Jesse Williams is leaving 'Grey's Anatomy' after 12 years, and his final episode is next week

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Jackson Avery Grey's Anatomy
Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery on "Grey's Anatomy." Gilles Mingasson/ABC via Getty Images
  • Jesse Williams, who played Jackson Avery on "Grey's Anatomy," is leaving the show after 12 seasons.

  • His character's last episode is set to air May 20 and was planned in advance to be his final plot.

  • Actor Justin Chambers, who played Alex Karev for 15 years, left the show last year.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Grey's Anatomy" has surprised viewers again with a surprising exit from another main character - Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams).

After 12 seasons on ABC's hit medical drama, Williams is leaving the show at the end of the month.

Williams has been on the show since season 6, and his final appearance is set to be next week

The actor announced his departure in a statement to Deadline.

"I will forever be grateful for the boundless opportunities provided me by Shonda, the network, studio, fellow castmates, our incredible crew, Krista, Ellen and Debbie," Williams said in his statement.

He continued, "As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds."

"The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I'll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies and dear friends."

Williams' character first appeared on season six of "Grey's Anatomy" during the hospital merger with Mercy West. He quickly became popular with fans and even won an NAACP Image Award in 2019 for best supporting actor in a drama for his role.

His final episode as Avery is set to air on Thursday, May 20 - just two weeks ahead of season 17's finale.

april and jackson grey's anatomy
Sarah Drew and Jesse Williams on an earlier season of "Grey's Anatomy." Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

The actor and showrunners planned Avery's final episodes in advance

Williams and "Grey's Anatomy" showrunner Krista Vernoff had multiple conversations about how to end Jackson's story, according to Deadline.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Williams' second-to-last episode, "Look Up Child," which aired on Thursday.

His final arc involves a reunion of Japril, the fan-favorite couple composed of Avery and April Kepner (Sarah Drew). Kepner, Avery's ex-wife and the mother of his child, was written off of the series ahead of season 15.

On Thursday's episode, Avery visited Kepner and also revealed he would be taking over his family's foundation to create "real racial equality in medicine."

Avery intends to move to Boston and asks Kepner and her husband, Matthew (Justin Bruening), to follow him so he can continue to see his daughter. Kepner then reveals she has split up with Matthew.

The season has built up to Avery's departure by showing his character becoming increasingly more frustrated with the inequities in the healthcare system. In previous episodes, he used his credit card to book hotel rooms for low-income patients and started to question why he didn't attend activist protests as a child or teen.

"Grey's Anatomy" has not yet been renewed for season 18.

Williams is not the first 'Grey's' star to leave the show after over a decade

Jackson Avery and Alex Karev Grey's Anatomy
Jesse Williams and Justin Chambers on "Grey's Anatomy." John Fleenor via Getty Images

Justin Chambers, who played Alex Karev since 2005 left the show in January 2020.

"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 said in a statement obtained by The Wrap. "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."

The character's final episode aired in November, though fans didn't know at the time. Chambers' official farewell was done over a voiceover a few episodes later in what many fans call the worst goodbye a character on "Grey's" has ever had.

Representatives for ABC didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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