Justin Chambers portrayed Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy for 15 years, but fans were forced to say goodbye to the character after 16 seasons.
Grey’s Anatomy lost one of its original cast members in Season 16, when Justin Chambers left the series. While he was only one of several original stars to have departed the ABC medical drama (the most notable still being Patrick Dempsey, whose Dr. Derek Shepherd was killed off), Chambers had put in more than a decade of work as Dr. Alex Karev. That meant his exit was shocking to fans, especially when they were told why the actor — and the character — were leaving.
Not only was it surprising that Justin Chambers would no longer be part of the Grey’s Anatomy ensemble, the storyline chosen for Alex Karev’s departure proved to be controversial. While the series is still considered one of the best romantic dramas on network television, digging back into Alex’s past with fellow doctor Izzie Stevens was not the sendoff many viewers were expecting. So why, exactly, did Alex Karev leave Grey’s Anatomy?
Who Was Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy?
Justin Chambers played Alex Karev, the pediatrics specialist with an infamous reputation among the ladies. Alex’s original romantic partner was Izzie (played by Katherine Heigl). The two married, but the contentious relationship between the two fizzled out in Season 6. He also slept with Kate Walsh’s character, Addison Montgomery (who recently returned to Grey’s). Alex began his next serious relationship with intern Jo Wilson in Season 10, and things looked up for the character after that. However, his former flame, Izzie, ultimately changed his life.
Viewers believed Alex was happy in his married life with Jo, but he shocked them when he decided to reunite with Izzie during Season 16’s “Leave a Light On,” the series’ 350th episode (and a sign it may have overstayed its welcome). Alex called Izzie to see if she would attend Meredith’s trial for the reinstatement of her medical license, and heard two young voices in the background. It was revealed that Izzie used frozen embryos created during her cancer treatment to become pregnant, and the two children were biologically Alex’s. He left Jo and moved to Kansas to start a life with his newly discovered family.
Why Did Justin Chambers Leave Grey’s Anatomy?
Alex Karev’s sudden departure angered fans, who disliked how Grey’s Anatomy dealt with his story to accommodate Justin Chambers’ request to leave the series. They couldn’t be angry with the actor, because he was devoted to the role for 15 years. “For some time now, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices,” Chambers said in a 2020 interview with Deadline. Alex had started as a mere intern, and moved all the way up to a pediatric surgical fellow, so it’s possible Chambers felt he had taken the character as far as he could.
Although Alex moved to another state to reunite with Izzie, it’s possible he could still return to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. It likely wouldn’t be with Izzie, however, because actor Katherine Heigl has yet to reprise her role on Grey’s Anatomy, and hasn’t seemed interested in doing so. It also seems extremely unlikely now that Alex’s best friend, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), is leaving Grey’s Anatomy with the Season 19 premiere. However, should Alex Karev make a guest appearance, it’ll be interesting to see if the writers make him face his ex-wife Jo, and the aftereffects of his decision to suddenly divorce her.
Grey’s Anatomy Season 19 returns for its 19th season on Feb. 23, 2023, on ABC.