Fifteen years ago today, television lost one of its finest fictional doctors. After eight seasons as the heart and soul of County General, during which time he saved countless lives (except in one memorable case), Dr. Mark Greene succumbed to a brain tumor in the penultimate episode of ER‘s eighth season, “On the Beach.” Greene’s face was the first one viewers saw in ER‘s groundbreaking pilot episode that debuted to massive ratings in 1994, and Anthony Edwards — who played the good doctor for those eight years — says his passing was two seasons in the making. “They knew that I would be leaving the show, so they had two years to tell the story of someone going through this life transition,” the actor tells Yahoo TV. “The first year was the medical part of it… and then the second year was really the emotional journey of someone transitioning. By the time we got to that goodbye, it was a goodbye that they had been setting up for two years.”
That painstakingly planned approach also allowed Greene’s passing to land with maximum emotional impact. In our interview, Edwards visibly tears up recalling his character’s final days in “Beach.” Having relocated to Hawaii, Mark attempts to reconcile with his daughter, Rachel (Hallee Hirsh), and also spends time with his second wife, Elizabeth (Alex Kingston), before going to his great reward. “There’s been many people who said that their experience of losing a loved one or family member made [Greene’s death] a little understandable,” Edwards says. “It’s why we listen to music or why we watch TV shows… we still want to be told a story and have it relate somehow to our lives.”
All 15 seasons of ER are available to rent or purchase on Amazon and iTunes.