‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why Patrick Dempsey Described Filming Derek’s Death as ‘Just Another Work Day’

Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 recently brought back Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd. Although Derek died in season 11, he reunited with his wife, Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), on what fans describe as a “death beach.” While on the beach, Meredith is fighting for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. In 2015, Dempsey left Grey’s. The Enchanted star gave an inside look on his last day on the show’s set. 

Patrick Dempsey during a scene of 'Grey's Anatomy' as Derek Shepherd.
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ alum Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd|Kelsey McNeal/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

What episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ does Derek (Patrick Dempsey) die? 

Dempsey joined Grey’s Anatomy in season one. When the show premiered in 2005, fans met Dr. Derek Shepherd as Meredith’s one-night stand-turned-boss. As the first season progressed, viewers learned that McDreamy was married to Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) before he met Meredith. However, he ultimately chose Meredith after being in the middle of a love triangle in season 2. 

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Despite their messy start, Meredith and Derek got married in season 5.  The couple wrote vows on a Post-It note to confirm their nuptials. Throughout the marriage, the doctors had three children- Zola, Bailey, and Ellis

During season 11 of Grey’s, Dempsey was noticeably absent from six of 24 episodes. Ultimately, Shonda Rhimes announced that Dempsey would no longer be on the show. After almost a decade in the medical drama, Derek died in Season 11, Episode 21, “How to Save a Life.” 

“I never imagined saying goodbye to our ‘McDreamy,”’ Rhimes wrote in a statement to EW. “Then again, none of us here at Grey’s Anatomy imagined any of the many journeys this show has taken us on. Now, Meredith and I are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life.”

Derek actor Patrick Dempsey had a ‘very quiet’ last day as a ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ series regular

Although some fans suspected that Derek was leaving Grey’s Anatomy, his death in season 11 was something many viewers didn’t see coming. In the episode, Derek manages to save several lives after he was involved in a car crash. After ensuring that they made it to the hospital safely, the neurosurgeon’s car got hit by an incoming tow truck. Derek was then rushed to a hospital miles away from Grey Sloan Memorial. Due to the doctors’ decision not to get a CT scan, Derek died of brain damage. 

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While Meredith’s husband’s death shocked multiple fans, Dempsey said shooting Derek’s final scenes was uneventful. The Can’t Buy Me Love star said in the same EW interview that his last day at work wasn’t much different from “just another work day” on the Grey’s set. 

“It was very quiet,” Dempsey said of his exit

“It was very poetic,” the actor continued. “I got in my car, got in rush-hour traffic, and two hours later, I was home.”

Why the ‘Grey’s’ alum said working on the show is ‘challenging’

When Dempsey left Grey’s Anatomy, fans of the show mourned his character. Several supporters didn’t think the show would last long without the Meredith and Derek love story. In 2020, Pompeo admitted that she felt like she needed to prove to Grey’s watchers that the series could thrive despite McDreamy’s exit. The show has now been on for six additional seasons since Derek’s death. 

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In 2015, Dempsey opened up about why he decided to leave Grey’s. The actor said the show’s “challenging” hours often kept him away from his wife, Jillian Fink, and their three children. He also noted that leaving the ABC drama allowed him to focus on other films and his racing career. After Grey’s, he appeared in The Limit for SundanceTV. 

“I’m focusing now on developing and racing and being a father to my children,” Dempsey said. “Those are my priorities.” As for acting, “I would commit to a show that is 10 to 12 episodes, but 24 again…I don’t know if I would do that. It’s a very hard life. It’s financially rewarding, but there comes the point where, how much is enough, really?”