‘Grey's Anatomy’s Ghost Denny Storyline Isn't as Bad as You Remember

It's one of the most hated storylines, but is it really that bad?

The Big Picture

  • One of the most disliked storylines in Grey's Anatomy is Denny returning as a ghost in Season 5, due to some odd story beats.
  • However, the storyline cleverly reveals Izzie's illness through Denny's reappearance as her guardian angel.
  • The storyline comes full circle by the end of Season 5, proving that it's much more poignant than it gets credit for.

Given that Grey’s Anatomy has surpassed twenty seasons at this point, it’s no surprise that there have been storylines fans didn’t enjoy. Whether it be that the storyline was heartbreaking and sad, as is the case with a lot of the series. Or perhaps just flat-out boring, or cringe-worthy. Whatever the reason may be, Grey’s Anatomy has had its fair share of flops. But one of the most disliked storylines happened back when the show was in its prime, and it has to do with Denny Duquette ( Jeffery Dean Morgan ). Denny was a patient back in Season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy . He was a patient of Dr. Burke ( Isaiah Washington ) and soon became a love interest of Izzie Stevens ( Katherine Heigl ) — which is looked down upon even more than an intern dating an attending. Izzie and Denny had a season-long whirlwind romance, where both fell head over heels for one another. She even risked her medical license and cut his LVAD wire to move him up on the transplant list, if that’s not devotion, I don’t know what is. Denny did ultimately meet a devastating end in the Season 2 finale, which sent Izzie into a deep spiral and caused her to quit her job for a period of time. So when Denny showed back up in Season 5 many fans were confused. But it soon became clear that his appearances from beyond were much more than Izzie’s subconscious reminiscing on their time together.

Grey's Anatomy

A drama centered on the personal and professional lives of five surgical interns and their supervisors.

Why Did Izzie Hallucinate Denny?

In an attempt to get Denny a heart and bump him up the transplant list, Izzie cut his LVAD wire, effectively getting a heart for Denny whilst taking it away from someone else. In Season 5 she’s assigned to that person’s case and this is when she starts having hallucinations of Denny. At first, it seems like it could just be guilt. After all, what she did was incredibly unethical and she knows it. But then he keeps showing up even when she’s off the case, and no matter what she does she can’t stop seeing him. Growing frustrated with constantly seeing Denny and not knowing why, Izzie asks him to leave but he sticks around anyway, repeatedly telling her “I’m here for you.” She initially doesn’t know what he means by this but soon comes to the conclusion that his presence is a warning sign that something isn’t right.

With the help of her interns, Izzie discovers she has Metastatic Melanoma, a very aggressive form of cancer with only a 5% survival rate. She puts off treatment for a little while but her diagnosis is eventually outed by Cristina Yang ( Sandra Oh ) and Izzie finally admits herself as a patient and seeks treatment. Once she starts to undergo surgery, which consists of removing the metastases from her brain, her hallucinations of Denny stop. His presence was simply a side effect of her cancer. So when he shows back up all of a sudden, Izzie realizes she isn’t on the road to recovery like she originally thought. Izzie does triumphantly beat the cancer, making her all the more badass for doing so. And though fans find Izzie’s cancer storyline important, the Denny portion of it has always caused discourse .

Why Don’t Fans Like the Denny Storyline?

Of the OG interns, Izzie has never really been a favourite among fans . More so in her later seasons, and especially when Alex ( Justin Chambers ) left Jo ( Camilla Luddington ) for her back in Season 16. But in this case, the issue that fans have with her storyline in Season 5 doesn’t actually have anything to do with her, but instead has all to do with Denny (and I guess her a little bit, but only by extension.) With Denny continuously showing up Izzie believes that it’s memories she’s experiencing, and in an effort to prove to her that he’s really there, he suggests they do something they never got the chance to do when he was alive. Yeah. They have sex. Izzie has sex with Ghost Denny. It is incredibly weird, there’s no denying that, and fans immediately wrote the storyline off after the show went down that route. But while that choice was certainly a doozy, the entire story arc as a whole is quite clever and it doesn’t get recognized enough for that.

Obviously, the show took things a little too far with the revived relationship between Denny and Izzie, but even with the uncomfortable sex scene, how the show went about Izzie discovering her illness was extremely clever. We saw how hard Izzie fell for Denny, and he for her, so his showing up as her guardian Angel, the one sent to warn her, makes complete sense. She loved him so much, of course his ghostly reappearance is going to catch her attention, and given the connection that they formed and how stubborn Izzie could be at times, Denny was probably the only one who could get through to her. In a heated moment, Izzie comes to the conclusion that Denny is here FOR her, as in, he’s here to take her with him in death. “You're not here for me. You're here FOR me.” Izzie cried, to which Denny replied, “I loved you so much. I loved you so much that when I got to come back for you, I thought... you were my heaven. But maybe... maybe I'm your hell.” This is how Izzie comes to realize that she’s sick, she just doesn’t yet know in what way.

Which is another reason why fans take issue with this storyline. There are a lot of complaints (even from Izzie herself) that Denny wasted so much time by not telling Izzie she was sick — that he made her figure it out on her own. But the way I see it is that ghost Denny is her cancer materialized. The cancer has taken over her body unbeknownst to her, and is now making its presence known in the form of Denny. It makes sense that “Denny” can’t tell her because it isn’t actually him, it’s the cancer talking, it’s her mind playing tricks on her and revealing that something isn’t right. But even if you do see this as actually being Denny visiting her from beyond the grave, he himself says he’s not allowed to tell her and she has to figure it out on her own, so he’s not entirely to blame here.

All in all, despite some questionable choices, having Denny show up was a really poignant way of having Izzie discover her illness. Denny will always be a huge part of her life, so it makes sense that as her body gives out on her, he’s the one she sees. And it all comes full circle by the season finale when Izzie is dying and, in a limbo-esque dream, steps out of the elevator in her prom dress — the very dress she was wearing when Denny died . She was prepared to find and meet him in the afterlife. The ghost Denny storyline may get a bad reputation, but if you can look past the campy soap-opera nature of it (and the uncomfortable sex scene) you may just discover that it’s actually quite clever, and better than you remember it to be.

Grey's Anatomy is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.


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Denny Duquette, Jr.

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Denny Duquette was a heart patient and love interest of Izzie Stevens . He died of a stroke following a heart transplant. Later, he appeared to Meredith as a ghost type figure when she nearly drowned and again to Izzie when she had cancer.

  • 1.1 Congestive Heart Failure
  • 1.2 Life on the LVAD
  • 1.3 Heart Transplant and Death
  • 1.5.1 Meredith's Near-Death Experience
  • 1.5.2 Izzie's Hallucinations
  • 2 Personality
  • 3.1.1 Izzie Stevens
  • 3.2 Familial
  • 3.3.1 Meredith Grey
  • 4 Notes and Trivia
  • 5.1 Episodic
  • 5.2 Episode Stills
  • 6 Appearances
  • 7 References

History [ ]

Congestive heart failure [ ].

Denny had been a patient of Preston Burke for a long time. He had been diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, which caused his heart to fail. He came into the hospital when a transplant became available for him and it's during this hospitalization that he met Izzie Stevens . The two of them flirted, but she ultimately had to break the news to him that he wasn't getting the heart, so he was discharged and left. (" Begin the Begin ")

He came back into the hospital later in heart failure. They stabilized him in the ER and then admitted him. He was later tachycardic, but alert. In order to slow his heart rate, they had to shock his heart, which was excruciating for him. After he was stable, he got to know Izzie better. (" What Have I Done to Deserve This? ")

While hospitalized, Denny experienced shortness of breath and chest pains. His heart failure was getting worse despite medication. He later had flash pulmonary edema, so he was put on Bi-pap, but Burke said that he needed more. In order to extend the time he could wait for a heart transplant, he wanted to insert an LVAD . When he heard he wouldn't be able to leave the hospital after getting the LVAD, Denny said he needed to think about it. After speaking to Izzie about it, he decided to have the LVAD implanted. (" Band-Aid Covers the Bullet Hole ")

Life on the LVAD [ ]

While on the LVAD, Denny started experiencing shortness of breath. He had a pulmonary embolism. They tried to use a catheter to clear it, but they couldn't, so they had to open his chest. They were able to relieve the clot and he was stable after surgery. (" Superstition ")

Denny then started looking into a portable LVAD, which would allow him to get up and out of bed. Izzie opposed the idea, which caused Denny to be hesitant about it. Despite this, he went ahead with it, but he was having trouble breathing while on it. They had to intubate him, which stabilized him. They thought the tubing in his LVAD had gotten kinked. He was stable and able to get up and walk around after they fixed the problem. (" Blues for Sister Someone ")

While walking around the hospital with his portable LVAD, Denny collapsed and fell in the hallway after trying to use the stairs. His LVAD battery was nearly dead, so they took him back to his room. He was upset with being confined to the hospital and said he wanted to go home. Izzie tried to get his spirits back up with chocolate and tabloids, but he told her to stop, saying he hated being weak. He said if she knew what it was like, she would have let him die. (" Damage Case ")

Heart Transplant and Death [ ]

When a heart became available for Denny at Mercy West Medical Center , he was prepped for the surgery. He decided before the surgery to sign a DNR, saying that he was done if he didn't get the heart.

When the donor flatlined, Burke tried to get the other donor's heart for Denny. In order to help his case, Izzie lied on the phone and said that Denny was getting worse. However, when they asked for labs to confirm, she realized she had to make his heart actually worse in order to fool them. She decided to cut his LVAD wire. Denny tried to stop her, but he relented when she started crying and said that she would never forgive him for making her love him if he died. (" 17 Seconds ")

After cutting his LVAD wire, Izzie manually pumped his heart. When she found out Burke had been shot and wasn't coming, George took over pumping and the interns decided that they'd have to get the tests results themselves. Cristina looked at his heart. At this point, Denny woke back up and proposed to Izzie before coding. They used adenosine to stabilize him. At this point, Bailey came looking for them and found out what they were doing. She took over treatment and then consulted with Richard to figure out what they should do about the heart. They submitted the labs and had the heart brought over for transplant as instructed by UNOS. Because Burke had been shot, Erica Hahn was brought in to perform the transplant. She placed the heart and attempted to get it started. (" Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response ")

The heart eventually started to beat and they closed. After surgery, he marveled at having warm hands and a regular heart beat. He was stable in his room, but later that night, he threw a clot off his incision and died of a stroke. (" Losing My Religion ")

After his death, Izzie struggled to figure out what to do with the money he'd left her. She used about $300,000 of it to pay for Heather Douglas to have surgery. (" Six Days, Part 2 ")

She then decided to use the rest of the money to fund the free clinic that Miranda Bailey wanted to open. (" Great Expectations ")

Eight days later, the Denny Duquette Memorial Clinic opened to the public. (" Wishin' and Hopin' ")

Posthumous History [ ]

Meredith's near-death experience [ ].

When Meredith drowned in Elliott Bay , she woke up in the "afterlife" and saw Denny and Dylan Young . (" Drowning on Dry Land ")

Dylan and Denny bickered while Meredith wondered what she was doing, with Dylan wanted to tell her straight what was happening and Denny wanting to be more cautious about it. When it seemed that she had accepted her death and wasn't willing to fight to go back, they kept asking her what happened. They eventually got her to admit that she had stopped trying to survive. Denny told her that occasionally, he and Izzie would be in the same place at the same time and he could feel her. This made Meredith decide that she didn't just want moments with Derek, encouraging her to fight to go back. By then, they worried that she might be out of time. (" Some Kind of Miracle ")

Izzie's Hallucinations [ ]

Izzie started seeing Denny while working on the case of the man who was supposed to get the heart she stole for Denny, Michael Norris . (" Rise Up ")

She continued to see him as she worked on Clay Bedonie , who suggested that she might be haunted by him. She had Alex burn the sweater she'd made him, which she kept. Despite this, she continued to see him. (" These Ties That Bind ")

Izzie continued to see Denny and believed it was just memories, because they'd done the same things when he was alive, so he suggested they do something they hadn't done when he was alive, have sex. (" In the Midnight Hour ")

Because she was dating Alex, Izzie started talking to Denny about that and Denny expressed his disgust for seeing her with Alex. When she told Alex that she saw Denny sometimes, he dismissed it, saying it was cool with him because Denny's dead and he has her. (" Wish You Were Here ")

Izzie eventually asked Denny to leave, but he continued to stay and appear to her. He frequently said, "I'm here for you," which frustrated her. He told her that she didn't have time to think about anything else. He said he thought that getting to be with her again was heaven, but then he started to think it was hell. Izzie eventually concluded that he was saying that because she was sick. She told him to leave, which he did. (" Stairway to Heaven ")

After she learned that she had cancer, Izzie stopped seeing Denny for a while as she had the brain mets removed. When she saw him again, she knew it meant that she had a new brain met. (" What a Difference a Day Makes ")

While the doctors fought over Izzie's treatment, she daydreamed about sitting on a beach with Denny. (" Here's to Future Days ")

Personality [ ]

He says that he is funny and really nice. (" Begin the Begin ")

Relationships [ ]

Romantic [ ].


Izzie lies with Denny.

Izzie Stevens [ ]

Denny's father told Izzie she was nothing like the women Denny usually dated.

Denny first met Izzie when he was admitted to Seattle Grace Hospital as a heart transplant patient. (" Begin the Begin ")

When he came back to the hospital later, their relationship started to develop more. (" What Have I Done to Deserve This? ")

Soon, she started playing Scrabble with him and spending all her free time in his room, even though she was seeing Alex at the time. (" Band-Aid Covers the Bullet Hole ")

Izzie took a celibacy vow along with Meredith and Meredith took up knitting. Izzie had to knit pieces of sweater and replace the ones Meredith did because Meredith wasn't good at knitting. Denny was shocked that she'd taken a vow of celibacy because he wondered how he'd be able to get into her pants with her being celibate. In addition to this, she made Denny a sweater of his own, which she then wore for three hours before giving it to him. (" The Name of the Game ")

After seeing the way Izzie and Denny reacted when they disagreed over the portable LVAD, Bailey became worried that their relationship was starting to cross a line. (" Blues for Sister Someone ")

After a rough day for him, during which he fell while trying to use stairs, Izzie came into his room and crawled into bed with him, even after he warned her that she'd get in trouble. (" Damage Case ")

When a heart became available for Denny, Izzie was told she couldn't prep him for surgery because she'd gotten too attached. However, she convinced Bailey to let her do it, with a warning that she better not get too close. When the heart fell through and she was trying to get the other one, she convinced him to let her cut his LVAD wire to make his heart worse. (" 17 Seconds ")

After Izzie cut his LVAD, he lost consciousness for a while. When he came to, he proposed to Izzie. (" Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response ")

After his heart transplant, he confirmed that he wanted to marry her. He wanted something that was his own choice after years of doctors making choices for him. She agreed to marry him. When Denny died, Izzie climbed into his bed and wouldn't leave until Alex told her that Denny's body was not him and picked her up off of him. (" Losing My Religion ")

When his father came to meet Izzie after Denny's death, he told Izzie that Denny was rich and had written her a check for 8.7 million dollars and a voice message to his parents telling them he had met the love of his life. The money he had given to Izzie was used to establish Denny Duquette Memorial Clinic .

Familial [ ]

Denny's parents were devastated when he was diagnosed. He'd never been sick a day in his life before his heart failure. One day, Denny left a note for his parents saying he didn't want them to have to watch him die. They assumed he was dead until he left them a voicemail telling them he'd gotten a new heart and was getting married. (" What I Am ")

Friendships [ ]

Meredith grey [ ].

Denny was friendly to all the doctors, particularly Izzie, but when Meredith drowned in Elliott Bay, he was extremely kind to her in the after-life . In the after life he could feel Izzie sometimes, if they were in exactly the same spot at exactly the same time. Denny also told Meredith that if she chose to die, she would only get moments with her loved ones. This changed Meredith.

Notes and Trivia [ ]

  • His Zodiac sign was Capricorn. [1]
  • He loved to travel and cook. [2]
  • Denny died on May 14, 2006 at 7:42pm, at the age of 36. [3]
  • After he died, his body was sent to Memphis. [4]
  • Denny was scared of hospitals and could never sleep when he was in one, as he feared he wouldn't wake up. [5]
  • He loved animals. [6]
  • During a "Morbidity and Mortality" conference, he was referred to as patient number 34986. [7]
  • According to his father, he liked dark-haired, smart girls. [8]
  • He claimed that he was smart, but not a know-it-all. [9]
  • He made more posthumous appearances than antemortem appearances.

Gallery [ ]

Episodic [ ].

Begin the Begin

Episode Stills [ ]


Appearances [ ]

References [ ].

  • 1 Meredith Grey
  • 2 Amelia Shepherd
  • 3 April Kepner

How Grey's Anatomy Saved Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Acting Career

Denny Duquette smiling on Grey's Anatomy

Jeffrey Dean Morgan had a memorable run on "Grey's Anatomy." He played heart patient Denny Duquette in nearly two dozen episodes, and he had a love story with Isobel "Izzie" Stevens, played by Katherine Heigl, both in Season 2 when he was alive and then again in Season 5 as a ghost/hallucination. The Denny ghost storyline led to Heigl's least favorite "Grey's Anatomy" scene of all time .

Duquette's death at the end of Season 2, after he'd had a seemingly successful heart transplant surgery and proposed to Izzie is one of the most heartbreaking moments on "Grey's Anatomy," a show that's full of tearjerking plots. And while Morgan playing Duquette gave "Grey's" fans a favorite character, it also gave Morgan a huge boost to his career. The actor went on the YouTube show " Hot Ones ," and talked about the impact being on the medical drama had on his life. "Being Denny, where I never got out of bed is why Zack Snyder hired me to be the Comedian [in the "Wathcmen"]. That's how special that was." But it was just a couple of years before his career-making turn as Duquette that Morgan considered quitting acting altogether.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan nearly couldn't handle his makeup for Star Trek: Enterprise

A couple of years before his time as Denny Duquette on "Grey's Anatomy," Jeffrey Dean Morgan was in one episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise." And just one episode made him consider quitting acting altogether. He was playing a Xindi-Reptilian, and it involved a full face mask. That's what Morgan had the issue with. On "Hot Ones," he explained just how horrible it was: "It turns out I'm claustrophobic. I had a really hard time doing the makeup process, and I had straws in my nose." It was so stressful for Morgan that shooting that one episode made him question his career. He talked about going home and thinking, "I don't ever want to be an actor again. I was sure that this was just wrong, and it almost made me quit." We're so glad that he stuck with it! We can't imagine "Grey's" without Morgan as Denny.

"Grey's Anatomy" wasn't Morgan's first role by any means, it was the one that gave him freedom to choose what projects he wanted to work on. From what he said about his time on "Star Trek," we're pretty confident that there won't be any roles roles that involve him having to wear a full face mask. We're okay with that — we love to see his megawatt smile.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan was amazed at how much people loved Denny on Grey's

In 2006, after Season 2 of "Grey's Anatomy" had aired and Denny Duquette's fate had been confirmed, Jeffrey Dean Morgan told the Los Angeles Times how surprising it was that fans had fallen so in love with his character as his character was falling in love with Izzie Stevens: "No one knew how much the story would take on a life of its own. I don't think even Shonda [Rhimes, the show's creator] knew how the fans would be drawn to the romance. It was pretty incredible."

Rhimes has talked about how much she personally loved Morgan's character. She revealed that even though she and everyone else on the show, including Morgan, knew that his character would be dying at the end of Season 2, it was still emotional to see him go. "When I wrote the script where he died, I cried like a baby," Rhimes said, via Writers Guild Foundation , and she cried more when they did the table read for his final scenes and when they filmed them.

Since his memorable stint on "Grey's Anatomy," Morgan has gone on to be known for his work as Negan on AMC's "The Walking Dead." And if he ever does quit acting, he's got plenty to keep him busy. He and his wife and two kids live on a 100-acre farm in New York's Hudson Valley, complete with alpacas, emus, and cattle.

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'Grey's Anatomy' Exclusive: Izzie/Denny ghost story twist revealed!

Warning: Stop reading, Grey's Anatomy fans, if you don't want to know the big secret behind Denny's afterlife love affair with Izzie.

I'm serious. Stop.

Okay then, here we go. Turns out Shonda Rhimes wasn't lying when she told me last month that a brain tumor wasn't what was causing Izzie's case of "I see dead people… and have sex with them!" But she was being sneaky.

Last chance to run, spoilerphobes!

According to multiple sources, Izzie's hallucinations are health-related— and brain-related. And although the specific name of the ailment is being kept in the safe underneath Rhimes' desk, I'm told it's similar to an aneurysm. And every time it flares up, she sees Denny. And sometimes when it really flares up, she shags him. (A Grey's rep could not be reached for comment.)

But wait, there's more! Izzie's aneurysmish disorder was never intended to be fatal. Plans change, but, per an ABC insider, Rhimes didn't cook up this story in order to grant Katherine Heigl 's alleged wish to be let go from the show. Rather, the boss wanted to give her employee the thing she allegedly wanted, the thing that eluded her last season: great, Emmy-worthy material.

And say what you want about the story, Heigl has delivered. For their part, ABC execs remain divided except for one point: Everyone acknowledges that the plot is asking the audience to take a huge leap. "It's definitely an unorthodox story, but I trust in Shonda," maintains one suit, who says the press will eviscerate the net no matter what they do. "If we interfere, we get blamed for messing with someone's creative vision. If we don't do anything, we get blamed for the backlash. You really can't win."

Another insider says Alphabet execs are getting antsy waiting for the audience to find out about the underlying medical issue fueling Izzie's spectral romance. So antsy, in fact, that they are applying some light pressure on Rhimes to speed up the reveal. Once you know the reason Izzie is seeing Denny, they figure, you'll be much more willing to go along for the ride.

Well, let's put that theory to the test: Now that you know what's behind Izzie's condition, do you feel better? Worse? Indifferent? Sound off below! (Personally, I can get on board with this story now. I think.)

More Grey's Scoop:

ABC testing Izzie-Denny story

Grey's Anatomy: Shonda Rhimes Cried While Writing Denny's Death

Denny and Izzie about to kiss

"Grey's Anatomy" fans have witnessed a long list of deaths over the show's 18-year history, but one of the most gut-wrenching was the demise of Denny Duquette (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan .) The critically ill heart patient quickly became the love interest of surgical intern Izzie Stevens ( Katherine Heigl ) –- and a fan favorite. But after getting a much-needed heart transplant, he died of a stroke at 7:42 p.m. on "prom night" at Seattle Grace Hospital, just hours after he proposed to Izzie.

Fans were heartbroken, but no more than showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who was tasked with dreaming up the devastating death. In an interview with The Writers Guild Foundation , Rhimes admitted that she bawled when writing the death scene—even though she knew from the beginning that Denny was to die. "He was brought on to die," she said of the character, who was described as a dying young man from the jump. "I knew that's what was gonna happen." Rhimes added that she even talked to Morgan about his character's fate when he was hired.

Still, when the time came, Rhimes, like fans, had grown attached to the character. "We all knew that's what was happening and still, when I wrote the script where he died, I cried like a baby," she said. "I mean, because it was so real. It sounds so sappy, but it was so real to me when [Izzie's] lying in that bed and sort of saying 'I can't believe he's gone.'"

Rhimes added that she cried along with Morgan and Heigl during the table read, and everyone was in tears when filming the death scene. "We kept having to stop shooting because I was crying really loudly," Rhimes revealed.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan begged Shonda Rhimes not to kill his character off

Even though Jeffrey Dean Morgan knew his character was going to be a short-timer, it didn't stop him from trying to negotiate a longer life for Denny Duquette. In an interview on the YouTube show "Hot Ones," the actor revealed that he didn't want to leave "Grey's Anatomy" and really wanted to give fans more of Denny's love story with Izzie Stephens. "That's the one time that I saw my death coming and I was trying everything I could do to get out of that death," he said. Morgan admitted that he even went to showrunner Shonda Rhimes to plead with her to consider keeping him on. "I was like, 'Please don't kill me! I will do anything.' I did. I begged her," he said.

While Denny didn't make it out of Season 2 alive, the character was brought back for a few ghostly dream sequences. Still, Morgan really never got over the loss of the coveted role on the hit ABC medical drama. In 2006, he told The Los Angeles Times that filming his final scenes was terrible. "It was a grim day. I'm still not over it. It broke my heart to leave that show," he said.

And fans had a hard time getting over it too. In a 2007 interview with Marie Claire , Morgan revealed that after Denny's death scene aired, fans would see him on the street and look as though they'd seen a ghost. "There's a lot of crying involved," he said.

The Best Ghosts, Ranked

Here are the best ghouls, spirits, and poltergeists from pop culture history.

Cartoon, Animated cartoon, Illustration, Fictional character, World, Art,

Human beings have told ghost stories since time immemorial. Ghosts are braided into our folklore, after all—think the Headless Horseman or Bloody Mary—and we’ll hazard a guess that even primitive humans were painting ghosts on their cave walls. We love ghosts because they suggest a world without dying, because they can lend a measure of justice to unjust deaths, because they provide a means of communicating with our loved ones from beyond the grave.

However, not all ghosts take themselves and their mission so seriously. Some are mischievous; some are looking for love (and even sex) from the living; others are just plain flatulent. Not all ghosts are crusaders in search of justice or spiritual connection, after all—some are tricksters, some are malingerers, and some are just out to cause as much commotion as they possibly can. Can you really blame them? If you were a ghost, wouldn’t you, too, want to levitate a lamp and make some hapless witness crap his pants?

Here at Esquire , we love all things spooky, so with Halloween fast approaching at the end of the month, we ranked our favorite ghosts from worst to best. It was a challenge riddled with tough decisions, as we have great affection for all these kooky ghosts, yet we had to admit that some of them lost points by refusing to maximize their use of their ghostly powers. Why linger on earth in perpetuity if you’re not going to have a grand old time of it? Buckle up--this ride is haunted.

28) Guys On Tinder

Facial hair, Beard, Technology, Sitting, Photography,

Enough said.

27) Shoeless Joe Jackson, from Field of Dreams

Forehead, Headgear, Uniform,

If I had my choice of baseball ghosts to throw BP to, Field of Dreams ’s Shoeless Joe Jackson would probably be low on that list. He only likes the ball in one spot, and lives in mystical corn fields, so he’s never really free for a beer after. When you really think about it, Shoeless Joe is kind of a dick to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella. What do you mean I’m not invited? That’s my goddamn corn. - Brady Langmann

26) Dr. Malcolm Crowe, from The Sixth Sense

White-collar worker, Photography, Businessperson,

That’s right, we spoiled it. What are you gonna do about it? A complete lack of awareness of his ghostly powers makes Bruce Willis a pretty lame ghost, in all honesty. After all, there’s got to be a more exciting way to spend the afterlife than administering therapy to troubled children. -Adrienne Westenfeld

25) The Hatbox Ghost, from Disney's The Haunted Mansion

Not many ghosts can claim to have been cancelled, but the Hatbox Ghost can. Upon his installation in the Haunted Mansion in 1969, he was deemed insufficiently scary within a few months of operation, and as a result, he was decommissioned until 2015. Womp womp. After 46 years of retirement, the Hatbox Ghost may have preferred to stay retired, but hey, who doesn’t love a good comeback? -AW

24) Jacob Marley, from NBC's A Christmas Carol

George Costanza is Jacob Marley, and yes, this is Seinfeld canon. In what now would become a series of plagues on this world, NBC stars of new and old teamed up to ruin a bit of the holiday season in every home. With a score by Alan Menken and an all-star cast featuring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, there’s some charm to this cheesy straight to TV musical feature. It's not even that Jason Alexander did a bad job, but seeing George Costanza and Frasier Crane talk about the mistakes of their pasts feels more like NBC Sitcom Purgatory than a holiday classic. -Cameron Sherrill

23) The Snapchat Ghost

Clip art,

He’s small, he’s spooky, and he’s got all your nudes. The Snapchat Ghost approaches your most sensitive photos with a frankly inappropriate level of mischief—just look at those pinwheeling arms and that floppy tongue. Fun, cringey fact: his real name is Ghostface Chillah. -AW

22) Ghost Rider, from Marvel's Ghost Rider

He’s spooky. He’s on fire. He’s a biker. And his head is a skull. Ghost Rider may not be Marvel’s most famous hero, but he is hands-down the best Ghoulish Good Guy that the MCU has to offer. -Dominick Nero

21) The Pac-Man Ghosts

Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde are Pac-Man’s chief tormentors. A few little-known facts about them: Blinky is bad at grammar, Inky lacks focus, Pinky has a crush on Pac-Man, and Clyde is a hapless do-gooder. Basically, they’re a pack of playground bullies in spectral form. -AW

20) The Dead Men of Dunharrow, from The Lord of the Rings

One ghost is great—a horde of ghosts is even better. In The Lord of the Rings , the Dead Men of Dunharrow are a swarm of spirits cursed to linger under a mountain as punishment for breaking their promise of military aid to Isildur, Aragorn’s ancestor. Only when they fight for Aragorn in the war against Sauron are they released to their eternal rest. A ghost putting in an honest day’s work for an honest reward: you love to see it. -AW

19) Slimer, from Ghostbusters

Slimer isn’t just a garden variety ghost—he’s the rare gross ghost. A “grohst,” if you will. You’d think bodily functions would lose their importance in the afterlife, but Slimer is smelly, flatulent, and forever looking for his next meal. Whomst among us can’t relate? -AW

18) The Ghost of Christmas Present, from The Muppets Christmas Carol

The Muppets Christmas Carol has ghosts ranging from hilarious and charming to downright nightmarish, from the antics of Statler and Waldorf as Jakob Marley (or Marley and Marley in this case) to the nightmarish Humanoid doll muppet mutant that is the Ghost of Christmas Past. Out of all of the muppet mayhem, there’s one happy haunt that stands apart: the Ghost of Christmas Present. This jovial, forgetful, giant piece of felt is one of the most charming things about the Christmas Classic. Cheers to you, Ghost of Christmas Present, for saving us all from the other Eldritch abominations that haunt this wonderful film. -CS

17) The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's Murder

The ghost of Honest Abe gets around. Lincoln is said to have haunted the White House since his death in 1865, with sightings reported by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, among others. In one memorable anecdote, Prime Minister Winston Churchill reported encountering the ghost of Lincoln after emerging from the bathtub, which left him facing down the deceased head of state buck naked. Is Ghost Lincoln a peeping Tom? Who’s to say? For further reading, refer to George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. -AW

16) Danny Phantom, from NIckelodeon's Danny Phantom

More ghosts should have catchphrases. Sure, “I’m going ghost” isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but can you blame Danny Phantom? He’s a half-human, half-ghost 14-year-old juggling puberty, a secret identity, and a single-handed responsibility to keep his small town safe from a menacing horde of ghosts. Plenty of ghosts are do-gooders, but Danny Phantom is a bona fide hero. -AW

15) King Hamlet, from Hamlet

While other ghosts swan through the afterlife on a series of rascally larks, King Hamlet is a ghost on a mission. Trapped in purgatory, as he died without receiving his last rites, King Hamlet urges his good-for-nothing son to avenge his murder at the hands of his brother. It’s worth noting that King Hamlet appears in his full kingly regalia—no cruddy bedsheets for this guy. This is a ghost with class. -AW

14) The Blow Job Ghost and His Lover, from The Shining

The Shining is remembered mostly for its disturbing sequences and unbridled terror, but people seem to forget how downright hilarious this 1980 movie is. Stanley Kubrick never failed to deliver on his trademark mischievous sense of humor, and The Shining is no exception. When the hotel finally becomes a full-on Haunted House in the big finale, Wendy spots a spirit in a bear costume performing oral sex on a man in a tuxedo. Good for them! -DN

13) Moaning Myrtle, from Harry Potter

Do you like your ghosts the vengeful, old-fashioned way? Had enough of these gentle, benevolent, “go toward the light” types? Then Moaning Myrtle is the ghost for you, bitter and malevolent as she is. In the Harry Potter universe, Myrtle torments female students in the second floor ladies’ restroom at Hogwarts, though she occasionally slips into the men’s restroom to spy on naked boys in the bath. -AW

12) Banquo, from Macbeth

Showing up uninvited is basically a ghost’s calling card, but Banquo dials it up to 20—he shows up uninvited, and he takes the host’s chair, and he talks shit about the host to his very face. Basically, Banquo is a messy bitch who lives for drama, and we’re here for that. -AW

11) The Holy Ghost in Fleabag

Sitting, Architecture, Photography,

God, or some manifestation of his/her spirit, is floating around and unafraid to make its presence known in the second season of Fleabag . Making out with a priest? It’s happy to knock a framed image or two off the wall to keep you in line. At least one-third of the Holy Trinity isn’t here to mess around. -Justin Kirkland

10) Denny Duquette, from Grey's Anatomy

The ghost of Denny Duquette was a breaking point for a lot of Grey’s Anatomy fans. Sometimes he appeared as a vision when someone died. Then he appeared as a warm presence in the hospital. Then he had a whole season where he slept with Katherine Heigl’s character. In short, Denny Duquette would not go away, but if you’re going to be haunted by an apparition (or manifestation of your tumor—dealer’s choice), you’d be lucky to find one as charming as Jeffery Dean Morgan. -JK

9) Anakin Skywalker, from Return of the Jedi

For years, the ghoulish visage of English thespian Sebastian Shaw stood as the one and only human representation of Darth Vader. He appeared to Luke Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi dressed in a Jedi robe, with a spooky light blue aura surrounding him and fellow Jedi ghosts, Yoda and Old Ben Kenobi. Then, as he is wont to do, George Lucas went and fucked it up. The updated versions of Return of the Jedi now have Hayden Christensen standing in amongst the Original Trilogy Force Ghosts–but Sebastian Shaw will always be the definitive Papa Skywalker. -DN

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan, like you, is still not over Denny's death on 'Grey's Anatomy'


Long before he became a prime-time fixture on series like “The Walking Dead” and “The Good Wife,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan landed a part that helped make all those other roles (and at least one of his big screen gigs) possible.

He played the part of Denny Duquette, a patient whose heart was set on Dr. Izzie Stevens ( Katherine Heigl ), on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and it was an opportunity he didn’t want to come to an end — even when it had to.

During a recent visit to Sean Evans’ hot-sauce slathered YouTube series “Hot Ones,” Morgan discussed his dilemma when faced with his character’s impending doom.

“‘Grey’s Anatomy’ I knew was something special,” the 54-year-old said after host Evans asked about his many roles that ended in on-screen deaths. “That’s the one time that I saw my death coming and I was trying everything I could do to get out of that death.”

After all, he’d suddenly found himself in a hit medical drama playing one-half of a fan-favorite romance.


“That character, Denny, and that love story with Izzie kind of took the world by storm,” Morgan recalled. “I knew how f---ing lucky I was to be there.”

And so he decided to plead his case for the character to one person who had the power to change his scripted destiny — creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes.

“I was like, ‘Please don’t kill me! I will do anything,’” he said of his desperation. “I did. I begged her.”

Alas, Denny’s fate was sealed by the end of the show’s second season. No sooner had Izzy accepted his proposal than he died. But maybe all that begging didn’t go to waste, because Morgan was able to reprise the role in seasons three and five in dream sequences and hallucinations.

Eventually, the part of patient and star-crossed lover Denny paid off in more ways for Morgan, too.

“That’s what changed my life,” he told Evans of the role. “Being Denny, where I never got out of bed, is why Zack Snyder hired me to be The Comedian (in ‘Watchmen’). That’s how special that was.”


This isn’t the first time the star has opened up about his “Grey’s” exit. Back in 2006, when it was all still fresh, Morgan spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how disappointed he was about his character’s death.

“It was a grim day, let me tell you,” he said of filming his final scene. “A dark, grim day. I’m still not over it. It broke my heart to leave that show.”

denny duquette ghost

Pop Culture 'Grey's Anatomy' writer reveals how show revived beloved characters for latest episode

He shared that the role meant more to him than he’d ever expected.

“I had no idea what it would be like,” he said. “How attached I would get. To Denny and everyone there. It is such a great show, such a great group of people. It was the only time in my career when I didn’t mind getting up at 5:30 in the morning, didn’t mind the 16-hour days. I couldn’t believe it. So ... yes, I fought to stay.”

Ree Hines is a freelance writer and editor who covers pop culture, lifestyle stories and trending news. She’s also a soul-music loving, coffee-obsessed member of both Team Cat and Team Dog. Ree lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a regular contributor to TODAY.com.

Screen Rant

Grey's anatomy: 5 ways denny and izzie were soulmates (& 5 they were never meant to be).

Grey's Anatomy fans love debating which couples are endgame and who should break up. Izzie and Denny were definitely polarizing on the medical drama.

If only fans could tell showrunners which couples should promise each other forever and which ones can go their separate ways. Grey's Anatomy   is the kind of show where viewers can never agree on the best pairings or who should break up, but that's part of the enjoyment factor of watching. The characters always keep viewers guessing.

RELATED:  Grey's Anatomy: 10 Ways Cristina Got Worse & Worse

This show is all about romance, and while there are many  pairs that should have happened , there are also a lot of relationships that fans have strong feelings about. One such couple is Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) and Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Are these two perfect, or do they have some real problems?

Soulmates: She Risks Her Career For Him

Izzie Stevens is a fascinating character  because she's stubborn and she learns some hard lessons during her time on  Grey's Anatomy . When she cuts Denny's LVAD wire, she risks her entire career and everything that she has worked so hard for.

Because she's willing to take such a big step, it's hard to see her and Denny as anything but soulmates. She wouldn't do this for just anyone, after all.

Not Meant To Be: It's Too Dangerous/Inappropriate

It's easy to argue that Denny and Izzie aren't meant to be, however, because their romance is too dangerous and inappropriate.

RELATED:  Grey's Anatomy: 10 Ways Alex Got Worse & Worse

It's definitely frowned upon for patients and doctors/interns to date, and it also seems like a weird time to be looking for love since saving lives is of utmost importance in a hospital. There are a lot of other people who would have been better suited for Izzie.

Soulmates: They're Together Even After He Passes Away

It was super sad when Denny passed away  but once fans got over that tragedy, something pretty wild happened: Izzie was convinced that she could still be with Denny once he was gone. Yup, in that way.

While this is definitely odd, it's also true that these two are together even after one of them dies. How could they not be soulmates after that?

Not Meant To Be: Izzie Seems Unstable When Talking About His Ghost

While Izzie is over the moon that she can see Denny's spirit, it doesn't make her look like a stable, steady person, let alone a doctor who can handle anything that happens at the hospital.

Because this situation makes Izzie irrational, it doesn't seem possible to say that she's "meant to be" with Denny. Something is off about this and she's not acting normally.

Soulmates: They Bond Over A Tough Situation

Izzie says some funny things on the show but the fact that Denny ends up in the hospital with a heart problem is definitely no laughing matter.

RELATED:  Grey's Anatomy: 10 Ways Lexie Got Worse & Worse

It's possible to view Izzie and Denny as soulmates because they bond during a tough situation. As a medical professional, she knows what he's going through and that's not something that should be taken lightly.

Not Meant To Be: They Barely Know Each Other

While Izzie gets totally swept up in her love story with Denny, the truth is that she barely knows him. She can't think that she needs to be with him forever just because she cares for him when he's in the hospital.

After all, this is her workplace, and he just happened to be there. These two just don't seem like endgame.

Soulmates: It's Very Romantic

Sure, there are practical reasons why two people would be each other's soulmates. They get along well, they share common interests, they've been together for a while, etc.

But what about romance? Logically, Denny and Izzie don't make much sense together. They have a chance meeting at the hospital and they haven't been conventionally dating, going to dinner and a movie and meeting each other's families. But their love story is definitely very sweet and moving, and that counts for something.

Not Meant To Be: She Sees Him Because Of Her Cancer

Just like Amelia's brain tumor really affects her personality , Izzie acts a certain way because she has cancer. In this case, she sees Denny's ghost because she's actually very ill.

RELATED:  Grey's Anatomy: 5 Times Mark Sloan Was An Overrated Character (& 5 He Was Underrated)

Would Izzie see him if she was healthy? Probably not, which just means that these two characters aren't actually meant to be.

Soulmates: She Can't Move On From Him Easily

Derek and Meredith are always considered the gold standard of Grey's Anatomy love stories , but Izzie has a pretty epic love life, too.

The truth is that she has a lot of trouble moving on from Denny. She even sees his ghost, after all, and becomes a nervous wreck. Seeing as how it's so tough for her to let go, this could mean that Denny is the person she's supposed to be with.

Not Meant To Be: Izzie And Alex End Up Together

When Alex Karev leaves the show , he makes it clear that he and Izzie are going to be together. While fans weren't necessarily over the moon or even on board with this creative call, that's the way that things ended up.

If Izzie and Denny were soulmates, then Denny wouldn't have died and they would be married with kids by now. Instead, Izzie had to be single so she could end up with her one true love, which is Alex Karev.

NEXT:  Grey's Anatomy: 5 Times Jackson Avery Was An Overrated Character (& 5 He Was Underrated)


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  13. Jeffrey Dean Morgan

    Jeffrey Dean Morgan (born April 22, 1966 [1]) is an American actor of television and film, best known for playing the character Negan in the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead (2016-2022), a role he reprised in The Walking Dead: Dead City (2023-present), for which he has received critical acclaim.

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