Grey’s Anatomy

Why Justin Chambers Left Grey’s Anatomy

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 Alex Karev — were leaving.

Not only was it surprising that Justin Chambers would no longer be part of the Grey’s Anatomy ensemble, but the storyline chosen for Alex Karev’s departure also 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 Justin Chambers leave Grey’s Anatomy?

Updated by Jordan Iacobucci on January 2, 2024: Grey’s Anatomy is officially returning in March for its twentieth season, which will mark the show’s first season without Meredith Grey. However, Meredith is far from the first main character to leave the series. In fact, one of the most heartbreaking departures is also one of the most controversial. What happened to Justin Chambers’s Alex Karev, and why did he leave Grey’s Anatomy?

Who Was Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy?

  • Dr. Alex Karev makes his first appearance in the series premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, “A Hard Day’s Night.”
  • Alex Karev’s final appearance in Grey’s Anatomy comes in the Season 16 episode “Leave a Light On.”
  • Justin Chambers appears in 358 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy over the course of sixteen seasons.
  • Justin Chambers played Alex Karev, who initially had an infamous reputation among the ladies — not everyone could be as endearing as BokHee. His snarky attitude and superiority complex made it hard to root for him in the early days, especially when it came to his subpar treatment of fellow intern Izzie Stevens. But as he opened up more about his upbringing to his co-workers, a softer side of Alex started to unveil itself.

    Alex was born to a father who was dependent on heroin and a mother who had mental health problems. Alex went through 17 foster families in his youth, being separated from his younger siblings. When they were a little older, his brother, Aaron, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and tried to kill their sister. As the oldest of the bunch, Alex was left to take care of them and his mother while neglecting himself.

    It was surprising when Alex started showing interest in pediatrics since he showed poor bedside manners and was lacking in grace and perkiness compared to Arizona Robbins. His paternal side showed as he worked under Arizona, however. Moreover, Dr. Addison Montgomery helped lay the groundwork for Alex’s change by showing him the importance of investing in patients. Both women turned a taunting, careless resident into the Head of Pediatrics who respected his colleagues, and he became one of the best characters for it. When the rest of the interns slowly departed from the show, it eventually was just Meredith and Alex. The two became best friends, and Alex became Meredith’s “person” after Cristina left.

    Alex’s Romantic Past Led to a Rocky Ending

    Alex argues with Meredith on Grey's Anatomy

    Alex’s original romantic partner was Izzie (played by Katherine Heigl). They initially didn’t get along, especially after he taunted her about her side work as a lingerie model, which helped fund her medical school tuition. After realizing that the way he treated her was wrong, however, Justin told her about how his father was a heroin addict and he went to school on a wrestling scholarship. After opening up to each other, Alex and Izzie slowly began developing feelings — even if their relationship involved pursuing other people.

    The two married after Izzie was diagnosed with a brain tumor and didn’t believe she would live very long. She survived, 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 Anatomy in Seasons 18 and 19). Alex began his next serious relationship with intern Jo Wilson in Season 10, and things looked up for the character after that. He slowly began to prove himself to be one of the best characters in Grey’s Anatomy. 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. 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?

    Justin Chambers as Alex Karev on Grey's Anatomy
    • According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Justin Chambers has 27 acting credits for his work in television and film.
    • Justin Chambers’s highest-rated project on Rotten Tomatoes is 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, with a 100% Freshness rating. He voices Barry Allen, aka the Flash, in the animated film.
    • Justin Chambers’s lowest-rated project on Rotten Tomatoes is 2001’s The Musketeer, with an 11% Freshness rating. He plays D’Artagnan in the film.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 DeadlineAlex 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 in Season 16, 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) left Grey’s Anatomy in Season 19. 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.

      Since leaving Grey’s Anatomy, however, Justin Chambers has appeared in several other projects that show he no longer needs to return to the series in order to have a viable acting career. Most notably, he appeared in the 2022 miniseries The Offer, which depicted the making of the classic mobster film The Godfather. Chambers portrays legendary actor Marlon Brando in the series, which shows how he was cast in the iconic role of Vito Corleone. Therefore, although audiences would love to see Chambers return to Grey’s Anatomy, he may be more interested in pursuing other projects for the time being.

      Grey’s Anatomy Season 19 is available to stream on Netflix and Hulu. The series has been renewed for Season 20.

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