed, showrunner Diane Frolov said there was a real possibility Nat and Will would have ended up together, while co-showrunner Andrew Schneider teased a possible storyline for the future. "Who knows? We're only in Season 7!" he said, per TVLine.

Jon Seda as Antonio Dawson (Chicago P.D.)

Jon Seda made his "One Chicago" debut as Antonio Dawson in "Chicago Fire" in 2012. He then went on to star in "Chicago P.D." from 2014 onward, and in 2017, he had a stint on the short-lived spinoff "Chicago Justice." In 2019, however, Seda left the "One Chicago" franchise, and made his final on-screen appearance in the Season 6 finale of "Chicago P.D." Dawson decided to resign and move to Puerto Rico to be closer to his family.

Sources close to Deadline reported that Seda's surprise exit from the series was because Dawson's storyline was "played out." They also noted it stemmed "from creative reasons related to the characters' story evolution." While it's not clear who made the final decision to cut Seda from the series, he appears to be happy with the move. "It's been an honor portraying Det. Antonio Dawson in the #OneChicago world," he wrote on Twitter. Seda also addressed the cast, saying he would "treasure the time and stories" they shared. He also spared a few kind words for "One Chicago" fans who'd supported his tenure in the franchise. "We'll always have CHICAGO," he concluded.

"Chicago P.D." showrunner Rick Eid bears no ill-will to the actor and has said that "the door's always open" for Seda to return, per CinemaBlend.

Rachel DiPillo as Sarah Reese (Chicago Med)

After four seasons at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, Rachel DiPillo's Sarah Reese decided to hang up her stethoscope. In a shocking storyline, Reese discovered her father was a serial killer and that her mentor, Dr. Charles (Oliver Platt), almost let him die. As a result, the young doctor decided to continue her residency elsewhere.

Reese is left completely "betrayed" by her mentor and, "[after] the trauma of her father doing such terrible things, she feels like she needs to go someplace else," explained "Chicago Med" showrunner Andrew Schneider to TVLine. The real reason Rachel DiPillo left "Chicago Med" may have been a creative one. However, Schneider and co-showrunner Diane Frolov have also said that they would love to bring the actor back to the series if a future storyline allows it. While fans would no doubt love DiPillo to return, she might be done with television for the moment, as she hasn't had another TV role since leaving the series. Instead, she seems more focused on feature films, having starred in "Hello, My Name is Frank" in 2021, per IMDb.

Yuriy Sardarov as Brian 'Otis' Zvonecek (Chicago Fire)

Yuri "Yuriy" Sardarov's character, Otis Zvonecek, left "Chicago Fire" at the beginning of Season 8. He succumbed to his injuries caused by the mattress fire in the previous season's finale. This was a classic TV death designed by the writers to inject some drama back into the show, and it did exactly that. "We thought, what if we killed off Otis and he dies heroically? We realized there was so much emotional landscape we could cover," series creator and showrunner Derek Haas explained to TV Insider.

Otis was a cast favorite and his death genuinely brought fans to tears. It was made all the more emotional when the cast of "Chicago Fire" gathered around the memorial that had been built outside Firehouse 51 and took the knee in the firefighter's honor.

Sardarov admitted he was sad to be leaving the "One Chicago" universe, too. In an emotional Instagram post, he called "Chicago Fire" "the greatest seven years of [his] life," and posted a small poem about his character. "Adieu," he wrote in part. "A fond farewell to Otis he'll forever be my friend."

Monica Raymund as Gabby Dawson (Chicago Fire)

"Chicago Fire's" leading lady, Gabby Dawson — portrayed by Monica Raymund — departed the show after six seasons to be a medical aid worker in Puerto Rico. Raymund later returned to conclude Gabby's story in the Season 7 premiere, but the episode devastated "Dawsey" fans when Matt Casey decided to stay in Chicago rather than go to Puerto Rico with her, per Newsweek.

Off-screen, Raymund chose to exit the show for several reasons, though the main one was most likely because her six-year contract was coming to an end and she decided it was time to do other things. "I felt like I was hungry to explore a different role, a different story. I wanted to explore a different world," she explained to the Chicago Tribune. However, she admitted she did have her doubts about leaving: "It's kind of a double-edged sword because on the one hand, it's wonderful to be employed for that long and to have job security." 

Raymond did choose to return to "Chicago Fire" as a guest star, and her appearance caused quite a lot of drama. Dawson came back to town briefly for Otis' memorial and to "reconnect with everyone," showrunner Derek Haas said in 2019, per Entertainment Weekly. "It was such a positive experience returning to the family," Raymund said at the time, also teasing that fans should stay tuned to see "Dawson and Casey's love in a new light."

Sophia Bush as Erin Lindsay (Chicago P.D.)

"One Tree Hill" star Sophia Bush was the leading lady on "Chicago P.D." from 2014 to 2017, until she abruptly left, leading her character, Erin Lindsay, to have a slightly underwhelming departure. In the script, the only drama was that she left for a job in New York without saying goodbye to her partner, Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer). However, behind the scenes, things were much more intense.

"I quit because ... I've been so programmed to be a good girl and to be a workhorse and to be a tugboat that I have always prioritized tugging the ship for the crew, for the show, for the group, ahead of my own health," Bush explained on Dax Shepard's "Armchair Expert" podcast. "There were aspects of it that I loved ... [but] I was really, really unhappy."

The actor also alleged that she was assaulted on set in a room full of men who turned a blind eye to what was happening. Bush knew she had to leave, but was only four years into her seven-year contract. She gave a 23-episode notice, but it allegedly didn't go down well. "I said, 'OK, so you can put me in the position of going quietly of my own accord or you can put me in the position of suing the network to get me out of my deal and I'll write an op-ed for The New York Times and tell them why,'" she explained.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Norma Kuhling as Ava Bekker (Chicago Med)

Norma Kuhling's exit from "Chicago Med" as Dr. Ava Bekker was expected going into the Season 5 premiere after the events of Season 4, but the details of how it was going to happen weren't completely clear. Ultimately, Kevin Atwater (LaRoyce Hawkins) crossed over from "Chicago P.D." to accuse Dr. Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell) of killing his own father, Cornelius Rhodes (D. W. Moffett). However, in a shocking turn of events, Ava admitted to the murder and then died after slitting her own throat, per The Sun.

This was a well-thought-out and carefully plotted storyline for "Chicago Med," and has since been dubbed one of the most shocking and dramatic plot lines in the show's history. Showrunner Andrew Schneider shared some insight into the decision, telling CinemaBlend it felt like the right time for this to happen. "Everybody loves Colin and Norma, but it was just a sense of, 'Let's do some changes,'" he explained. This storyline also paved the way for the show's leading man to leave as well.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes (Chicago Med)

Dr. Connor Rhodes' departure from "Chicago Med" was a result of one of the most dramatic "One Chicago" storylines of all time. "Arrow" star Colin Donnell played the trauma doc who, after finding out his girlfriend murdered his dad and then killed herself, decided he just couldn't stay at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center any longer.

"He left on his own terms, which I thought was really lovely for the character and for me personally," Donnell said, who appeared to be happy with how the storyline played out, per US Weekly. He also expressed how much he enjoyed his tenure on the medical drama. "One of the best working experiences of my life was being a part of Med and that was, in large part, due to the leadership at the top," he added.

Despite its dramatic nature, Donnell's exit left room for him to return to the series in the future. "I would love to pop in here and there ... as I do on 'Arrow,'" he said.

Jesse Spencer as Matt Casey (Chicago Fire)

"Chicago Fire" lost its leading man and Truck 81's leader when Captain Matt Casey, played by Jesse Spencer, moved to Oregon to take care of his late best friend Andy Darden's sons. He couldn't bring the boys to Chicago, but it was his duty to look after them, so he decided to move. "Any firefighter's child is every firefighter's child," Casey told veteran firefighter Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg) in his last episode, per Yahoo! Entertainment.

The decision to leave "Chicago Fire" was all Spencer's, who said that after 200 episodes he just felt like it was time to say goodbye. "It felt so organic for me and a perfect full circle and a really reasonable way for Casey to organically leave," he explained to People. Spencer, who went straight from "House" to "Chicago Fire," told Hollywood Life that leaving was an incredibly "difficult decision" for him, as he had been a part of the series since its inception. "But there are other things that I would like to do in the future, and there's some family that I need to take care of and 18 years is a long time," he said.

Despite it being bittersweet, Casey's departure hit the show — and its fans — hard, and his absence will be felt for seasons to come.