It appears the doctor hasn’t left the building just yet. Seattle-set Grey’s Anatomy will soon be seeing a familiar face in its upcoming season. Isaiah Washington, who portrayed Dr. Preston Burke for three years on the hit ABC show will return after a seven-year absence, according to an ABC spokesperson.
Appearing in only one episode, Washington was fired from the show in 2007 after rumors of both an altercation with co-star Patrick Dempsey, and of using a homophobic slur referring to cast member T.R. Knight. The culmination of rumors and speculation prompted Knight to officially announce that he was gay shortly thereafter. At the Golden Globes later that year, where the show picked up an award for best drama, Washington further fueled the flames when repeating the slur in an interview while denying he ever said it.
Months later, Washington attempted to make amends by teaming up with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) by filming a public service announcement for the advocacy group. Sources say Washington strived to tell his side of the story, but was allegedly discouraged by the network and show runner. Washington said he was “saddened by the outcome,” and hoped his efforts were not in vain.
On Grey’s Anatomy, Washington’s heart surgeon courted and became involved with co-star Sandra Oh’s beloved character Cristina Yang within the first three seasons. In his last season, Yang and Burke became engaged as the season finale appeared to build up to a wedding. However, Washington’s character was absent from the season finale, and Dr. Yang was left standing at the altar. At the very end of the episode, Yang returned to an apartment the two shared to find all off Dr. Burke’s belongings gone. Amidst the speculation, many were unsure of Washington’s or his character’s fate, until Grey’s Anatomy show runner Shonda Rhimes announced he would not be returning.
In the seven years since Washington’s departure, his character Burke has been mentioned on and off, but the actor himself never asked back. Last summer, Emmy nominee Oh announced that she would be moving on from the show, after 10 years of playing the brilliant surgeon. “It’s been a great privilege to play the character of Cristina Yang on GA and I am both sad and excited to see where this, her final season will take her,” said Oh, citing that it was both an “emotional and deeply creative decision” for her. “I feel fully supported by Shonda and the writers,” she concluded.
The relationship between characters Cristina and Preston is widely considered one of the show’s most compelling, and many fans are eager at the character’s return. Adds show creator Rhimes on Washington’s return: “It is important to me that Cristina’s journey unfolds just 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.”
After the announcement of Washington’s brief return, GLAAD praised the show and actor, remarking that his PSA and support of marriage equality since departing the show has been nothing but positive. Since his departure from Grey’s Anatomy, Washington has had guest-starring roles in a variety of shows and will return regularly this fall in the CW’s 100.
By Nathan Rohenkohl