Eric Dane, AKA McSteamy, On Being Fired From ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

He's not the only star to have had a dramatic exit from the show.
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When it first premiered in 2005, the world fell in love with Grey’s Anatomy.

14 years and 20 seasons later, the Shonda Rhimes-produced show is still incredibly popular. However, in the two decades since it premiered, Grey’s has seen its fair share of controversy. From workplace altercations to public spats and inflated egos; the set is almost as dramatic as the show itself. Not to mention, over the years some of the show’s most central characters have been killed off or scrubbed out of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital in eyebrow-raising circumstances.

Scroll on for the shocking stories behind four of the Grey’s Anatomy’s casts’ most significant, messiest exits.

Eric Dane (Dr Mark Sloan)

eric dane as mark sloan, aka mcsteamy, in Grey's anatomy
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Eric Dane—aka Dr Mark Sloan, aka McSteamy—suffered an abrupt exit from Grey’s Anatomy.

The actor’s character was killed off surprisingly, after succumbing to his injuries from a plan crash in the season nine premiere.

McSteamy was not the first character to die in seemingly strange circumstances however, Dane has recently revealed that his exit was actually a result of him being fired.

“I didn’t leave so much as I think I was let go,” the actor admitted during a recent appearance on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast.

“I was struggling,” Dane said, referencing the battle with drug and alcohol addiction he was facing at the time. However, he said, “They didn’t let me go because of that, although it definitely didn’t help.”

Rather, Dane told Shepard that he believes he was getting “too expensive.”

 “I was starting to become—as most of these actors who have spent significant time on the show—you start to become very expensive for the network,” he said. “And the network knows that the show is going to do what it’s going to do irrespective of who they keep on it—as long as they have their [main character, Meredith] Grey, they were fine.”

“I love Shonda Rhimes and she protected me but I was probably fired,” Dane continued.

“It wasn’t ceremoniously like, ‘You’re fired,'” he said. “it was just like, ‘You’re not coming back.'”

Isaiah Washigton (Dr Preston Burke)

isaiah washington as dr burke in Grey's anatomy
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One of the show’s most infamous exits was that of Isaiah Washington, who played Dr Preston Burke from seasons one through three.

It has been widely reported that Washington was fired in 2007 after using a homophobic slur on set—and then again backstage at an awards show.

“It was my episode,” writer Mark Wilding recalls in the How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy, a book about the Grey’s set. “I think one of them had been late to set one day and the other one then decided to pay him back by being late himself. Then it sort of exploded. They got into an arguing match, and then before you know it they were physically fighting. I was standing there in video village. I’m, like, six feet four inches. I’m bigger than both of them. But I didn’t really jump in right away because I’m like, I don’t know if I want to get involved.”

Harry Werksman, another writer who was on set that day, added that Washington “went after Patrick.”

“[Washington] went after Patrick, pushed him up against the wall, and said, ‘You can’t talk to me the way you talk to that little f***** T.R,'” Werksman said.

“T.R” refers to T.R Knight (Dr George O’Malley) who is gay, but was not publicly out at the time.

The controversy hit the press soon after. Washington only made things worse when he addressed it backstage at the 2007 Golden Globes. The actor used the slur again, telling reporters “No, I did not call T.R. a f*****. Never happened.” 

While he did formally apologise, Washington found himself out of a job.

The actor reflected on the incident in How To Save a Life. He recalled, “We learned that we [had] to watch what we say. We [had] to make sure we [were] more accountable.”

He also said he believed the issue was behind him before learning of his firing later that year.

“I did everything that the producers and the network asked me to do,” he said in the book. “I came back under great stress, and thought I was doing the job I was hired to do. I thought that was going to speak for my future at Grey’s, but apparently that wasn’t the same vision that the network and studio had for me.”

Washington did return to the show briefly in season 10 but has otherwise been excluded from the series.

Katherine Heigl (Dr Izzie Stevens)

katherine heigl as izzie stevens in Grey's anatomy
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Katherine Heigl wasn’t explicitly fired from Grey’s Anatomy but her exit was less than cordial.

The actor gave up her role as fan favourite Izzie Stevens in 2010 following two years of rumoured tension with Rhimes.

In 2008, Heigl declined to put her name forward for an Emmy nomination, saying she didn’t feel she had been given enough material to warrant one. This reportedly caused a rift between her and Rhimes, with the show creator going on to tell Oprah Winfrey, “when people show you who they are, believe them”. This naturally sparked rumours that writers were trying to kill Izzie off.

Then in 2009, Heigl publicly shaded the show during an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman.

“Our first day back was Wednesday. It was—I’m going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them—a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean,” she said on the show. Ellen Pompeo, who played lead Meredith Grey, later corroborated Heigl’s claims of long work days in an episode of her podcast. Even if they were true, it’s safe to say Grey’s Anatomy producers weren’t too pleased with Heigl’s comments.

Heigl ultimately quit in 2010 after her character’s screen time continued to be reduced. In a 2014 interview with The Hollywood reporter, Rhimes noted there were “no Heigls” on her new show, Scandal and that she has a “no assholes” policy.

Patrick Dempsey (Dr Derek Shepherd)

patrick dempsey as mcdreamy aka dr derek shepherd in Grey's anatomy
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Patrick Dempsey left Grey’s Anatomy after his character, Dr Derek Shepherd (or McDreamy) dramatically died in season 11.

While specifics of what led to his 2015 departure were largely kept under wraps, some information came to light thanks to the aforementioned book, How To Save A Life.

In the unauthorised text, former executive producer James D. Parriott said “There were H.R. issues.”

“It wasn’t sexual in any way. He sort of was terrorising the set. Some cast members had all sorts of PTSD with him.” Parriott added, “He had this hold on the set where he knew he could stop production and scare people. The network and studio came down and we had sessions with them. I think he was just done with the show. He didn’t like the inconvenience of coming in every day and working. He and Shonda were at each other’s throats.”

It was also alleged that Dempsey’s off-screen relationship with Pompeo had soured.

Things reportedly came to a head when Rhimes dealt with the tension in person. Another former executive producer, Jeannine Renshaw said, Shonda had to say to the network, ‘If he doesn’t go, I go … Nobody wanted him to leave, because he was the show. Him and Ellen. Patrick is a sweetheart. It messes you up, this business.” 

In his own interview for the book, Dempsey inferred that he had chosen to leave and was not pushed out. It is still unclear exactly what happened behind the scenes before the decision to kill Derek off was made.

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