17 notable 'Grey's Anatomy' character deaths, ranked from least to most tragic

ABCThere have been a lot of character deaths on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’
  • The long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” is known for killing off a lot of beloved characters.
  • Over the past 15 seasons, viewers have watched both doctors and patients die in a variety of ways.
  • Some of the saddest character deaths happened over a few episodes and others occurred quite unexpectedly.
  • Warning: Major “Grey’s Anatomy” spoilers ahead.
  • Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.

After 15 seasons, the long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” has lost a lot of characters.

Longtime fans of the show know that showrunner Shonda Rhimes has never been afraid to write off a character, whether it be a case-of-the-week patient or a leading doctor. And it’s not just that these characters die, it’s that they oftentimes pass in devastating, tragic ways that leave viewers heartbroken.

Here is a ranking of some of the most tragic deaths on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Although the show has many character deaths, this list focuses on some of the most major and memorable ones.


17. Ellis Grey’s death set Meredith free.

ABCEllis Grey was a proponent of tough love.

Meredith’s mum Ellis was always harsh on her daughter, so it seemed like Ellis’ death allowed Meredith to move on and live her life without judgment.

Although it was sweet that Ellis parting words to her daughter were, “You are anything but ordinary,” it was too little too late to make this death overly heartbreaking for viewers.


16. Harold O’Malley was just a good guy who couldn’t catch a break.

ABCHarold O’Malley was George’s father.

George O’Malley’s dad’s death was particularly upsetting because of how it impacted George. The scene in which George is begging his dad, who is on life support, to keep fighting is quite a tear-jerker.


15. Susan Grey didn’t deserve the death she got.

ABCSusan Grey wasn’t very close with Meredith Grey.

Thatcher Grey’s wife and Meredith’s stepmom, Susan Grey, died from some complications that resulted from a procedure that was meant to help her with a long-lasting case of the hiccups. The hiccups. Needless to say, her death was surprising and she shouldn’t have gone like that.


14. Dr. Heather Brooks’ death was shocking.

ABCShe got electrocuted.

Heather was an annoying, chatty intern. But she was the kind of annoying that also made viewers secretly fond of her.

Her death shocked fans because, at first, the season-nine finale set viewers up to believe that Dr. Richard Webber was the one who had died of electrocution. But season 10 revealed that Brooks was actually the unlucky one. She fell and fatally hit her head after she’d been electrocuted during a storm.


13. Bonnie Crasnoff was sweet until the end.

ABCShe’s one of the most memorable minor characters.

Fans only knew Bonnie for a little while, but she was the nicest, most positive patient – especially considering she’d been impaled on a pole after a train accident and she knew she was going to die. The person she’d been impaled with, Tom,ended up living.

This was a rare instance where a case-of-the-week patient cemented themselves in the minds of fans forever.


Read More: 15 of the most-memorable patients on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’


12. Adele Webber’s slow death was agonizing.

NetflixBy the end, she’d forgotten who her husband was.

Adele’s actual death happened off-screen which is why it doesn’t rank higher on this list, but the time leading up to her death was tragic. It consisted of her being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and slowly forgetting her husband, Dr. Richard Webber.


11. Dr. Craig Thomas’ death only added to Cristina Yang’s trauma.

ABCDr. Craig Thomas was a surgeon.

Following the infamous plane accident, Dr. Cristina Yang had a really hard time mentally and emotionally. It was Dr. Thomas who helped her to heal and get back into the swing of things, which made it all the worse that he died during a surgery right in front of Cristina.


10. Dr. Reed Adamson’s death showed that no one was safe.

ABCDr. Reed Adamson had a lot of potential.

Reed’s death kicked off one of the scariest “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes about an active shooter who was terrorizing the hospital. From the minute she died, fans knew no one in that building was safe.

Read More: 10 of the best episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ ever


9. Dr. Charles Percy’s final confession was heartbreaking.

ABCDr. Charles Percy was in love.

Another victim of the hospital shooting, Dr. Percy ranks higher than Reed only because his death was more drawn out. Dr. Bailey tried really hard to save him and he almost made it. In the end, the lack of a working elevator prevented him from getting the urgent care he needed.

Bailey and a patient comforted Percy in his final moments as he asked Bailey to tell Reed that he loved her. Sadly, Bailey couldn’t ever deliver that message.


8. Diane Pierce’s death was a breaking point for her daughter, Maggie.

ABCDiane Pierce is Maggie’s mother.

Maggie’s refusal to stop fighting for new cancer treatments for her adopted mother made this death even harder to watch.As Diane died,Maggie was sobbing and painting her mother’s nails.


7. Dylan Young’s death is beyond memorable.

ABCDylan Young was played by Kyle Chandler.

Kyle Chandler briefly guest-starred on “Grey’s Anatomy” during season two, but his character, who worked as part of a bomb squad, left a lasting mark on the series.

The tense episode focused on the doctors trying to remove an active bomb from the body of a patient and it ended in Chandler’s character exploding – just when you thought the coast was finally clear.

Young is known for being the only character Shonda Rhimes seems to regret killing off … mostly because he was played by Chandler.


6. Henry Burton’s death was hard to watch.

ABCHenry Burton was a sweet character.

Dr. Teddy Altman married Henry to help him get insurance but then she fell in love with him for real which made his death during surgery all the more tragic.

It’s even worse because everyone lied to Teddy and told her Henry was doing fine post-surgery because they didn’t want her to mess up the procedure she was currently performing when he died. When she found out the truth, she was beyond heartbroken.


5. Denny Duquette had quite a whirlwind romance during his time on the show.

ABCHe was a patient on the show.

Izzie Stevens sobbing in a pink gown after Denny dies is one of the most upsetting scenes in “Grey’s Anatomy” history. Denny was a beloved patient and Izzie went to great lengths to save him, but ultimately his heart was too weak.


4. Dr. George O’Malley deserved so much better.

ABCHe was one of the original cast members of the show.

It was a shock when viewers realised the bus-crash patient whose face was injured beyond recognition was the beloved, bumbling Dr. OMalley. He’d just quit the hospital to be part of the army but he died that very same day, never getting the chance to realise his full potential.

Read More: THEN AND NOW: The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ original cast


3. Dr. Mark Sloan’s death was a roller coaster of tragedy.

ABCHe was also nicknamed McSteamy.

Mark’s death was a truly devastating roller coaster for fans. Not only did he lose his love Lexie Grey in the plane crash, but also he succumbed to his own crash-induced injuries.

After months, he woke up from his coma and seemed fine only to become unresponsive later on. After a few weeks, his close friends turned off his life support. The death was even more agonizing because fans had to wait for it in sad suspense – it was dragged out from the finale of season eight to the early episodes of season nine.


2. Dr. Lexie Grey’s death cheated fans out of her love story with Mark.

ABCLexie Grey was so positive.

Lexie’s death is perhaps even more tragic than Mark’s because she knew she was doomed to die as she was trapped under plane shrapnel. As she slowly died, her sister Meredith refused to accept it and Mark held her hand, begging her not to go because they were meant to be together.

Watching her slowly pass away was agonizing for fans, especially those who had been waiting for Mark and Lexie to find a happy ending that would never be.

Read More: Here’s what all the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ actors who left the show are up to now


1. Dr. Derek Shepherd didn’t have to die.

ABCHe was married to Meredith Grey.

On his way to catch a flight, Derek stopped to help victims of a car crash. He rescued them only to be hit by a car himself shortly after.

The crash didn’t kill him, but inexperienced doctors at another hospital did. They didn’t give Derek a brain scan in time and the neurosurgeon refused to cancel his plans and so he didn’t arrive in time to help his patient.

During the episode, Derek’s interior monologue about how he knew he was dying made everything harder to watch. Viewers were left heartbroken as Meredith unplugged this beloved surgeon from life support.

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