The Drama Surrounding Isaiah Washington's Grey's Anatomy Exit Explained

Real fans know that the entire "Grey's Anatomy" timeline is nothing if not complex. This iconic series has gone through a whopping 19 seasons since it got its start nearly two decades ago in 2005. Folks who've been along for the ride know that "Grey's Anatomy" has had more than its fair share of heartbreaking moments, and it's made us tearfully say goodbye to many fan-favorite characters. One of those characters who exited the series early on was Dr. Preston Burke.

The beloved cardiothoracic surgeon left the series in Season 3's dramatic finale. When watching this episode, it's easy enough to chalk Burke's exit up to a plot choice courtesy of the writers, as was the case with many other characters who would ultimately take their leave from the show. In reality, though, the reasons behind the end of Dr. Burke's tenure on the series were much more complicated.

Isaiah Washington's behavior on set was the real reason that his character was cut from the show. Dr. Burke was written out and Washington was dropped from the cast after getting into a behind-the-scenes brawl with one of his co-stars. And, while initiating a violent skirmish with a coworker is definitely grounds for getting the boot, Washington's indiscretions allegedly went even deeper.

Inside Isaiah Washington's feud with his castmates

Fans of the early seasons of "Grey's Anatomy" know that there was a bit of a rivalry between Dr. Preston Burke, played by Isaiah Washington, and Dr. Derek Shepherd, who was played by Patrick Dempsey. It seems that life imitated art in this way, as a fight that broke out between the two in 2006 seemed that it may have been boiling for a while.

Writer, Harry Werksman's tell-all book, "How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy," recalls the moment on set that changed the course of the series' history. Per Hello!, Dempsey arrived late to set one day, which set Washington off. "I guess he felt disrespected that he and the crew had been waiting," Werkman wrote. "He went after Patrick, pushed him up against the wall, and said, 'You can't talk to me the way you talk to that little [expletive] T.R.'"

Washington used a homophobic slur to describe another cast member, T.R. Knight, who played George O'Malley. In the book, Marty Carrillo, a crew member at the time, added that Knight's sexuality wasn't a secret on set. "Isaiah just lost it and pinned Patrick up against the wall. You could see Isaiah's pupils go wide, like, 'What did I do?' It was quiet. Everyone had to leave the set." From then on, the course of "Grey's Anatomy" history was changed.

The on-set brawl caused fallout

While T.R. Knight was out as gay among those he knew, he still wanted to make a public statement in response to news breaking of his indirect involvement in the very public fight. He told People, "While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I'm gay isn't the most interesting part of me." During an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Knight explained his choice to make a public statement, per People. "Publicly it's not my thing to call up People magazine and be like, 'Hey, you want to know something about me?' ... but ... it became important to make the statement." 

As for Isaiah Washington, he released a statement apologizing: "I can neither defend nor explain my behavior." He added, "I hold his talent, and T.R. as a person, in high esteem. I know a mere apology will not end this, and I intend to let my future actions prove my sincerity." Nevertheless, Washington's character was cut from the show. Still, per Screen Rant, creator Shonda Rhimes explained that there were ultimately no hard feelings in a statement, saying, "Isaiah is a person that we all love and have loved for a very long time ... I feel very strongly and fully believe in people's ability to grow and change and learn from their mistakes and when they know better, to do better."