Remember when Isaiah Washington, who played Dr. Preston Burke on Grey’s Anatomy for three years, was unceremoniously shown the door from Seattle Grace for using homophobic slurs in reference to co-star T.R. Knight? Now he’s coming back.
So what happened? Washington reportedly first used a gay slur on set in October 2006 during a fight with co-star Patrick Dempsey, during which Washington reportedly told Dempsey, “I’m not your little faggot like T.R. [Knight].” As reports of the incident began to spread in the media, Knight was actually forced to come out of the closet. Washington’s actions angered many gay groups, and he released a public apology after Knight came out October 19 stating “I sincerely regret my actions and the unfortunate use of words...I have nothing but respect for my co-workers.” After the initial incident, things calmed down until the 2007 Golden Globe Awards.
Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes was being interviewed backstage after the show had received the award of Best Drama. Instead of giving Rimes the opportunity to answer a question, he took the microphone and told the reporter “No, I did not call T. R. [Knight] a faggot. It did not happen.” Which, needless to say, completely contradicts the public apology he made.
Knight went on The Ellen Show not long after and confirmed that what Washington initially said was true, and there was an uproar from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. They stated, “When Isaiah Washington uses this kind of anti-gay slur—whether on-set or in front of the press—it does more than create a hostile environment for his cast mates and the crew of Grey's Anatomy. It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm's way.”
Washington wasn’t invited to return at the end of the 2007 season.
His return will go coincide with Sandra Oh’s character Dr. Yang’s leaving in May. Perhaps anticipating the stir that Washington’s return, after such a tumultuous exit, would cause, Rhimes released a statement explaining the homecoming: “It’s important to me that Cristina’s journey unfolds exactly as it should. Burke is vital to that journey — he gives her story that full-circle moment we need to properly say goodbye to our beloved Cristina Yang.”
How awkward will Washington’s return be? See how it ranks against these other examples of actors returning to shows years after unceremonious exits. Some quit. Some were fired. All likely had some uncomfortable small talk to make at the water cooler when they got back.
Shelley Long, Cheers
Shelley Long left Cheers on a high note after winning awards, in search of a film career. Rumors were flying about tensions between her and her castmates. She returned in 1993 for the series finale, along with making some appearances on Frasier.
Mackenzie Phillips, One Day at a Time
Mackenzie Phillips of the Golden Globe-winning show One Day at a Time was fired from the show after the second season. She often had poor public behavior, as she would get drunk and was caught with cocaine. Once it turned into her missing rehearsals and tapings, she was given the pink slip after the show’s fifth season. Phillips did return to the show two seasons later, but was fired in the ninth season after collapsing onset.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Dancing With the Stars
Dancing with the Stars’s Maksim Chmerkovskiy left the show after 15 seasons to “explore other opportunities.” There were some speculation that he left on less than amicable terms, especially after one of his dance partners, Hope Solo claimed Chmerkovskiy “manhandled me in rehearsals from the start, pushing me, whacking my stomach, bending my arms roughly.” As of last week, Chmerkovskiy is returning to the show to be dance partners with the Olympic dancer Meryl Davis.
Lisa Bonet, The Cosby Show
Lisa Bonet, who played Denise Huxtable, left the series in 1987 for a spin off, A Different World, which focused on her character’s college years. She did reprise her role on The Cosby Show a year later. Unfortunately, she was fired off of both shows in 1991 due to creative differences. Bonet had often clashed with creator Bill Cosby and was unprofessional backstage.
Sherry Stringfield, ER
Stringfield threw ER’s creative team for a loop when she departed in year three of a five-year contract in 1996. The medical drama lived on long after, however, and Stringfield returned as a series regular from 2001-2005 and again for a guest arc in the series’ final season.
Dan Harmon, Community
Dan Harmon, the creator of Community credited with breathing the quirky life into the NBC sitcom, was fired in 2012, reportedly for his outspoken behavior. When the show returned to NBC this year, however, Harmon was back in his former role as showrunner.