Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital is saying goodbye to one of its doctors, and fans are not prepared. After starring as that Dr. Jackson Avery for the last 12 years, actor Jesse Williams confirmed Thursday night that he is leaving Grey's Anatomy, sparking an emotional response from viewers. His final episode, titled "Tradition," will air on Thursday, May 20, ABC confirmed.
Williams' exit was first revealed during Thursday's new episode of ABC medical drama (spoilers ahead!), which also saw the anticipated return of Sarah Drew, who played Jackson's romantic interest, Dr. April Kepner. During the episode, Jackson visited his father and later had a conversation with both him and April in which he revealed his decision to take over the family foundation, something that will require him to move to Boston. Williams later confirmed his departure from the series 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. "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."
After Williams' exit was confirmed, fans flocked to social media to react, many in tears given that Jackson has become a fan favorite in his more than a decade on the show. One viewer tweeted, "I DO NOT WANT TO SAY FAREWELL TO JACKSON AVERY THIS IS A JOKE," with somebody else adding, "If Jackson leaves Greys my heart will break &' I will cry. All the good/OG characters are leaving or already left &' Meredith is going to be by herself." A third fan wrote, "Oh my god Jackson is ACTUALLY leaving the show I'm not okay."
Addressing his exit, showrunner Krista Vernoff told the outlet that Williams will be "terribly" missed and "we will miss Jackson Avery — played to perfection for so many years." Vernoff applauded Williams as "an extraordinary artist and activist" and said "watching his evolution these past 11 years both on screen and off has been a true gift. Jesse brings so much heart, such depth of care, and so much intelligence to his work."
Williams joined Grey's Anatomy as recurring in Season 6 and was promoted to a regular character in Season 7. His role as Jackson an NAACP Image Award. His decision to leave Grey's came as he was at the end of his latest two-year contract. Fans can catch him in his final episode when it airs on Thursday, May 20.