‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why did Burke leave? The Isaiah Washington drama, explained

‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why did Burke leave? The Isaiah Washington drama, explained

The Grey’s Anatomy season 20 cast looks quite different from the one we saw when the show first premiered in 2005.

While of course Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is still a fan-favorite character, she’s had a more limited role since season 19 and her fellow interns are all long gone for various reasons. Some of the doctors who had been at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital before her have left as well. One of the most talked-about exits was Isaiah Washington’s.

After playing Dr. Preston Burke for three seasons, Washington abruptly exited the ABC drama. Why did the actor leave, and how did his character’s arc end?

What happened with Isaiah Washington on Grey’s Anatomy?

Screenshot via ABC

In 2007, Washington was let go from Grey’s Anatomy for using a homophobic slur. According to People, T.R. Knight (who played George O’Malley), explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that Washington fought with Patrick Dempsey and used a terrible name for Knight when mentioning him. Knight said, “Everyone heard it.”

While Washington said he didn’t use a slur when talking about Knight, he later admitted it and said he was sorry. Of course, that doesn’t change the incredibly upsetting and inexcusable situation. According to People, Lynette Rice wrote about Washington being fired in her book How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy. Katherine Heigl, who left Grey’s Anatomy after six seasons of playing Izzie Stevens, spoke to Rice about supporting Knight. She said in an interview with Access Hollywood, “That did not need to be said, I’m not okay with it.”

Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes later gave a public statement that said the “use of such a disturbing word was a shocking and dismaying event.”

What was Burke’s last episode on Grey’s Anatomy?

Screenshot via ABC

Preston Burke’s character arc wrapped up in the season 3 finale of Grey’s Anatomy, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” Burke and Cristina were getting ready for their wedding day, which was a significant milestone in Cristina’s life since she was a highly independent person who likely never thought she would commit to someone else. Burke realized Cristina wasn’t ready to get married and that she had only agreed because it was what he wanted.

In one of the most attention-grabbing moments on Grey’s Anatomy (which is saying a lot considering this is a show that has seen a plane crash, a fire at the hospital, and shooter take down more than a few staff members), Burke says he isn’t going to marry Cristina after all.

This storyline ended the Burke and Cristina love story and completed Isaiah Washington’s time on Grey’s Anatomy. It also cemented Cristina and Meredith’s relationship even more, which had always been the hallmark of the TV series.

Burke returned in episode 22 of season 10, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” He gave Cristina the chance to head a research hospital in Zurich, which of course she jumped at since this was the culmination of her years of dreaming and hard work. It was complicated seeing Burke again for several reasons. While Cristina remembered their devastating canceled wedding day and realized she had moved on from him, no one could ignore the terrible behind-the-scenes story of why Burke left the show.

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