‘ER’: Here’s Why Anthony Edwards Decided to Leave the Show

by Liz Holland

20 years ago, “ER” fans wept as the show wrote off one of its most loved characters, Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) in a tragic way. According to Edwards, it was a goodbye that was years in the making. The actor was a series regular for the first 8 seasons of the show before his departure in 2002. He became the leading man of the series when George Clooney left after season 5. However, Dr. Greene’s story would also eventually come to an end. 

As it turns out, there wasn’t any behind-the-scenes drama or tragedy that led to Edward’s decision. The actor revealed to Yahoo TV in 2017 that it was a very intentional and planned exit. 

“They knew that I would be leaving the show, so they had two years to tell the story of someone going through this life transition,” Edwards revealed. 

On the show, Dr. Greene develops an aggressive form of brain cancer. The sickness results in an inoperable tumor, and he dies a very emotional death with his daughter Rachel at his side. In the death scene, Dr. Greene is listening to a lullaby he sang to Rachel in her childhood as he dreams about walking through a vacant ER. 

Anthony Edwards ‘ER’ Departure Was Planned

“The first year was the medical part of it… and then the second year was really the emotional journey of someone transitioning,” Edward explained of the planned storyline. “By the time we got to that goodbye, it was a goodbye that they had been setting up for two years.”

The actor also reflected on how Dr. Greene’s death impacted fans of the show that have also lost loved ones.  “There’s been many people who said that their experience of losing a loved one or family member made [Greene’s death] a little understandable,” Edwards says. “It’s why we listen to music or why we watch TV shows… we still want to be told a story and have it relate somehow to our lives.”

Even years later, people still recognize Edwards from his role on “ER”. When asked in a 2018 interview with Distractify if it ever “hits” him how loved his character was, the actor shared his experience. 

Fans Still Recognize Dr. Greene 20 Years Later

“It does at odd times, when you’re in some bizarre place and people look at you and goes ‘Surgeon!’ I’m aware of that,” Edwards explained. “It’s interesting now that Hulu is airing it. I get the classic ‘My grandmother watched the show and now I get to discover it!’ I did the first eight years and it was 180 episodes. That’s a lot.”
Ultimately, the 59-year-old doesn’t regret his decision to leave the show. “I took a big break after ER, very intentionally, when my kids were little. We moved here to New York, and I spent a lot of time walking them to school,” Edwards says.

“I was fortunate to meet people who said, ‘You’re never gonna regret spending time with your kids.’ There was no way any job was gonna take that from me. I had the [financial] luxury and spent 10 years doing that. In that same way, it’s really fun now going back to work. It feels like it’s for the right reasons. It’s pretty heavenly.”