Isaiah Washington is an American actor best known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke on the television dramedy Grey's Anatomy, from 2005-2007.
He was fired from the show in June 2007 following a cast row over his alleged use of the word "faggot" in reference to co-star T.R. Knight.
Washington was born in Houston, Texas, where his parents were residents in the Houston Heights community. His parents relocated to Missouri City, Texas around 1980, where he was one of the first graduates from Willowridge High School, Houston, in 1981.
Washington has alluded to a challenging phase when he was younger, including an incident where, after a confrontation where he admits to 'popping off' at the wrong person, he was shot.
He still bears a small scar from the bullet (right hip). Washington went on to serve in the United States Air Force and attended Howard University.
Washington is perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Preston Xavier Burke on Grey's Anatomy, a portrayal that earned him a 2007 NAACP Image Award for Best Actor in a Drama series.
Washington is featured in a central role in the show, and has been paired onscreen with Sandra Oh, who plays intern Cristina Yang. When Washington went to audition for Grey's Anatomy, it was originally for the role of Derek Shepherd, which ultimately went to Patrick Dempsey; Burke had originally been described as a nebbish, stout forty-something man.
In the show's third season, Washington became a central figure in widely reported backstage controversies. In October 2006, news reports surfaced that Washington had grabbed co-star Patrick Dempsey by the throat. It was reported that the altercation was prompted by or related to Washington's use of a derogatory epithet toward costar T.R. Knight and his sexuality.
Shortly after the details of the argument became public, Knight publicly disclosed that he is gay. The situation seemed somewhat resolved when Washington issued a statement, apologizing for his "unfortunate use of words during the recent incident on-set".
The controversy later resurfaced when the cast appeared at the Golden Globes in January 2007. After the show won Best Drama, Washington, in response to press queries as to any conflicts backstage, said that he had never referred to Knight as a "faggot".
However, in an interview with Ellen Degeneres, Knight said that Washington had, in fact, used that particular epithet.
After being rebuked by his studio, ABC's Touchstone Television, Washington again apologized for unnecessarily using the epithet and indicated that he has "asked for help" in "dealing with issues he obviously needs to examine within his own soul."
On January 30, 2007, a source told People magazine that Washington was scheduled to return to the Grey's Anatomy set as early on that Thursday for the first time since entering anger counseling after making a homophobic slur.
However, on June 7, 2007, ABC announced they had decided not to renew Washington's contract, and that he would be dropped from the show. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," Washington said in a statement released by his publicist, borrowing the famous Howard Beale line from Network.
In another report, Washington stated he was planning to "spend the summer pursuing charity work in Sierra Leone, work on an independent film and avoid worrying about the show."
In a subsequent interview, Washington claimed that "they fired the wrong guy" (referring to T.R. Knight) and said he was considering filing a lawsuit as a result. He accused Knight of using the controversy to bolster his own career and increase his salary on Grey's Anatomy.
Washington, in late June 2007, began asserting that racism was a factor in his firing from the series. On July 2, 2007, Washington appeared on Larry King Live on CNN, to present his side of the controversy.
According to Washington, he never used the "F Word" in reference to T.R. Knight, but rather blurted it out in an unrelated context in the course of an argument with castmate Patrick Dempsey, who, he felt, was treating him like a "B-word," a "P-word," and the "F-word," which Washington said meant "weak."
In July 2007 NBC decided to cast Washington as a guest star in a story arc in their new series Bionic Woman, despite the controversy surrounding him. NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman commented that Washington is a "wonderful actor."
Washington himself said that his dismissal from Grey's Anatomy was an unfortunate misunderstanding that he is eager to move past.