'Grey's Anatomy': Jesse Williams Leaving After Season 17

Another Grey’s Anatomy shocker: Jesse Williams will be leaving the series after the end of season 17, ET has confirmed.

Williams, who has played Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC’s long-running medical drama for nearly 12 seasons and over 250 episodes, was first introduced midway through the sixth season. His exit is revealed at the end of Thursday’s episode, which brought back former series regular Sarah Drew as April Kepner to tie up loose ends and give Jackson a “satisfying” farewell.

Williams’ final episode, “Tradition,” will air May 20.

“Jesse Williams is an extraordinary artist and activist. Watching his evolution these past 11 years both on screen and off has been a true gift,” said Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff in a statement to ET. “Jesse brings so much heart, such depth of care, and so much intelligence to his work. We will miss Jesse terribly and we will miss Jackson Avery — played to perfection for so many years.”

“I will forever be grateful for the boundless opportunities provided me by Shonda, the network, studio, fellow cast mates, our incredible crew, Krista, Ellen [Pompeo] and Debbie [Allen]. As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds,” Williams said in a statement to ET. “The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I’ll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies and dear friends.”

Deadline first reported the news of Williams’ exit. 

Since the 39-year-old actor joined Grey’s, Williams has branched out from working in front of the camera to directing and has expanded his role as a producer. Williams has helmed three episodes of Grey’s, as well as an episode of freshman Thursday night drama, Rebel. He helped produce the Academy Award-winning short, Two Distant Strangers, which took home the Oscar for Live Action Short Film this year.

In February, Williams was adamant that Grey’s cannot end its historic run “without a damn parade.”

“The show is too important to go out without a damn parade,” he said at the time, acknowledging to ET’s Katie Krause that putting out a season with the added stressors of the pandemic doesn’t afford for an ideal swan song. “Without us really knowing and having a real finale season where these writers are so overworked and depressed and in a rat race to try and get material out without all this uncertainty, that’s not the ideal scenario.”

“I think they, and all of us, kind of deserve to have the time and space to map out how to end,” Williams noted. “It’s just a flattering way of saying I hope not.”

He also hinted at Thursday’s blast from the past during his chat earlier this year, saying he’d like to explore Jackson’s relationship with his estranged father, played by Eric Roberts. 

“I’d love to learn more about his father. What it is to live without having your dad bail on you and without that level of parenting in your life and what it does to you,” Williams said. “I think kind of completing the loop. It did feel like it met some resolution but these are things — I learned the more therapy you’re in the more you learned how your parents impacted you and there’s a lot to unpack there in terms of how it’s impacted his sense of identity and motivation and self-esteem. And it was really great to work with Eric Roberts; a hell of a person and an actor. I’d love to see him and my mom, to do a little more of that because there’s personal stuff as actors you want to get on the inside and work your way out and a lot of times our material reveals something that lies inside but it’s also really fun for us all to get in the heart of the matter.”

Williams is the latest Grey’s star to depart this season, following Giacomo Gianniotti’s exit in the spring premiere following his character’s heartbreaking death. 

Grey’s Anatomyairs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. For more, watch below.

Sarah Drew Says Returning to 'Grey's Anatomy' Was the 'Most Delightful Homecoming Ever' (Exclusive)

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