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'Grey's Anatomy' Postmortem: James Pickens on Adele's Heartbreaking Fate and What's Next

"His job had taken precedence over his personal life, and her death really affected him much more profoundly than folks realize," the actor tells THR.

Grey's Anatomy Things We Said Today DeVine Pickens Dancing - P 20
ABC/KELSEY MCNEAL
"Grey's Anatomy's" Loretta DeVine and James Pickens Jr.

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's "Things We Said Today" episode of Grey's Anatomy.]

Grey's Anatomy upped this season's death toll Thursday when Richard Webber's wife, Adele, joined the list of the ABC medical drama's dearly departed. 

After being rushed to Seattle Grace in the midseason finale, Loretta DeVine's Emmy winner -- who had been suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease -- successfully made it out of an emergency surgery, thanks to Meredith, Bailey and the Chief's eleventh-hour recommendation. 

Richard (James Pickens Jr.) holds himself responsible for no longer going to see his wife. After she survives the surgery, Adele wakes up and shares a beautiful moment of clarity with Richard, asking him to stay with her, while indirectly allowing Bailey to return to her postponed wedding ceremony to Ben.

After Bailey (Chandra Wilson) confesses to Ben (Jason George) that she's afraid her professional ambition will harm their relationship, Ben reassures her -- they're both on the same page as surgeons, or in his case, an aspiring one. They take the plunge and tie the knot.

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The good news for Adele, however, doesn't last long. Richard ultimately shows up at Bailey's reception to congratulate her but comes with heavy news, revealing to Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) that Adele passed away. As it turns out, the surgery fixed the aneurysm, but her heart couldn't take it, and she suffered a fatal heart attack. As Richard looks on to see Bailey and Ben sharing their first dance as husband and wife, we flash back to a poignant scene of his wedding to Adele, complete with their "My Funny Valentine" song. 

The Hollywood Reporter hit the set of the Shonda Rhimes drama and quizzed Pickens on how Richard will handle Adele's death, what this means for his relationship with Jackson's mom, Catherine (Debbie Allen), and what's next for the Chief.

The Hollywood Reporter: How will Adele's death impact the Chief?
James Pickens Jr.: It affects him really profoundly. They've probably been married over 25 years, and he feels at fault, that maybe he should have been a little more present when she was in the nursing home and maybe some things could have been caught before they got too bad. The biggest thing for him is a feeling of guilt; his past indiscretions, the fact that he wasn't present sometimes emotionally and physically because of his job. His job had taken precedence over his personal life, and her death really affected him much more profoundly than folks realize.

THR: How will we see him struggle with her passing?
Pickens: His relationship with Catherine becomes a real stumbling block for him. He feels that the time that he could have spent with Adele he was having dinner with Catherine, so there might be a backing away from her.

STORY: 'Grey's Anatomy' Postmortem: How Will Ben React to Bailey's Big Decision?

THR: Is this the end of his relationship with Catherine, or is there hope for them in the long run?
Pickens: They're going to try and see if they can elaborate a little more on the possible relationship that he may have with Catherine. There's a lot of nice stuff there in terms of the kind of dynamic that they have. I think it's really intriguing to see how he comes out of a long marriage and potentially gets back out there -- and if Catherine's going to be a real part of that, and if he's going to let her be a part of it.

THR: How will Jackson play a role in his healing?
Pickens: Jackson really doesn't know what to think. Obviously, that's his mother and his superior, and so he's caught in the crosshairs. It's actually rather amusing and really cute. There is a part of him that sees if his mom's happy, that's all that matters to him, and he'd rather see her with Richard than somebody else that he doesn't know or doesn't have history with.

THR: What about Bailey and Meredith, whose relationship with Richard is much closer than anyone else at the hospital?
Pickens: In a situation like that, the people who are friends or who are on the periphery of your life, there's not a whole lot you can do. You just have to be there and be supportive and say, "Hey, I understand, and if you need me, I'm a phone call right away." That's where Bailey and Meredith are. Meredith watched him go through the same thing when [Meredith's mom/the chief's mistress] Ellis (Kate Burton) passed. She was there for that, and she understands that in those circumstances you have to give folks their space.  They're going to allow him to have time to grieve.

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THR: How will Richard and Bailey navigate Ben, considering her decision to postpone her wedding to care for Adele?
Pickens: Richard's the one who would have walked her down the aisle had not Adele come into emergency. He's always felt that he was like a father figure, not in the same was as he was with Meredith, but he always felt very protective of Bailey, and he always admired her and respected her as a surgeon and the kind of woman she is. It's going to be interesting.

THR: Might Richard -- a recovering alcoholic -- fall back on some bad habits as he goes through this process?
Pickens:That could always be in the storyteller's mind, but we've seen that already, and we've seen how he has circumvented that and how he has navigated that.

How do you think Richard will mourn for Adele? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit