Tragic Details About The Cast Of Grey’s Anatomy

Tragic Details About The Cast Of Grey’s Anatomy

May 7, 2021

“Grey’s Anatomy” is built on tragedy. Grey-Sloan Memorial hospital is not just a place where patients receive medical treatment from some of the best doctors in the U.S.; it’s also a place where those doctors will die if they are not careful. Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) alone survives a plane crash, a near-drowning, and sticking her hand in a chest cavity to prevent an active bomb from exploding.

Meredith loses her husband Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) after his fatal car crash. Her sister Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) dies in the aforementioned plane crash. Plus, one of her dear friends, Dr. George O’Malley (TR Knight) dies when he steps in front of a bus to save a stranger.

If life imitated art for the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” too often, we would be very worried for all of the actors. Thankfully, their lives are not nearly as sad and dangerous as the characters they play on TV, but they have endured many hardships in their lives. We found the most tragic details about the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Prepare yourselves, because some of these true stories are closer to the stories we see on-screen than we ever thought possible.

Katherine Heigl's tragic loss shaped her own motherhood

Katherine Heigl’s character on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Izzie Stevens, loses her fiancé and one of her best friends while living in Seattle. In reality, Katherine suffered an unimaginable loss when her brother, Jason Heigl, died in a car crash when he was 15 and she was in elementary school. Hello! reported that he was ” thrown from the back of a pickup truck” while driving with friends. “For a long time, Jason’s death made me afraid of being too happy because things happen so unexpectedly,” the actor told The Times (via Hello!). “Your world can change and every aspect of your life is different.”

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Katherine explained what she experienced as a young girl after the tragedy. “I didn’t really understand death, so it was very confusing for me. The worst part was watching the devastation of my family,” she said. “They weren’t the same people anymore. Everything was kind of a mess for a while.” The actor’s parents found comfort in the Mormon church.

Katherine later told “Today” that memories of watching her parents grieve when she was young made her afraid about losing her own kids. “When I first became a mother, the idea of loving my children the way I did terrified me. Because it could be all taken away. Many people have suffered through something like that,” she said. Talking to her mom made Katherine realize “you can survive it, and it doesn’t negate the worthwhile love.”

The star of Grey's Anatomy had a particularly tragic childhood

“Grey’s Anatomy” fans know via flashbacks that Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) witnesses her mother’s suicide attempt at a very young age. What they may not know is that Ellen’s childhood is eerily similar, because her mother, Kathleen Pompeo, died of an accidental painkiller overdose when Ellen was only four years old. Ellen told “Armchair Expert” that her mother developed the addiction in the hospital when “she was put on morphine” after a severe car accident.

It’s unclear if she witnessed the overdose, but she told “Armchair Expert” host Dax Shepherd, “The first memory of my life is seeing my mother dead.” She said she unfairly resented her mother for not being in her life when she was a teenager. As she got older, she understood addiction more. “Then it turns to compassion and feeling really bad that she had know where probably to go for help.”

Losing her mother at such a young age has caused Ellen to fixate on her own mortality. “I kind of am obsessed with death, I think about it all the time,” she said, adding, “I always think something bad is going to happen. I’m working on that.” We’re glad, because those are intense thoughts to deal with all the time. Ellen’s dad, Joseph Pompeo, died in 2012.

Jesse Williams' custody situation is very messy

Divorce is not traditionally tragic, but it can become so when kids are involved and become the focus of a fight. That’s exactly what happened when Jesse Williams filed for divorce from Aryn Drake-Lee in 2017. According to legal documents initially obtained by TMZ in April 2017, Williams sought joint legal custody of the former couple’s kids, Sadie and Maceo. By June 2017, Us Weekly reported the exes were already struggling to co-parent, with legal documents filed by Williams claiming, “Aryn restricts my time with the children and decides when, and for how long I may have them. She has rejected, without any reason, each and every request I have made to have the children sleepover at my residence.” Williams provided other examples of alleged restrictions and said he was “an active, involved, ‘hands-on’ dad.” 

By August 2017, Drake-Lee sought sole custody of the kids, because of Williams’ alleged “violent temper” and “revolving door” of women, TMZ reported. Drake-Lee also claimed the kids showed “psychological signs of damage” at the time. Drake-Lee’s request was denied and by March 2018, Williams and his ex were granted joint physical custody of the children, E! reported.

No matter the legal documents, tensions do not appear to have eased between Drake-Lee and Williams. In April 2021, TMZ reported the exes were ordered by the court to attend “high conflict” parenting classes online. We just hope the kids are doing okay.

Eric Dane has been open about experiencing depression

Eric Dane’s character on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Mark Sloan dies in Season 9 of the show after sustaining severe injuries during the plane crash in Season 8. Dane moved on to star on the TNT drama “The Last Ship,” which paused production in 2017 so the actor could seek treatment for depression. “I felt very conflicted because I couldn’t figure out what I was depressed about, but it’s very real. And that was the scary thing — when you wake up and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to get out of bed,'” he later told “Today.” “This just hit me like a truck. I had to take some time off. I went away, I took care of it and I’m feeling great.”

Dane went on to play the darkest role of his career, Cal Jacobs on HBO’s hit show “Euphoria,” and he was candid with Glamour about why he related to the role. “I understand what it’s like to lead a double life. To have secrets and to have to live keeping those secrets from people,” he said. “I’ve certainly had my struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health, and I know what it’s like to have to put up a facade and have an external experience not match the internal experience.”

We’re just glad his career is thriving and he is only tapping into darker emotions now as part of his job.

An alleged affair nearly ended Patrick Dempsey's marriage

Times were tough for Patrick Dempsey on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” and in his personal life in the years leading up to his exit from the hit medical drama. His character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, dies in a car accident in Season 11 after he heroically saves the lives of a mother and daughter. One of the reasons for the tension on set was an alleged affair between Dempsey and a young staffer, Radar reported.

“It was obvious to everyone Patrick was sleeping with her,” a source told the site in 2015. “It got very messy and emotional on set and became a huge liability.” The alleged relationship may have been one reason why Dempsey left the show, and a reason why his wife, makeup artist Jillian Fink, filed for divorce from the actor the same year. A rep for Dempsey, however, denied Radar’s “absurd story.”

This story doesn’t end badly, because the divorce was “called off” by 2016. “It’s always destabilizing when you’re potentially breaking up a family or you have a big section of your life that’s ending,” Dempsey admitted to People that year. But the couple, who have three children, went to counseling and were able to reconcile. “Our marriage was not something I was prepared to let go of,” he said. “I didn’t feel like we had done all the work. And we both wanted to do that work. That’s where it started.” Fink and Dempsey have been married for over 20 years.

Sarah Drew's life imitated Grey's Anatomy in a scary way

In Season 11 of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sarah Drew’s character April Kepner and her then-husband Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) lose a son to osteogenesis imperfecta. April gives birth to her son, Samuel, early in a process called induction termination, so that the child is no longer in pain and he presumably dies in her arms off-screen. Drew was actually pregnant with her daughter, Hannah, at the time, and life slightly imitated art in a scary way soon after she filmed the tragic scene.

“I actually went into premature labor [in December 2014] 10 hours after shooting that scene. She was born a month early and was in the NICU for two weeks,” Drew later told People about the harrowing experience years. When she introduced her daughter to the world in 2015, Drew told People, “[Hannah’s] lungs were not totally ready to be outside of the womb [which led to] an infection, plus she had issues with blood sugar because I had gestational diabetes.” Hannah had to stay in the hospital longer than expected, and it was an understandably difficult time for Drew. “It’s the worst thing in the world because you go into the hospital and you expect to leave with your baby. We didn’t know how long she would have to be there.”

As of this writing, Hannah is now a vibrant 6-year old who “lights up every room she walks into” according to a birthday tribute her mom wrote on Instagram.

Chandra Wilson's brought her own daughter's medical mystery to Grey's Anatomy

Chandra Wilson solves medical mysteries all the time as Dr. Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but she probably never expected to have to solve one in real life. But that’s exactly what happened when her 23-year-old daughter, Sarina McFarlane, started experiencing chronic abdominal pain. “It presented itself like a real bad case of food poisoning and it didn’t go away for about four or five days,” Wilson told “GMA.”

McFarlane went to the ER, and thus began a journey to get a diagnosis, which lasted for about 10 months. She was eventually diagnosed with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS) a rare disorder characterized by sudden episodes of vomiting. It’s so rare that “GMA” reported many people go on for years without receiving a diagnosis.

So, Wilson does all she can in her position as a prominent actress to bring awareness to the syndrome. She even directed an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” featuring a patient with CVS. “Being able to be on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ with all those people able to watch it and hear it and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s what that is! I’ve heard of that, that’s my kid, that’s my husband, that’s my aunt,’ that means so much ’cause I just remember what [having a name and a diagnosis for the syndrome] meant to us.”

McFarlane was diagnosed with CVS around 2011 and there is no cure. The symptoms can go “dormant,” but Wilson and her daughter decided to speak out in 2017 when they flared up again.

This Grey's Anatomy star felt 'brainwashed' by Hollywood

“Grey’s Anatomy” has focused on diverse representation among its cast since its first season premiered in 2005. But even though she’s received Emmy nominations for her portrayal of Dr. Cristina Yang, — Meredith Grey’s sidekick and best friend for 10 seasons — Sandra Oh is not immune to the effects of racism in Hollywood.

Speaking with Vulture in 2018, Oh shared that the industry conditioned her to believe she would always get offers for the supporting role, never the lead. When the offer for the title role on the BBC America’s “Killing Eve” came to her, she said she initially couldn’t figure out which role they were asking her to play. She had to ask her agent and it was an eye-opening moment for her. “I think about that moment a lot. Of just going, how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us,” Oh said, adding, “I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers.”

In that moment, Oh said she felt “brainwashed” by the industry. Oh acknowledges that she is in a privileged position, but the fact that it affects her so much proves that we have a long way to go before achieving an equitable society.

Justin Chambers addressed mental health issues soon after his Grey's Anatomy exit

Justin Chambers shocked fans when he announced his exit from “Grey’s Anatomy” after playing the beloved Dr. Alex Karev for 16 seasons. “There’s no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that’s defined so much of my life for the past 15 years,” his statement read, in part (per Deadline). He said he wanted to “diversify” the roles he played.

But multiple sources told Page Six there was a more worrisome reason for Chambers’ departure from the medical drama. “Justin was at Privé-Swiss being treated for stress, depression and life-coaching, one source alleged, adding, “There is a lot going on with [‘Grey’s Anatomy”] behind-the-scenes right now.” Show reps have been very tight-lipped about any tension that might be happening on-set since its early scandals, so we cannot guess what allegedly happened, potentially causing Chambers to leave.

Showrunner Krista Vernoff did, however, post a statement to Twitter about Chambers’ exit. “It is nearly impossible to say goodbye to Alex Karev,” it read, in-part. “And we have loved watching Justin Chambers’ nuanced portrayal of him.” When asked by The Hollywood Reporter how much time she had to plan his exit, Vernoff replied, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Whatever went down, we wish Chambers well!

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