‘Grey’s Anatomy’: This 1 Major Character Wouldn’t Be on the Show If It Wasn’t for George O’ Malley

Although Grey’s Anatomy fans only had their beloved George O’ Malley (T. R. Knight) for five seasons, he’s one character viewers will never forget. If it weren’t for his shy personality, another major character — which lasted much longer — wouldn’t even be on the show. 

'Grey's Anatomy' cast January 2009
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ cast from January 2009 | Bob D’Amico/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Why did George O’ Malley leave ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Fans will never forget the tragic death of George O’Malley. He had left the hospital to join the army but gets hit by a bus while saving someone. The young man is rushed to the hospital, but his fellow residents can’t tell it’s him until it’s too late. O’ Malley draws the numbers “007” in Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) hand, and that’s when she realizes her John Doe is George. 

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While his on-screen death was one of the saddest on the show, the reason why T. R. Knight left is more complicated. In 2007, the actor’s co-star Isaiah Washington, who played Preston Burke, reportedly referred to Knight with a homophobic slur. Washington was fired soon after, but Knight could never get past the incident, forcing him to come out as gay publicly.

He also cited a “breakdown in communication” with creator Shonda Rhimes and his character’s decreased screen time as the reasons he left.

Without George O’ Malley, fans would never have Alex Karev

Justin Chambers, who portrayed Alex Karev for 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, was not in the show’s original pilot. After shooting the initial episode, the writers felt that George O’ Malley needed a male character to play opposite him. George was so shy and kind that they needed someone to balance him out. 

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Got to meet the fantastic @thesarahdrew and see my pal Peebers (who you know as @officialjustinchambers) at The Rape Foundation benefit this past Sunday. (Link in bio) #Repost @thesarahdrew with @get_repost ・・・ On Sunday, I attended #therapefoundation annual brunch. It was a deeply moving experience. The founder of this incredible organization, #GailAbarbanel (5th pic) invited me to come to surprise one of the three courageous survivors who told her story. I was absolutely blown away by the courage and the resiliance of the three survivors who shared their stories on Sunday. I think storytelling is a powerful tool for creating empathy, building bridges, educating and igniting activism. These three survivors are all simply amazing. The statistics surrounding sexual assault are staggering. 1 in 5 women are victims of rape. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. This is a horrific epidemic. The #Rapetreatmentcenter and #stuarthouse are both places to go where every need is met for victims of sexual assault completely free of charge. I am amazed by the work they are doing and was honored to have had the chance to participate in this fundraising event. I also had the chance to hang with @t.r.knight (who is just so wonderful) and my dear friend @officialjustinchambers . And it was beautiful to hear from @jennifer.garner Who was being honored as well.

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That’s when the character of Alex Karev was created. Instead of filming the entire pilot over again, the producers used CGI to add him in. Although it wasn’t evident to fans who watched the show in 2005, looking back on old episodes, viewers can tell something odd is going on.

A whole new scene was filmed with Meredith and Alex, but otherwise, the magic of CGI brought him to life in the pilot. 

Why did Justin Chambers leave ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in season 16? 

For fans of the show, the departure of Alex Karev was confusing. He left to take care of his mother in Iowa and never came back. Then reports of Chambers exit began flying around in January 2020. However, when the show came back from winter break on Jan. 23, 2020, there was no mention of Karev’s departure. 

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On March 5, 2020, fans finally got closure for Alex’s storyline. He found out that he had two children with his ex-wife Izzie Stevens, and left Seattle, Washington, to be with them. 

Chambers cited the reason for his departure as wanting to branch out into different avenues and spend more time with his family. 

“There’s no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that’s defined so much of my life for the past 15 years,” Chambers shared. “For some time now, however, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices. And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time.”