The Rollercoaster Life of Former Grey’s Anatomy Star Katherine Heigl

Katherine Heigl is one of the most successful actresses in recent years. She started her career at an early age and burst into the spotlight with starring roles in shows like Roswell and Grey’s Anatomy, along with rom-com movies like Knocked Up and New Year’s Eve.

Katherine Heigl / Katherine Heigl / Katherine Heigl, Sandra Oh / Katherine Heigl.
Source: Getty Images

However, despite her talent and success, Heigl has also been labeled difficult to work with by some and called a diva by her critics, impacting her life both on-screen and behind the scenes. Let’s take a closer look at her life so far and see how her image has changed over the years.

Birth and Childhood

Katherine Marie Heigl was born on November 24, 1978. She was born in Washington DC at the Columbia Hospital for Women. Her parents are Nancy Heigl, a personal manager, and Paul Heigl, an executive and accountant.

A dated portrait of Katherine Heigl.
Photo by Ken Weingart/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Heigl has Irish and German ancestry, and she was the last of four children born to Nancy and Paul. When she was very young, she moved around a lot with her family, starting in Northern Virginia, then heading to Colorado, and later settling in Connecticut when Katherine was 5 years old.

An Early Trauma

We all go through difficult times, experiencing the pain of loss and death at some time or another. Tragically, that experience arrived very early in Katherine’s life. She was only 7 years old when her brother, Jason, was killed in a car accident.

A photo of Katherine during an interview.
Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images

Jason was riding in the back of a pickup truck while on lunch with some high school buddies. He was thrown from the back of the truck when it collided with another vehicle and later died. The death took a big toll on the family and led to a reassessment of their situation and faith.

A Difficult Ordeal

Losing a family member is never easy, and the loss of Jason took its toll on the entire Heigl family. Trying to cope with the loss of their son, Katherine’s parents, who had previously followed Lutheran and Catholic faiths, turned to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church.

A dated photo of Katherine arriving at an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Katherine was raised in that religion, and it seemed to bring some comfort to her family, but more drama was waiting. Some years later, after Katherine’s acting career had begun, her parents split up and her mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Heigl’s Aunt Helped Her Become Famous

After the loss of her brother, Katherine needed some positivity in her life. Thankfully, her aunt was there to help. Seeing how adorable her nice was, Katherine’s aunt decided to snap some photos of her (with permission from Katherine’s mom and dad) and send them off to some modeling agencies.

Heigl attends an event.
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

This was a major turning point in the life of the future star. Katherine’s aunt’s efforts proved successful and just a few weeks after the photos were sent out, the young girl got her first offer of a modeling contract with the Wilhelmina Models agency.

Early Modeling and Ad Work

Katherine was only 9 when she appeared in her first magazine ads. She earned $75 an hour and was photographed for famous catalogs such as Sears and Lord & Taylor. Not long after, she landed her first on-screen ad, appearing in a national TV ad for Cheerios.

Heigl smiles during a photoshoot.
Photo by Ken Weingart/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Some young people would find it difficult to manage ads and modeling work with the regular responsibilities of being a kid, but Katherine handled it all very well. She kept up with her studies at New Canaan High School and maintained a great work-life balance for such a young person.

Her First Acting Roles

It seems like the Cheerios ad helped to catapult young Katherine into the spotlight because not long after, she was offered her first real movie role. She was given the part of Kathryn in the 1992 coming-of-age movie, That Night.

A movie still of young Katherine.
Source: YouTube

It wasn’t a particularly big role, but it was still a major achievement for young Katherine. And at that point, she had officially been bitten by the acting bug. Katherine dropped out of school during her sophomore year to dedicate herself entirely to the art of acting.

Working with Soderbergh

Just a year after her first film appearance, Katherine was on the big screen once again. She was cast in the part of Christina in the 1993 drama film King of the Hill, directed and written by Steven Soderbergh.

A still of Katherine in the film King of the Hill.
Source: YouTube

While it wasn’t a huge part in terms of lines or screen time, it was another big boost to Katherine’s burgeoning career. Working with such an esteemed director is always a bonus for young actors, and Katherine had already learned a lot and was building an impressive resume.

Her First Leading Role

Katherine worked her way up the acting ranks, and in 1994, she got the big break she’d been waiting for. She was cast in a leading role in My Father the Hero, a 1994 comedy-drama that was a remake of a successful 1991 French film.

A still from the film My Father the Hero.
Source: Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

Katherine starred as Nicole and the film was successful, making over $44 million at the box office worldwide. Later that year, Katherine appeared on the cover of Seventeen Magazine and was talked about as a genuine star of the future.

Juggling Acting and Modeling

From there, Katherine was offered more film roles and continued to choose her projects with care. In 1995, she appeared in a Steven Seagal action movie called Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, and 1996 saw her in a lead role in the Disney TV movie, Wish Upon a Star.

A movie still of Katherine Heigl.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

By taking these different kinds of roles, Katherine showed she could adapt to various genres and demonstrated the breadth of her acting talent. Not only that, but she was still enjoying success as a model while building up her acting skills, regularly appearing in magazines and ads.

Tough Times and a New Start

In 1996, the Heigl family endured more tough times. As mentioned earlier, Katherine’s parents split up and her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, her mom managed to overcome the illness and decided to support her daughter by becoming her manager.

A portrait of Katherine Heigl in a scene from a film.
Source: YouTube

The pair moved to Malibu Canyon, California, and lived together in a large home. So, even though she’d dealt with some tough times, Katherine overcame it all and pushed toward a new chapter in her life, with more movie and TV roles on the horizon, like the TV drama The Tempest, and the horror movie Bride of Chucky.

Making the Move to the Small Screen

Until 1999, most of Katherine’s work had been in movies, but she decided to shift toward a small-screen role when she was offered the part of Isabel Evans on the sci-fi TV show, Roswell.

A promotional still of the series Roswell.
Source: Copyright: 20th Television

Katherine really wanted to be on the show when she heard about it. In fact, she attended auditions for all three of the main female characters before finally winning the part of Isabel, and she was very excited to start filming.

An Instant Hit

Roswell debuted on October 6, 1999, on The WB. It was written and developed by Jason Katims and ran for 61 episodes across three seasons. It was based on the Roswell High books and proved very popular with fans from the start.

The cast poses for a promotional portrait of the show.
Source: Copyright: 20th Television

In the show, Katherine’s character Isabel is an alien-human hybrid who struggles to hide her true self from those around her. She started as one of the less important characters, but her role was expanded as the show went on.

More Movie Work

While working on Roswell, Katherine accepted more film roles. She appeared in films like 100 Girls and Valentine, the latter of which was a horror film in which Heigl appeared alongside David Boreanaz. Not long after, she appeared in the made-for-TV thriller, Ground Zero.

A still from the film 100 Girls and Valentine.
Source: YouTube

Other TV movie roles followed, like Evil Never Dies and Wuthering Heights. Not all of these films were well-received or successful, but they gave Katherine the chance to demonstrate her acting abilities in a variety of roles and build her resume in new ways.

A Famous Flop

One of Katherine’s movie decisions turned out to be iconic, but for all the wrong reasons! In 2006, she appeared in a film called Zzyzzx Road alongside Leo Grillo and Tom Sizemore. The film was directed by John Penney, who also wrote and produced.

A still of Katherine in Zzyzzx Road.
Source: YouTube

Zzyzzx Road went down in history as one of the least successful films ever made. It earned ticket sales of just $30 in its opening run, as it was only released at one cinema. The film made more money after its DVD release but failed to recoup its $1.2 million budget.

Her Biggest Role to Date

Fortunately for Katherine, Zzyzzx Road was not a career-ending movie. In fact, her career was about to undergo a major boost as she was cast in a starring role as Dr. Isobel “Izzie” Stevens on ABC’s medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy.

A still of Katherine in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Source: Copyright: ABC

The show was originally intended as a midseason replacement without very high expectations, but it turned into a major success for the network and its main cast members, including Katherine. It was one of the top-rated shows on broadcast TV and Katherine got a lot of positive attention for her portrayal of Izzie.

Award Nominations and Success

A year after Grey’s Anatomy began, Katherine was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film. She didn’t win, but she did pick up a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2007.

A photo of Katherine backstage at the Emmys.
Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage/Getty Images

In her acceptance speech, Katherine stated that even her mother didn’t think that she would win, and her initial reaction had to be censored for TV as she was so shocked at having won the award. That same year, she also won a Superstar of Tomorrow award and was nominated for various other honors.

The New Rom-Com Girl

Despite working long hours for Grey’s Anatomy, Katherine didn’t want to give up on her film work, so continued to read scripts and audition for various roles. This proved to be a good move, as she was given a lead role in the successful romantic comedy, Knocked Up, in 2007.

A promotional still of Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up.
Source: Copyright: Universal Pictures

Knocked Up was a smash hit, leading to Heigl being able to demand much higher fees for her work and helping her stand out as a possible new leading lady in the romantic comedy, or rom-com, scene. More of these films soon followed.

The ‘It Factor’

Not long after Knocked Up, Katherine was cast in 27 Dresses, another big-budget romantic comedy. She was given the lead role, starring opposite James Marsden, and was paid $6 million for her performance, with the film making over $160 million at the box office.

A movie still of Katherine Heigl.
Source: Copyright: 20th Century Fox

The film’s director, Anne Fletcher, famously stated that Heigl had the “it factor”, comparing her to other leading ladies of the rom-com genre like Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. Fletcher said, “You can’t buy it, you can’t learn it, you can’t create it; it just is. We haven’t had one of her in many years.”

Meeting Her Man

The mid-2000s were a great all-around time for Katherine. Not only did she enjoy a lead role on a major TV show and become the new “it girl” of the rom-com scene, but she also fell in love with her future husband, Josh Kelley.

Heigl and Kelley attend an event.
Photo by Mike Coppola/WireImage/Getty Images

Heigl met the singer while appearing in the music video for his song, Only You. They seemed to hit it off right away and got engaged just a year later. Interestingly, the pair decided not to move in with each other until after the wedding.

Marriage and Adoption

Katherine and Josh married in Park City, Utah, in December 2007. In September 2009, they adopted a daughter from South Korea, and Katherine was inspired by her own family’s history with adoption. She and Kelley adopted another daughter in 2012.

Josh kisses Katherine on the head as they pose for the press.
Photo by Barry King/Getty Images

In 2016, the couple announced that they were expecting their first biological child. In December 2016, Katherine gave birth to a baby boy. The family has lived in Oakley, Utah, for several years.

Regular Appearances on ‘Most Attractive’ Lists

Katherine first started her showbiz career as a model and has always stood out for her natural beauty. So, it’s no surprise that the star has frequently appeared around the top of many “Hottest Stars” and “Most Attractive Celebrities” lists.

A portrait of Katherine Heigl.
Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

She has topped the list of Most Attractive People in People magazine, for example, and has also made it to the top of Maxim’s Sexiest list. Her striking good looks have also allowed her to continue modeling for many years, and now in her 40s, she’s still seen as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

A Big Animal Lover

Another interesting fact about Katherine is that she’s a major lover and defender of animals. She may have inherited this trait from her mother, who is a big animal-rights fan, and together, the mother-daughter duo founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, named after Katherine’s brother who died.

Katherine Heigl takes a picture with one of her dogs.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

The foundation is committed to ending animal cruelty, and Katherine also started Heigl’s Hounds of Hope, another charity project designed to rescue dogs that have behavioral issues or other problems from kill shelters and give them a second chance at life and happiness.

Honored for Her Efforts

As well as topping lists for her beauty and receiving awards and nominations for her acting, Katherine has also received recognition for her services in terms of helping animals. In 2010, for example, she was honored by the ASPCA.

Katherine speaks on stage.
Photo by Jason Davis/WireImage/Getty Images

Not only that but she was also given the Presidential Service Award for her efforts in the field of animal welfare. She has continued to work hard in this area, teaming up with charities like PETA and Best Friends Animal Society to raise awareness around kill shelters, stray animals, and the importance of spaying and neutering pets.

Other Charity Work

Defending furry friends isn’t the only important charity work that Katherine Heigl is committed to. She has also worked tirelessly to raise awareness of cancer issues and risks, speaking openly about her mother’s battle with the disease and being honored by the American Cancer Society.

Heigl speaks during an interview.
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

What’s more, Heigl is also a big supporter of organ donation. Her brother Jason’s organs were donated to people in need, and Katherine was so inspired that she decided to become an activist for donation, encouraging more people to choose to donate their organs or the organs of loved ones to help other people live on.

Passionate About Adoption

Adoption is another cause Katherine strongly supports. Again, it seems that she was inspired by her family history. Her older sister, Meg, was adopted from Korea by her parents just a few years before Katherine was born.

A picture of Heigl / A photo of Meg.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

“I wanted my own family to resemble the one I came from, so I always knew I would adopt,” Katherine explained in an interview. She has also been honored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute for her commitment to adoption and her efforts in raising awareness about how important it is.

Speaking Up

In the mid to late 2000s, Katherine’s career and life couldn’t have been better. She was happily married, enjoyed huge success on TV and in film, and was regarded as one of the hottest stars on the planet. However, things were about to change.

A still of Katherine in a scene from the film Knocked Up.
Source: Copyright: Universal Pictures

It all started with a Vanity Fair interview during which Katherine spoke out about the movie Knocked Up. She criticized the film for being “sexist” in its depiction of female characters. These comments caused controversy with the filmmakers, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, who were allegedly unhappy with Heigl’s views.

The Grey’s Anatomy Incident

Next, another controversial moment came in Heigl’s career. Ahead of the 2008-09 season of Grey’s Anatomy, rumors spread that Heigl was set to leave the show. This stemmed from the fact that she had refused to submit her name for Emmy consideration.

A still from the show Grey’s Anatomy.
Source: Copyright: ABC

“I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination, and to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention,” Heigl said in a statement, adding, “In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.”

Unhappy With Her Role

Later on, more was revealed about why Katherine had decided to keep her name out of Emmy consideration. She was allegedly unhappy with the way the show’s writers had treated her character, saying that certain plot points had been added as a “ratings ploy.”

A still of Katherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens.
Source: Copyright: ABC

Katherine felt that the fourth season of the show, in particular, had not allowed her character to grow and develop in the ways she’d imagined. She wasn’t happy with the writing, and she wasn’t happy with the material she’d been given to perform with, and she wasn’t shy about making her feelings known.

An Outspoken Critic

There are probably many actors out there who disagree with certain decisions or don’t like certain things about their characters but decide to keep quiet and move on. Katherine wasn’t like that. When she had a problem, she let people know, and this evolved into a defining characteristic of her career.

A photo of Katherine during a press conference.
Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images

After pulling out of the Emmy nominations, she was also an outspoken critic of other aspects of the Grey’s Anatomy production. For example, during an interview with David Letterman, Heigl revealed that the show’s cast often had to work very long days, with 17-hour filming sessions she thought were “cruel and mean.”

Will She, or Won’t She?

Because of her comments, there was a lot of speculation in the media and from Grey’s Anatomy fans about whether she would leave the show. Katherine even openly admitted that she was hesitant to continue with the show, even though her contract extended for several more seasons.

Members of the cast pose for the press.
Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage/Getty Images

Still, when the show returned, so did Katherine and her character, Izzie. This seemed to put an end to all of the rumors and speculation, but it was still clear that Katherine wasn’t happy with certain things about the way the show was being run.

She Finally Left

It was clear that something had to give in the Grey’s Anatomy situation, and the story eventually came to a dramatic conclusion. In March 2010, Katherine allegedly did not show up for work, with the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, deciding to remove her from her role right away in retaliation.

A photo of Katherine walking the street.
Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage/Getty Images

Rhimes arranged for Heigl’s contract to be terminated and had no plans to have her appear again. This meant that Katherine’s final appearance on Grey’s Anatomy came during the January 21, 2010, episode, and the story of her character was only resolved 10 years later in a 2020 episode during which archive footage of Heigl was used.

More Rom-Com Success

At first, the end of her time on Grey’s Anatomy didn’t seem to be much of a blow to Katherine’s career. In 2009, a year before she left the show, she had one of her biggest ever movie successes with The Ugly Truth, which earned more than $200 million at the box office.

A still from the movie The Ugly Truth.
Source: Copyright: Sony Pictures

Then, a year later, she appeared in the comedy-thriller Killers, with Ashton Kutcher, following it up with movies like Life As We Know It and New Year’s Eve, earning huge paychecks for these productions and continuing to attract critical acclaim and positive reviews for her performances.

The Decline Begins

Unfortunately for Katherine, her career took a bit of a nosedive. She’d experienced the highs of showbusiness but was about to experience some of the lows, as she began to appear in a series of poorly performing and terribly received films.

A picture of Heigl at the film premiere.
Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images

The first big flop came in the form of One for the Money, which failed to earn back its $40 million budget and earned Heigl a Golden Raspberry Award (Razzie) nomination for Worst Actress. She later appeared in The Big Wedding, one of the worst-reviewed movies of all time.

A Return to Grey’s?

Perhaps sensing that her career was on the ropes, Katherine openly suggested that she could return to Grey’s Anatomy. She admitted in an interview that she wanted to bring back Izzie and at least have a chance to wrap up her storyline.

A photo of Katherine waving at the press.
Photo by XPX/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images

Katherine even came up with her own idea about how Izzie could be written back into the show. However, Rhimes stated that the show already has its own track and that they had no plans of changing that track for the time being.

Her ‘Difficult’ Reputation

By this point, Katherine’s reputation had hit an all-time low. It had started with her comments about Knocked Up and continued with the Grey’s Anatomy saga. Because of her outspoken nature and critical comments, she was seen by some as having too big of an ego and being a difficult star to work with.

A headshot of Katherine smiling at the media.
Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images/Getty Images

This is likely one of the reasons why she wasn’t asked to return to Grey’s Anatomy. It’s also believed that this had other negative impacts on Heigl’s career, with certain producers and directors not wanting to work with her because of her reputation.

Too Many Rom-Coms

Another issue for Katherine came with the fact that she had taken on so many rom-com roles over the years. In a Marie Claire interview, she said she was “stoked” to be doing those kinds of movies, but that she’d perhaps agreed to too many of them.

A movie still of Katherine Heigl in a rom-com.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

She stated, “I couldn’t say no. There’s nothing wrong with them, but maybe I overloaded my audience. I should have done a superhero movie or a psychological thriller.” She then decided to pause her rom-com work for a while and try to pursue some other kinds of roles.

Failing to Hit the Heights

Katherine made some big efforts in the years that followed. In the mid-2010s, she took on a wider range of roles, like the drama Jackie & Ryan, the animated movie The Nut Job, and the dark comedy, Home Sweet Hell.

A still of Katherine in a scene from the movie Unforgettable.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

She also appeared in an erotic thriller called Unforgettable and the political and legal TV dramas State of Affairs and Doubt. Unfortunately, many of these projects were unsuccessful and failed to help Heigl return to the same heights she’d been at during her Grey’s Anatomy heyday.

Heigl Has Regrets

In interviews, Katherine Heigl admits her regrets about certain decisions made throughout her career, going back to some of her earliest roles. She regrets appearing in her first big film, My Father the Hero, because of all the swimsuit scenes she had to film despite being just 14 years old at the time.

Heigl poses for the press.
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

She also says she regrets leaving Grey’s Anatomy and misses the great working environment of the show and the friendly nature of her castmates. She stated that she wished she had “shut up” about Grey’s Anatomy and simply carried on working as she was asked.

Dealing with the ‘Difficult’ Image

Even though she has some regrets about what she did and how she handled certain things, Katherine has also maintained confidence and belief in herself and feels that she has been treated unfairly over the years, with many critics very quick to label her as “difficult” and “unprofessional” just for speaking her mind.

A photo of Heigl looking through a window.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

She argued that her “bad reputation” seemed to stem out of something quite small and escalated all the time, with more and more negative opinions being built up about her for no clear reason. The experience hurt her a lot, and she began to suffer from stress, anxiety, and fear.

Therapy Made a Difference

To overcome the dark period in her career, Katherine says she sought therapy. She didn’t want to continue suffering, especially at a time when she and her husband were trying to grow their family and enjoy their lives.

Katherine poses for a picture during her birthday celebration.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

“I asked my mom and my husband to find me somewhere to go that could help me because I felt like I would rather be dead,” she told Today, adding that she used anti-anxiety medication in addition to therapy to move past some of those mental troubles that had plagued her.

Time Has Helped Her Heal

Also in her Today interview, Katherine said she’s done a lot of growing and reflecting in recent years and found a new level of acceptance and appreciation of herself. “I’ve grown into accepting that ambition is not a dirty word, and that it doesn’t make me less of a feminine, loving, nurturing woman to be ambitious.”

Katherine takes a picture of herself on a sunny day.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

Now, Katherine says that she is “more gentle” with herself and accepting of the decisions she has made. She’s ready to shed the “difficult” label that has been associated with her for so long and is eager to move on with life as a strong woman and a great mom to her children.

Her Latest Work

After some tricky years, caused partly by the fact that her reputation was tarnished and her mental health had suffered, Katherine has made a big comeback. In 2021, she appeared in Firefly Lane on Netflix, which was released to widespread acclaim.

A still of Katherine in a promotional scene of Firefly Lane.
Source: Copyright: Netflix

Heigl has drawn a lot of praise for her performance on the show and has also moved into a behind-the-camera role by becoming an executive producer for it. She also starred in the thriller Fear of Rain in 2021 and is set to appear in the titular role of Victoria Woodhull in Woodhull.

A Loving Mom

Another big part of Katherine’s life these days is her role as a mom to her three children. She shares a lot of photos, videos, and stories on social media, showing off her adventures with her kids and appears to be a very loving, caring, and committed mother.

Katherine takes a picture with one of her children at home.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

She celebrates her kids regularly and shows great pride in their accomplishments. And in interviews, Heigl often talks about the importance of family, being close to her parents and her sister, and doing her best to raise a superfamily alongside her husband.

A Strong and Inspiring Woman

Katherine Heigl has been through some tough times. From an early age, she had to deal with loss and difficulty, and later in life, she was villainized and criticized for speaking out and making some controversial comments. It affected her career, but she’s always managed to bounce back and push on through all the hardships in her life.

A photo of Katherine getting her make-up done.
Source: Instagram /@katherineheigl

Even now, after her acting career suffered due to some of her past decisions, Katherine has emerged once more into the spotlight, making great work and living her best life. For this, she deserves a ton of respect and is still adored and looked up to by fans around the world.