Months of speculation over the fate of Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington came to an end Thursday night when TVGuide.com’s Michael Ausiello announced his sources had informed him that Washington would not be invited back when the show returns to the air in September.
Calls by Ausiello to Howard Bragman, Washington’s high-powered publicist, confirmed that the actor had received a call on Thursday telling him he was off the show. An ABC publicist further confirmed the network had declined to pick up Washington’s option for his role as Preston Burke, but would not specify a reason the network had done so. An Entertainment Weekly reporter reached Washington last night at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood, but the actor refused comment and has yet do so.
The news is gratifying for many in the gay community who had long felt ABC and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes had not handled the situation in an appropriate manner. Shortly after the initial incident, AfterElton.com called for Washington to be terminated, as did writer, director, producer, and Director’s Guild of America Vice President Paris Barclay in January.
The actor’s problems began last October on the set of Grey’s Anatomy when, according to The National Enquirer, Washington had assaulted fellow cast member Patrick Dempsey. Shortly afterwards, reports started to circulate that during the fight, Washington grabbed Dempsey by the throat and said, “I’m not your little faggot like T.R. [Knight].”
Those initial reports didn’t name Knight, but speculation quickly settled on the soft-spoken actor who plays Seattle Grace intern George O’Malley. Neither ABC nor series creator Shonda Rhimes addressed the situation publicly (and Rhimes still hasn’t spoken out on the matter), and word was that the issue was being dealt with “internally”.
While ABC had nothing to say publicly (until finally issuing a statement on January 18th), Washington’s publicist at the time issued a statement after the fight saying, “Differences are inevitable. They were aired, resolved, and everyone has moved on.” Dempsey’s spokeswoman added, “There was an argument on set. In any close knit family, sometimes people argue. But everybody made up and went back to work.”
Nonetheless, on October 19th, Knight released a statement to People Magazine saying, “I guess there have been a few questions about my sexuality, and I’d like to keep quiet any unnecessary rumors about sexuality. While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I’m gay isn’t the most interesting part of me.”
No public action was taken against Washington, angering many gay groups that argued there was a double-standard in society involving the use of anti-gay slurs. The actor did finally release an apology saying “I sincerely regret my actions and the unfortunate use of words…I have nothing but respect for my co-workers…and have apologized.”
The issue appeared to have died down until this year’s Golden Globes in January when a reporter asked Rhimes a question backstage after the Grey’s cast had won a Golden Globe for Best Drama. Instead of allowing Rhimes to answer the question, Washington seized the microphone and said, “No, I did not call T.R. [Knight] a faggot. It did not happen.”
His statement appeared to directly contradict the apology he had issued the previous October. Rhimes further angered many in the gay community when during the same press conference she added, “I think the best statement is just that things were created in a very odd way by the press that were not necessarily completely reported as true.”
ABC’s decision to release Washington would appear to stand in stark contrast to that statement.
After the Golden Globes incident, another Grey’s star—Katherine Heigl—felt compelled to tell Access Hollywood “I’m going to be really honest right now, he [Washington] needs to not speak in public. Period. I’m sorry, that did not need to be said. I’m not okay with it.”
Shortly thereafter, Knight himself spoke publicly about the incident for the first time. He went on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show where he said in no uncertain terms that Washington had in fact used the anti-gay slur. Said Knight, “It’s an awesome word, isn’t it.”
After Knight spoke out, The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation weighed in saying, “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.” (The week after the Grey’s finale last month, a public service announcement made by the actor finally aired.)
TVGuide.com’s Michael Ausiello added, “His [Washington’s] continued employment on a show that wears its diversity as a badge of honor is the height of hypocrisy. If ABC wants to be remotely true to the principles Shonda Rhimes so eloquently espouses through the show, it has to do the right thing and fire Washington. Anything else at this point is simply unacceptable.”
Many in the gay community were again angered in March of this year when Washington not only received an NAACP Image Award, but received a standing ovation from many in the crowd.
Nonetheless, Washington kept his role on the hit drama and speculation swirled that it might be Knight who would end up leaving the show. Just last month Knight told Access Hollywood he wasn’t certain if he’d be back. Said Knight, “I literally don’t know. It would be nice to know if I’m supposed to report back.”
That question was finally put to rest just this week when Knight’s option was picked up and he was given a raise to approximately $125,000 per episode, as well as a share of the show’s profits.
As for Washington, his future is in question. The actor already had a reputation as being volatile, and it is uncertain how reluctant other producers and writers will be to take a chance on such a tarnished and controversial figure. As of today, IMDB.com lists only one movie—The Least of These—a thriller about a priest, played by Washington, is caught up in a sexual abuse scandal.