Why Patrick Dempsey Left Grey's Anatomy

Even those who've never watched more than a few minutes of Grey's Anatomy likely know of the nickname "McDreamy." Patrick Dempsey's Dr. Derek Shepherd was known for both his brilliance and his appearance -- when it comes to medical dramas, most doctors are typically both smart and pretty, rarely one or the other. Also the love interest of Ellen Pompeo's iconic Meredith Grey, both Derek and Dempsey quickly rose to popularity and have largely stayed there, even after Dempsey's sudden departure from the series in 2014.

Until recently, there haven't been many clear potential explanations for Dempsey's sudden removal from Grey's Anatomy. But it's been nearly a decade since everything went down, and over time more cast and crew members -- and even Dempsey himself -- have opened up about what happened.

RELATED: The Saddest Grey's Anatomy Theory Is Too Heartbreaking to Be True (Hopefully)

Who Was Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy?

From the very first scene of the premiere episode of Grey's Anatomy in 2005, Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd was an iconic staple in the medical drama landscape. "McDreamy" was Meredith Grey's forbidden love interest -- an attending surgeon to her first-year resident status. This became even more of a dramatic attraction when it was revealed that Derek was still married despite his intensifying relationship with Grey.

Over the 11 seasons that followed, Derek and Meredith's relationship progressed into an unbreakable romantic partnership. They had two kids together. They made promises both intended to keep. Their relationship had its ups and downs -- it's not called a medical "drama" for nothing, after all. But their mutual love endured all the way to its heartbreaking end.

RELATED: Grey's Anatomy: Why Sandra Oh's Cristina Yang Left the Series

Why Did Patrick Dempsey Leave Grey's Anatomy?

Toward the end of Grey's Anatomy Season 11, fans were shocked to the point of despair when Derek was involved in an accident that left him brain-dead. Meredith made the painful decision to let him go, and it was soon revealed that she was left a widow and a mother of two... with one more on the way.

While the end to Derek's story is clear and unquestionable, the alleged reasons behind Dempsey's departure from the series are complicated. According to Vanity Fair, reports from producers and others who worked with him on the show suggest that he became nearly impossible to work with during later seasons due to scheduling issues.

Dempsey later explained that filming for a show like Grey's took a major toll on him over time. "It’s 10 months, 15 hours a day. You never know your schedule," he said, "so your kid asks you, ‘What are you doing on Monday?’ And you go, ‘I don’t know,’ because I don’t know my schedule." After over a decade, Dempsey departed from the main cast and was never expected to make a return. Then, 2020 turned everyone's expectations upside-down.

RELATED: Supergirl Star's Grey's Anatomy Return Was Limited by COVID Restrictions

How Did Derek Shepherd Return to Grey's Anatomy?

Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy focused heavily on the show's characters dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. These episodes showed audiences what it was like dealing with the crisis from the point of view of medical professionals, but also spent time allowing Meredith to confront people from her past while in a coma caused by complications from the virus.

One of the people she confronted while asleep was Derek Shepherd. The two had multiple conversations throughout the season about their kids and what it was like for Meredith to continue going on without him. Toward the end of the season, he was the one who convinced Meredith not to give up on living and emerge from her coma.

RELATED: Grey's Anatomy Showrunner Has New Ending Ideas Every Year

Despite rumors of past drama between Dempsey, Pompeo and other cast and crew members associated with the series, Dempsey seemed to have few reservations about briefly returning to the series. In fact, the actor told Variety that his return was meant to give fans hope in the middle of a global crisis:

“I thought it was a beautiful way to close it. The intention was to really give people some hope because they are such an iconic couple. We’ve lost so many people this year, the thought that we’d have angels hovering around us taking care of us is a good message to send out in such a bleak world that we’re living in. So for all of us, it was a beautiful ending to this story."

Whether or not this was the last viewers will see of Derek Shepherd still may be up in the air, too. When asked if there is a chance his character could return to Grey's again, Dempsey gave the answer so many before him have given when presented with a similar question: "Who knows? Never say never with this show, right?"

New episodes of Grey's Anatomy premiere Thursdays at 9 PM ET on ABC and can be streamed the following day on Hulu.

KEEP READING: Grey's Anatomy: Isaiah Washington Alleges Patrick Dempsey Used Racist Rhetoric On Set

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Meg Dowell (10 Articles Published)

Meg Dowell is a Features Writer at CBR covering all things television (and often, but not always, Star Wars). She has worked as a writer and editor for over a decade and oversees news and collections at Youtini.com. You can find more of her nerdy brain-thoughts on Dork Side of the Force. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDowell.

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