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The Real Reason Eric Dane Was Fired From Grey's Anatomy Is Heartbreaking

This article contains discussions of addiction.

After six seasons and eight years, Eric Dane, the man behind Dr. Mark "McSteamy" Sloan left the fictional Seattle hospital on "Grey's Anatomy" behind — but in a recent interview, the actor indicated that he didn't have much say in the matter. In conversation with Dax Shepard on his "Armchair Expert" podcast, Dane told Shepard that he was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction during his time on "Grey's Anatomy," and it was, just generally, a difficult time in his life. "I didn't leave so much as I think I was let go," Dane revealed during his chat with Shepard. "They didn't let me go because of that, although it definitely didn't help." Dane told Shepard that though he'd been sober before starting on "Grey's," he started drinking again during the 2007 writer's strike, and things only got worse from there.

Saying he was "probably fired" when all is said and done, Dane continued, "I was starting to become, as most of these actors who have spent significant time on a show, you start to become very expensive for the network. And the network knows that the show is going to do what it's going to do irrespective of who they keep on it. As long as they have their Grey [Ellen Pompeo], they're fine. I wasn't the same guy they had hired, so I had understood when I was let go."

Not only that, but Dane said that showrunner Shonda Rhimes had his back through his difficult times, but that it was simply a done deal that he leave the series. "She protected us fiercely," Dane said. "I love Shonda Rhimes, and she protected me, but I was probably fired. It wasn't ceremoniously like, 'You're fired.' It was just like, 'You're not coming back.'"

How was Mark Sloan written off of Grey's Anatomy?

So how did Shonda Rhimes and her creative team write Mark Sloan — and, by extension, Eric Dane — off of "Grey's Anatomy?" In typical "Grey's" fashion, it was dramatic ... and bloody. In the Season 8 finale, Mark, his on-again off-again love Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), and several other doctors board a small plane to go perform a complex surgery in Boise, Idaho, but the plane crashes mid-flight. Several doctors are injured, especially Lexie, who's fatally trapped under a piece of the plane. Though Mark seems more or less okay at first — even as he watches his soulmate Lexie die — it turns out he has very serious injuries to his abdomen, and as Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) later tells her husband Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) in Season 9, "Mark just kept dying."

Mark, along with the other survivors, is airlifted back to Seattle and seems like he's set to make a full recovery, but succumbs to his injuries in the Season 9 premiere, ending Dane's time on the show. Back in 2012, Dane told Entertainment Weekly that he was actually leaving the show to appear on the TNT series "The Last Ship," though now we know that perhaps wasn't the whole story. "'Grey's Anatomy' is a world — it's not about any one individual actor and the storylines were sort of... you know, heading in different directions," he said at the time. "So it was an opportunity for me to go, and I was interested in something different. I loved doing 'Grey's Anatomy.' I would have done it until the final episode, but this was something I couldn't pass up."

Eric Dane did return to Grey's Anatomy eventually — in a sense

Ultimately, Eric Dane did make a return to "Grey's Anatomy," though it was brief. In the Season 17 episode "Breathe," both Dane and Chyler Leigh return as Mark Sloan and Lexie Grey ... even though they're both dead. So how does that work, exactly?

"Grey's Anatomy" addressed the very real COVID-19 crisis during Season 17, and for much of the season, the series lead Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is battling the virus and in a coma. In her mind, she's the resident of a beach that keeps producing dead people from Meredith's past, including her late husband Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) and fallen best friend George O'Malley (T.R. Knight). Just before Meredith starts breathing on her own (that is, without the help of a tube) in the real world, Mark and Lexie appear and remind her of how much she has to fight for back in the real world, including her children.

According to Dane, filming the beach scene felt completely natural. In an interview with Deadline after the episode aired, Dane revealed that then-showrunner Krista Vernoff personally reached out to ask him to join the reunion — and that his return was incredible. "It was like I'd never left," Dane said. "It was a great day at the beach. It was great to see some of the familiar faces and same crew members, and we didn't skip a beat. I love those people. I spent a significant portion of my life with those people, I'd do just about anything for them."

What has Eric Dane been doing since Grey's Anatomy?

After leaving "Grey's Anatomy," Eric Dane enjoyed a decently long run on "The Last Ship," which focuses on Dane's Tom Chandler as he leads a boat across the world after a global pandemic leaves it in disarray. ("The Last Ship" ended in 2018, long before anyone knew what COVID-19 was, but it's still a bit on the nose.) 

Perhaps most notably, Dane joined the cast of "Euphoria" in 2019 as Cal Jacobs, father of Jacob Elordi's troubled Nate Jacobs who turns out to have quite an intense inner life of his own. In the very first episode, he meets up with high schooler Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), a young trans woman, for a sexual encounter; it's ultimately revealed that Cal videotapes all of his dalliances with his younger queer conquests. In a gut-wrenching Season 2 episode titled "Ruminations: Big and Little Bullys," it's revealed that Cal has struggled with his real sexual identity for his entire life — and though, to be clear, none of his personal difficulties excuse his disgusting (and often illegal) behavior, Cal's backstory reveals exactly why this damaged man and cruel father became the man we see on screen.

"Grey's Anatomy" is available to stream on Netflix and Hulu, and you can see Dane in "Euphoria" on Max.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).