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The Reason Justin Chambers Left Grey's Anatomy

"Grey's Anatomy" has been on the air since 2005, and throughout its record-breaking run, actors have come and gone. Sandra Oh played Cristina Yang for a whopping 10 seasons before the character moved to Zurich, and Oh moved on to other projects. Even Ellen Pompeo, who plays the title character Meredith Grey, officially left the series in February, though she still provides the show's voiceovers and serves as an executive producer. So what about Justin Chambers, who played Alex Karev from the show's first episode?

Chambers — whose character was belatedly added to the pilot when the creative team realized the core group of surgical needed a "bad boy" — spent 15 years and 16 seasons on "Grey's Anatomy" before abruptly leaving the show in early 2020. His final appearance in the November 2019 episode "My Shot" didn't indicate for even a second that Alex's storyline was ending ... so what exactly happened here? Why did Justin Chambers leave the show, and how did the series write off a character as essential and beloved as Alex Karev?

Why did Justin Chambers leave Grey's?

After appearing in Season 16, Episode 8 in late 2019, Justin Chambers officially revealed he was leaving "Grey's Anatomy" at the start of 2020. In a statement obtained by Deadline at the time, Chambers said, "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. 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."

Chambers also thanked the show's creator and his co-stars, especially the ones who, like him, were a part of "Grey's Anatomy" from the very beginning: "As I move on from 'Grey's Anatomy,' I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rimes, original cast members Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, and the rest of the amazing cast and crew, both past and present, and, of course, the fans for an extraordinary ride."

It's a pretty boilerplate statement for a star leaving a series that made them famous, and it's perfectly understandable Chambers would want to step away from "Grey's Anatomy" after so long. The way the show wrote Alex Karev off, though, left a lot to be desired.

What happened to Alex Karev?

After nearly 16 full seasons on "Grey's Anatomy," Alex Karev just disappeared into thin air. As we mentioned, he last appears in the show's landmark 350th episode, "My Shot," in November 2019, helping defend Meredith as she argues to keep her medical license after technically committing insurance fraud (it's a long story). Everything seems perfectly normal with Alex, which makes it all the more bizarre when his absence is addressed in the Season 16 episode "Leave a Light On."

Aside from flashbacks, Justin Chambers doesn't even physically appear in the episode — he's only heard in voiceover as Meredith and Alex's wife, Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), open letters he's left for them explaining where he's gone. It's then revealed that Alex has left his entire life and career behind to reunite with his ex-wife Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), only seen in archival footage ... because Izzie froze fertilized embryos when they were together and ended up having two children on her own. When Alex learns this, he divorces Jo, gives her his shares of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, and runs away to a farm in Kansas to be with Izzie.

Then-showrunner Krista Vernoff addressed Chambers' abrupt exit before the episode aired, telling Variety it was difficult to figure out a way to write off Alex with such little notice but that she felt they did their best: "Then Alex went and discovered this other thing, and he couldn't leave. And that felt true. And it felt fair. And it felt OK to our writers, who also grew up with these characters. These people are real to us, too. And that, that felt like the way we could say goodbye to Alex."

Will Justin Chambers ever appear on Grey's Anatomy again?

Probably not, but fans can hold out hope if they want ... and Justin Chambers gave them an ounce of hope with an Instagram post in January. Chambers posted a snap of a coffee cup adorned with a "Grey's Anatomy" sleeve featuring fellow original cast members Ellen Pompeo, James Pickens Jr., and Chandra Wilson, alongside the caption "A fresh cup of Greys" — and fans reacted exactly as you might expect.

In the comments section, there was a bit of a frenzy, with Instagram user @harleigh.ellison asking, "What do [I] have to do to get you back on my screen again[?]" @hallietherese agreed, saying, "I'll take this as a hint that you're coming back to us. Great, thanks!" @maiissyyyx was a lot more direct, though: "If you're not coming back delete this. Don't get our hopes up."

Chambers did not delete this, and according to TVLine, he's not returning to "Grey's Anatomy" any time soon. The outlet said a source told them that "there's no truth to the rumor," and honestly, that's probably for the best. Without Alex's on-screen bestie Meredith as a series regular, it would be strange for him to come back — and it would only traumatize poor Jo, who's grieved the loss of her marriage on-screen for quite some time.

What Justin Chambers is up to today

Aside from starting rumors with conspicuous coffee cups, Justin Chambers has been mostly dormant since leaving the show — which makes sense, considering he said he wanted to step away to spend more time with his family. He scored one high-profile post-"Grey's" role, though, on the Paramount+ miniseries "The Offer."

"The Offer" chronicles the process of making Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece, "The Godfather," and Chambers appeared alongside actors like Juno Temple, Miles Teller, and Colin Hanks. Chambers wasn't a series regular, but he did play a pivotal role. He portrayed "Godfather" star Marlon Brando in four of the series' 10 episodes. Though the series mainly focuses on struggling producer Albert E. Ruddy's (Teller) rise to prominence and struggle to get the film made in the first place, Chambers is an integral part of the story, and his uncanny resemblance to the acting legend only bolsters his solid performance.

"The Offer" is available on Paramount+, and if you want to relive Chambers' glory on "Grey's Anatomy," that's available on both Netflix and Hulu.