The cause of his departure isn't a [deep breath] train collision, ferryboat accident, shooting, psychiatric episode, homemade bomb, or unaddressed head trauma. No: Chambers, who has devoted the majority of his professional career to Grey's, explained his decision in an announcement on Friday, January 10.
“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,” Chambers told Deadline. “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.”
Shock number one: Karev, who is arguably the second most central character on Grey's—next to the eponymous Meredith Grey—will soon disappear from the show. Shock number two: Justin Chambers is 50? He has five kids? What moisturizer does he use?
In his announcement Chambers thanked show creator Shonda Rhimes and his fellow remaining original castmembers—Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson, and James Pickens—and the rest of the Grey's team. What's even more surprising is that his final episode already aired on November 14, according to TVLine. (Spoiler alert: It was revealed in the subsequent November 21 episode that Karev left Seattle to return to Iowa to care for his ailing mother.)
On January 11, Chambers's longtime co-star, Pompeo, reacted to the news by responding to a Vanity Fair tweet that read, “#GreysAnatomy is about to feel one of its biggest losses yet."
“Truer words have never been spoken @VanityFair," the actor wrote along with a broken heart emoji.
Grey's Anatomy is a high-class soap opera—a glossy fantasy that delights in making us salivate over abs and weep until we're nauseous within the same 40-minute block. The character of Alex Karev—the angry, sometimes cruel child of an addict father and schizophrenic mother, who grew up to be an exceptionally compassionate pediatric surgeon—is the best of that. In him, viewers have watched a person be redeemed. Albeit in the form of a conventionally hot white man, we have joined a character on the odyssey of becoming a better person. We have seen him renounce sexism and violence and isolation.
For all his model looks and talent for making the word frickin sound organic, he's been the ideal male sidekick to protagonist Meredith Grey (Pompeo) for 15 years. Their decades-long friendship, built on their mutual instinct for survival at all costs, made them demand better from each other. Karev moved away from picking on people who were smaller than him and devoted himself to saving children's lives. He became the ethical heart of the show. He stopped being angry, and started choosing love.
So how did his story end? Midway through the 16th season, Karev is married, happy, and a professional phenom. His demons haven't disappeared, but they no longer control him. Maybe Chambers is right: Maybe he and Rhimes took Alex Karev exactly where he needed to go. Karev—perpetually tan, often grinning, moved to anger by injustice, soft with children, loyal to the end—is, after all, a fictional character. And don't we want a Good Guy (not a Nice Guy, but a really, deeply I-did-the-work-and-grew-and-survived Good Guy) to have a happy ending?
If you've watched all or just part of Grey's Anatomy, chances are it's been with you longer than homes, certain pets, close friends, and full chunks of your life, like high school and college. You can't count the times you cried or gasped or ran to pee during commercial breaks. You said goodbye to other original stars, like Sandra Oh, Patrick Dempsey, and Sara Ramirez. Alex Karev just seemed like he would always be around. But if Grey's Anatomy has taught us anything, it's to not expect anything you love to stay the same. And also, to wear waterproof mascara.
Good luck, Justin Chambers—and goodbye, Alex Karev. It's been a pleasure.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. Follow her on Twitter @JeanValjenny.
Originally Appeared on Glamour