Ever since Grey's Anatomy’s 2005 premiere, it has been a show known for epic finales, shocking cliffhangers, and the right music to bring out all the feels. In the early days, it thrived on its many guest stars in the form of important patients or doctors passing through the hospital to act as temporary love interests for the main characters. And while there are still guest stars that show up in newer episodes, the celebrities who were on Grey’s Anatomy back in the day will give you serious nostalgia for the old Grey’s Anatomy and some of the stars we have lost along the way.
Feel free to queue up "Chasing Cars" to really get you in the mood to relive all of the disasters, accidents, and big Grey’s moments that brought with them guest stars of epic proportions. You might be shocked to have forgotten that Katie Lowes and Bellamy Young, both known for their prominent roles in Scandal, were on Grey’s Anatomy long before they started spinning the wheels of the government in a fictional Washington, D.C. And personally, I forgot all about the time Elisabeth Moss made a cameo before she became a big name who would lead her own drama on Hulu.
Some of the celebrities who have appeared on Grey’s Anatomy over the years used the show as an important stepping stone in their careers, while others, like Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler, were just an added bonus for fans of both shows. But most of these former guest stars will definitely send you back to what was arguably the golden age of Grey’s Anatomy.
Christina Ricci (Season 2)
Christina Ricci played a paramedic in the final two episodes of Season 2 who showed up to the hospital with her hand inside the chest cavity of a man who had an bomb inside of him. Eventually, she was able to remove her hand when Meredith took her place, but let’s just say that it was still an *explosive* episode.
Dylan Minnette (Season 4)
Dylan Minnette is one of the young stars of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why now, but when he was a kid, he appeared in a Season 4 episode of Grey’s. He was a patient who was born with only internal ear organs and showed up at the hospital to try and get Mark to perform a pro bono surgery to give him actual ears on the outside of his head. In the end, Mark was able to give him external ears and for once, it was a happy ending.
Abigail Breslin (Season 3)
Abigail Breslin, known for her many movie and TV roles over he years, played a young patient in Season 3 who was immune to pain and given the nickname of "Supergirl." After Alex discovered that she had intensive internal injuries as a result of testing out her "superpower," he convinced her to agree to a surgery and it was one of the first times Alex’s humanity started to show.
Elisabeth Moss (Season 3)
Before she became Peggy on Mad Men and then June and Offred on The Handmaid’s Tale, Elisabeth Moss played a patient’s daughter in Season 3 of Grey’s Anatomy. She was extremely protective of her mother and rightfully broke down when her mom didn't make it through surgery.
Katie Lowes (Season 7)
Fans of Shonda Rhimes’ other TV shows probably recognize Katie Lowes as Quinn on Scandal, but back in Season 7 of Grey’s Anatomy, she played a blood donor. I don't think she was even billed with a character name, but it was her second foray into Shondaland after first appearing in an episode of Private Practice.
Seth Green (Season 4)
Years after Seth Green hung up his guitar as the only member of a local rock band who was also a werewolf on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he appeared in two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy Season 4. He played a patient with a recently removed tumor whose artery burst as he was recovering in his hospital room. Eventually, he died from a stroke when they tried to perform an emergency surgery.
Laurie Metcalf (Season 2)
Laurie Metcalf played a terminally ill cancer patient in a Season 2 episode and, like all episodes around that time on Grey’s Anatomy, her story was another tear-jerker. She had kept her illness from her daughter in an attempt to protect her, but eventually had to come clean and sit her down to give her all of the advice she wouldn't be able to since she would soon die. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Scott Foley (Seasons 7 & 8)
Scott Foley is another Scandal cast member who started off on Grey’s Anatomy. He first played both a patient who later became Teddy’s husband in Season 7 and 8. She married him so that he could use her health insurance to get the string of procedures he needed and throughout their short marriage they gradually grew closer together before he died during one of his more complicated surgeries.
Frances Conroy (Season 7)
Before Frances Conroy was scaring the every living hell out of viewers on American Horror Story, she appeared in one Season 7 Grey’s Anatomy episode. She played a woman who had crashed her car into the front of a laundromat after she drove by and saw her ex-husband folding his new girlfriend’s underwear. Talk about terrible timing.
Demi Lovato (Season 6)
In Season 6, Demi Lovato played a patient who was wrongly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and admitted to the psych ward. Alex and Lexie, who believed the diagnosis to be wrong, researched further and ran tests to determine that she actually had Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome, which they helped treat with a surgery.
Sarah Paulson (Season 6)
Sarah Paulson was another American Horror Story transplant who had a Grey’s Anatomy cameo back in the day. She appeared in just one Season 6 episode as Ellis Grey in a flashback. Other actresses have played Ellis over the years, but AHS fans probably remember this version best.
Millie Bobby Brown (Season 11)
Millie Bobby Brown might be a star in her own right now thanks to Stranger Things, but back in Season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy, she had a guest role as a young girl who Owen helped perform CPR over the phone when her mom was hurt during an earthquake. Brown landed her now iconic role as Eleven in Stranger Things just two years later.
Neve Campbell (Season 9)
Back in Season 9, Neve Campbell played Derek’s only sister (besides Amelia) who is actually tolerable. She appeared in two episodes to try and convince Derek to have nerve surgery on his hand and, unlike two of Derek's other sisters, she was actually warm towards Meredith.
Chris O'Donnell (Seasons 2 & 3)
Better known as McVet because he was a veterinarian, Chris O'Donnell played Meredith’s love interest in Season 2 and 3 while she tried to get over Derek. He even went to the hospital prom with her, but she left during the dance to hook up with Derek, so unfortunately for McVet, he was never long for the world of Grey’s Anatomy.
Dean Norris (Season 3)
Dean Norris played Cyrus Beene’s boyfriend in the final season of Scandal, but before that, he played one of the many victims of the ferry crash of Grey’s Anatomy Season 3. He was part of the group who helped some of the other survivors escape the accident.
Bellamy Young (Season 3)
Apparently Shonda Rhimes loved a lot of her Grey’s Anatomy guest stars enough to transfer them to Scandal when the time came, because Bellamy Young, who played Millie on Scandal, appeared in a Season 3 episode of Grey’s. She played the first patient who helped introduce Addison’s new Private Practice co-workers in the episode that showed Addison’s new beginning away from Seattle.
Kyle Chandler (Seasons 2 & 3)
Kyle Chandler was another big guest star in the bomb episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in Season 2. He played the member of the bomb squad to helped Meredith get the explosive out of her patient’s chest, but as Meredith ran out, the bomb exploded behind her, killing him. He appeared again in Season 3 during a dream sequence in which Meredith saw other past patients.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Seasons 2, 3, & 5)
Was there ever a purer patient than Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Denny? He played Izzie’s patient-turned-fiancé who eventually died from heart failure after his transplant. He continued to pop up from time to time through dreams and hallucinations though. I like to think the Grey’s Anatomy writers just regretted getting rid of such a great character so early on in the series.
Zach Gilford (Season 5)
In Season 5, Zach Gilford played a patient who asked Callie to amputate his leg, which had chronic pain, so that he could return to active duty in the Army. She initially refused because there as no legitimate need to amputate, but she later agreed to do it so that he could rejoin the service, as he explained he had nothing and no one else.
Hilarie Burton (Season 9)
Hilarie Burton appeared in a few Season 9 episodes as a doctor who briefly worked with Arizona. But her purpose on the show was to cause a rift between Arizona and Callie when she slept with Arizona one night.
Leslie Odom Jr. (Season 5)
Leslie Odom Jr. most recently won a Tony Award for his role in Hamilton, but in Grey’s Anatomy Season 5, he played a patient who donated his kidney to one person so that another patient could donate one to his father. In the process, he was able to rebuild a fractured relationship with his dad.
James Avery (Season 8)
To some, he might always be Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but James Avery played a character named Sam in a Season 8 episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Sam was unable to let his husband go after extreme organ failure and spent a long time by his bed before finally allowing the doctors to turn off and keep off the machines that were keeping him alive.
Mandy Moore (Seasons 6 & 7)
Mandy Moore is probably one of the more memorable celebrities who was on Grey’s Anatomy over the years. She was one of the patients in the hospital at the time of the Season 6 shooting and although she survived the hospital lock down, when she returned months later to get the surgery she had needed, she never woke up from the anesthesia and was taken off life support.
Tessa Thompson (Season 2)
Tessa Thompson played Richard’s niece in Season 2. She suffered from ovarian cancer and passed out during sex after her high school prom. After being admitted to the hospital, Richard arranged for the interns to throw her a prom at the hospital, where Meredith hooked up with Derek even though she was dating McVet at the time and where Denny died.
Adina Porter (Season 9)
Adina Porter is well known for her roles in horror series like True Blood and American Horror Story, but like some of her other AHS co-stars, she was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy back in the day. She was in just one episode and played a neurosurgeon who stepped in for Derek while he dealt with his hand injury from the plane crash.
Ernie Hudson (Season 8)
Ernie Hudson will probably always be Winston Zeddemore from Ghostbusters for me, but he also played the Chief of Surgery at Seattle Presbyterian Hospital during a Season 8 episode which featured a softball game between Seattle hospitals.
These might not be all of the celebrities who have ever had cameos on Grey’s Anatomy, but they are definitely some of the more memorable ones. Even casual fans probably recognize some of the monumental episodes early in the series that featured big names like Mandy Moore and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Given how long the show has been on, you have to appreciate where it has been and who has passed through the doors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.