Isaiah Washington Is Retiring From Acting, And It Sounds Like He Blames Grey's Anatomy Fans

Isaiah Washington as Preston Burke on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: Netflix)

Longtime fans of Grey’s Anatomy may remember the drama that plagued the series in its early seasons, making it what Ellen Pompeo has called a “toxic work environment.” Amongst the show’s biggest issues was behind-the-scenes tension among the cast members, with one situation involving Isaiah Washington using a homophobic slur ultimately leading to his exit from Grey’s Anatomy. More than 15 years later, the actor has announced his retirement from acting, and it sounds like continued hate from the ABC medical drama’s fans might be the cause.

Isaiah Washington continued to add dozens of acting credits to his resume after leaving Grey’s Anatomy in 2007 at the end of Season 3, including the role of Thelonious Jaha on The 100 and hosting a travel and cooking show, Isaiah Washington: Kitchen Talk, on Fox Nation. But perhaps the role of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Preston Burke never actually left him, or at least the fallout from his actions on set back in the aughts. The actor said in a statement on Twitter

It is with a heavy heart and a sense of relief that I am announcing my early retirement from the entertainment industry today. Those who have been Following/Witnessing my journey here on Twatter since 2011 all know that I have fought the good fight, but it seems that the haters, provocateurs and the Useful Idiots have won. I’m no longer interested in the back and forth regarding a ‘color construct’ that keeps us human beings divided nor am I interested in politics or anything vitriolic.

He didn’t call out Grey’s Anatomy specifically, but his saying that the “haters” and “provocateurs” have won certainly seems to be a reference to the backlash Isaiah Washington received after he used a homophobic slur in association with his then-co-star T.R. Knight during a 2006 argument with Patrick Dempsey. Washington issued an apology that might have been the end of it, if he hadn’t then joked about the incident at the 2007 Golden Globes. 

That commenced a public feud with Katherine Heigl (who herself had a turbulent relationship with Grey’s Anatomy and Shonda Rhimes), who responded to the joke by saying that Isaiah Washington “needs to just not speak in public, period.” Even years later, those words proved to have had an effect on Washington, as he called out the actress all over again in 2020, recalling how the world came “for my job and my head” in the aftermath, and he vowed to “NEVER stop exercising my free speech.”

While there’s no love lost between Isaiah Washington and Katherine Heigl, the actor did return to Grey’s Anatomy in Season 10 — years after the Izzie Stevens portrayer left the show in Season 6. Dr. Burke appeared in one 2014 episode, playing a pivotal role in his ex-fiancée Cristina Yang’s move to Zurich, which served as the reason for actress Sandra Oh’s exit. 

You can read Isaiah Washington’s full retirement announcement below:

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Isaiah Washington made his writing and directorial debut in 2022’s Corsicana, which he also starred in, and the actor said it looks like his role as Bass Reeves in the Western thriller might be the last time we see him on screen. 

Corsicana is available to rent or buy on services including Amazon and YouTube, and new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy — now in its 19th season — air at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on ABC. You can rewatch the first 18 seasons, including Isaiah Washington's eposides, with a Netflix subscription.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.