He did not go gently, neither was he proud. Jeffrey Dean Morgan hoped, prayed, schemed and finally begged for life. At one point, he marched into show runner Shonda Rhimes' office, turned those big shining eyes on her and pleaded: "Please, please, just let me live."
Rhimes was sympathetic, but Rhimes was firm, and on the season finale of Grey's Anatomy, Morgan's beloved character, Denny Duquette, survived a difficult heart transplant, asked Izzie to marry him, got her to say yes and then, in the last few minutes of the show, had a stroke. While no one was watching, save the 19.9 million viewers sobbing in their homes, Denny quietly breathed his last.
"It was a grim day," Morgan says of shooting his death scene. "I'm still not over it. It broke my heart to leave that show."
The show, which follows the exploits of a group of Seattle surgeons-in-training, is one of the biggest hits on TV. It has a devoted following, many of whom were holding out hope that Denny, a long-ailing patient, would pull through. After his death, countless fans lighted up the ABC switchboard in their sorrow and outrage. A few circulated petitions in hopes that somehow Denny can be resuscitated.
"I don't think so," Morgan says with a grin. "I mean, I was blue."
But death does not trump fame; in some cases, it fosters it. After working as an actor for more than 15 years, after having guest appearances on "pretty much every TV show you can think of," Morgan has suddenly found himself a posthumous celebrity. Weeping women approach him in the market, long-lost friends are calling and, most important, directors who wouldn't have given him the time of day are on the phone.
"It's very weird," he says. "I mean, I've been kicking around this town for years. ... Now I can actually think about the kind of projects I want to do. Now I can actually say no if I want."
As distraught as he is over his demise on the show, Morgan realizes he is standing on the ledge of one of those infamous windows of opportunity. He recently became the first actor to be cast in a pilot that Rhimes will shoot this fall. Who is he playing?
"I don't know," he says. "She just told me it was the best character she'd ever written, and that's good enough for me."
Mary McNamara writes for the Los Angeles Times.