But return he did in the closing moments of the two-hour Season 17 premiere, which saw Ellen Pompeo reuniting with her long-deceased onscreen husband in her dreams (at least it’s not a ghost, OK?) after collapsing.
On the heels of his appearance, many fans have been left wondering if Katherine Heigl might finally get her own swan song considering her rather abrupt departure from the show amid friction with creator Shonda Rhimes.
But, it turns out showrunner Krista Vernoff already penned a goodbye episode centered on Heigl’s character, Izzie Stevens, years ago that would have wrapped up her fan-favorite love story with Alex Karev (Justin Chambers).
In a Los Angeles Times interview published last week, Vernoff claimed that Heigl never showed up for filming.
“We had planned to have her come back for an episode to really properly tie up Izzie and Alex,” Vernoff told the outlet. “I wrote that episode, and it was beautiful. The day before it was supposed to start prepping or shooting, I can’t remember, we got a call that Katie wasn’t coming. Just wasn’t coming. Wasn’t going to do it.”
“I don’t know what was happening in her life,” Vernoff added. “I don’t know what led to that decision. All I know is that the night before a thing is supposed to start shooting that is entirely centered on one character and the completion of her story arc, I got a phone call that she wasn’t coming to do it.”
Sources close to Heigl, however, have since refuted the story.
“This account isn’t true. Krista is mistaken,” an unnamed source told Entertainment Weekly. “Katherine was back in LA after parental leave (when she adopted her daughter) waiting to be called to set.”
Heigl, one of the long-running medical drama’s original cast members, remained on the ABC show from its debut in 2005 until 2010, when she exited midway through the sixth season.
At the time, Heigl rumours swirled that she was trying to break her contract on the series after repeatedly disparaging the show in the press, most notably when she removed her name from Emmy consideration in 2008 because she felt the material didn’t “warrant a nomination.”
Reports at the time mirror Vernoff’s claim that Heigl failed to show up for filming, while sources in the actor’s camp back then maintained that she “was at home and ready to return to work.”
While it’s highly unlikely that Heigl will ever walk the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital again, Vernoff said seeing an old cast member like Dempsey on set again was “so moving and healing.”
“This show has been on for 17 seasons. There’s been some drama around some exits. And there have been enough years in the interim that everyone grows up; they grow up, they realize where they got things wrong,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s always sort of two sides to every story. What it felt like was a homecoming.”