Katherine Heigl in 2001

Katherine Heigl is well known in Hollywood — she became a household name from her breakout role on "Grey’s Anatomy," which led to starring roles in the 2000s rom-coms "Knocked Up," "27 Dresses," and "The Ugly Truth" (per IMDb). She’s famous for her outspoken nature, and she’s never afraid to speak up for what is right. She’s also more than just an actress: She’s a wife, a mother, and an animal lover who goes after what she wants and works ceaselessly to ensure she keeps her late brother’s legacy alive.

Heigl has a big platform, and she uses it to advocate for things that are close to her heart — whether that be encouraging people to help homeless animals or imploring them to consider becoming organ donors to save lives. Heigl is actively trying to make the world a better place, and, feisty or not, she’s come a long way since "Grey’s Anatomy." Here’s a look at the stunning transformation of Katherine Heigl.

Katherine Heigl experienced loss early in life

Young Katherine Heigl, sister Meg

Katherine Heigl was born on November 24, 1978, in Washington state to Paul and Nancy Heigl. Her father was a financial executive while her mother spent her days working as his personal manager. Heigl grew up in Connecticut, and it was also here that she experienced heartbreak for the first time.

The family suffered an unimaginable loss when Heigl was a little girl. The youngest of four siblings, Heigl had an older brother, Jason, who died in a car accident when he was 15 years old. He was driving with his friends, sitting in the back of a pickup truck, when the fateful accident happened, as Hello! reports. He later died due to a brain injury. Heigl was 7 years old at the time and had to navigate life after such a shocking loss, while her parents tried to determine how to deal with their unimaginable grief, as the actress told Good Housekeeping.

Jason’s death has had a profound impact on her life, and, at first, it wasn’t exactly positive. Heigl admitted to The Sunday Times (via People) that, for a long time, she was scared to allow herself to be too happy because she knew how easily it could be taken away. She later realized that was no way to live and decided to embrace the happy moments.

She became a child model at age 9

Young Katherine Heigl, her family

Wherever Katherine Heigl goes, heads turn, and her aunt seemed to notice it first when she used Heigl’s picture to promote her line of hair accessories. Recognizing her niece’s talent in front of the camera, Heigl’s aunt asked her mother for her permission to put Heigl in contact with a modeling agency, and she agreed, as the actress told Good Housekeeping. What followed was a pretty successful modeling career for the young Heigl.

When she appeared on Anderson Cooper’s talk show, "Anderson" (via People), Heigl revealed that she had modeled for brands like Sears and Macy’s, but that, for her, the experience wasn’t all sunshine and roses. She actually didn’t like modeling much at all. Heigl described the experience to Cooper as "brutal," explaining that she hated how the photographers many times pushed her to do "adorable" poses that she felt were "silly and lame."

And she began acting at 11 years old

Katherine Heigl in "My Father the Hero"

Even though modeling didn’t turn out to be her thing, it gave Katherine Heigl the tools to dive into the world of acting. As she told Good Housekeeping, she got cast in her first film, "That Night," at the age of 11. In an interview with W Magazine, she said that working as an actress didn’t feel like a job at all, apart from having to attend three hours of school every day.

Heigl did a few commercials as well, and by the time she entered sixth grade, she was landing plenty of film roles. At 14, she starred in the feature film "My Father the Hero" and started to feel she was finding herself. Her classmates, however, didn’t appreciate her newfound confidence, and Heigl found herself abandoned by her former friends. Having no idea how she wronged them, she tried to prevent it from happening again by becoming a people pleaser, though she ditched this mentality in her sophomore year, as she told Good Housekeeping.

Heigl moved to Los Angeles after finishing high school, as she told the magazine, though she didn’t exactly have a lucrative career from the get-go — landing mostly small parts — despite her previous experience.

Katherine Heigl played Isabel on TV’s Roswell

"Roswell" stars Katherine Heigl, Jason Behr

Katherine Heigl started her ascend to fame with the TV show "Roswell," which was based on Melinda Metz’s "Roswell High" novels. She portrayed Isabel, a character with a personality as feisty as her own. Heigl once said in an interview that Isabel liked being special, and she wanted people to notice it.

"Roswell" was not without its struggles, however, as the show nearly got canceled repeatedly, only to be saved by its small but passionate fanbase, E! News reports. This is how it happened: Heigl told W Magazine that the aliens on the show had a strange affinity for Tabasco sauce. She revealed that fans sent hundreds of Tabasco sauce bottles to the network to protest the show’s cancelation, and this actually helped get the show renewed twice.

Heigl had a lot of fun during her time on "Roswell" and loved having so much creative freedom when it came to her character’s portrayal. Since she didn’t have much to go on, as she shared with W Magazine, she could let her imagination run wild.

She got her big break starring on Grey’s Anatomy

Katherine Heigl on "Grey's Anatomy"

When Katherine Heigl landed a part on "Grey’s Anatomy" in 2005, she had no idea that it would change her entire career. She portrayed Dr. Isobel (Izzie) Stevens for six seasons before exiting the show to focus on her family. However, she mentioned in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that she wouldn’t say no to making an appearance on the show again in the future.

"Grey’s Anatomy" is what turned Heigl into a household name. In 2007, she even won an Emmy for her work. But, a year later, after she decided not to enter her name for a nomination, things started to go a little sideways, People reports. Heigl said at the time that she didn’t feel like the work she did on the show that season was Emmy-worthy material. This didn’t go down so well with the show’s creators, and Heigl later told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t fully explain how she felt. Her reasoning behind her statement was more about how she personally felt about her performance than the work of the writers and creators.

She starred in a movie that was a massive box office flop

Katherine Heigl in "Zyzzyx Road"

If you’ve never heard of a film called "Zyzzyx Road," that’s totally okay. Films that only gross $30 at the box office don’t usually make it onto people’s must-watch list. Ironically, Katherine Heigl starred in this film shortly after she was cast in "Grey’s Anatomy," according to Entertainment Weekly. Considering the film cost $1.2 million to produce, the entire production crew suffered a huge loss.

In the movie, Heigl portrays a teenager named Marissa, who seduces an accountant, after which a series of events typical of a thriller unfold. Despite the loss, Heigl didn’t seem to regret doing the project. According to the magazine, Heigl reportedly told a magazine that "Zyzzyx Road" allowed her to do the most innovative work she had done up to that point. And, even though the film didn’t do well at the box office (quite the understatement), Heigl apparently tweeted that it helped her pay the rent, per the Express.

Most of the film was shot in the desert, and, according to her co-star Leo Grillo, who also co-produced the film (per Entertainment Weekly), Heigl wasn’t a fan of the landscape at all — especially since she had to endure getting pricked by a cactus for one scene where she falls!

The actress met her husband on the set of his music video

Katherine Heigl in "Only You" video

Katherine Heigl met her husband, Josh Kelley, while shooting the music video for his song "Only You" in 2005. Kelley caught Heigl’s eye, but she told Good Housekeeping that he didn’t really seem to notice her when they first met. Luckily, everyone who worked on the video went out to dinner. There, Heigl finally managed to have a conversation with him. She was immediately "intrigued," she told Vanity Fair, as she found him attractive and interesting — so much so that, instead of waiting for him to make the first move, she did — and it worked out pretty well.

She was the first one in the relationship to confess her love, and Kelley returned the feeling — to Heigl’s relief. In 2007, they tied the knot. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she described Kelley as "phenomenal" and said he was unlike any other man she’d ever met. She explained further that he’s loveable, fun-loving, and has an incredible heart. She also admitted that she is not always the easiest person to be around and that he somehow manages to take it in stride, holding her accountable for her actions while accepting her with all her faults. Now, if that’s not true love, we don’t know what is.

Bad blood with Shonda Rhimes nearly ruined her career

Katherine Heigl smiling

After her career took off from "Grey’s Anatomy," Katherine Heigl was officially in the spotlight, which is, perhaps, why she received so much backlash after she withdrew from the Emmy race in 2008. The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, apparently didn’t take too kindly to Heigl’s reason for withdrawing. Heigl’s comment made it sound like she was criticizing the script, though she later clarified her comments to Entertainment Weekly and revealed she had apologized to Rhimes, who was apparently very understanding.

Rhimes, however, spoke about the incident with Oprah Winfrey, admitting that Heigl’s words were hurtful, but that she hadn’t exactly been surprised by her behavior. "When people show who they are, believe them," Rhimes said. She also took a jab at Heigl in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter while discussing "Scandal," another show of hers. While elaborating on how well the show’s cast got along, Rhimes said, "There are no Heigls in this situation," adding, "I don’t put up with bulls**t or nasty people. I don’t have time for it." Ouch. This, of course, led to more bad publicity for Heigl, according to People.

She’s been labeled as ‘difficult’ to work with

Katherine Heigl smiling

Katherine Heigl’s outspoken nature hasn’t always served her well. In addition to her comments that led to the drama with "Grey’s Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes, Heigl has said some other things she’d probably like to take back. In 2009, matters escalated when she spoke out about the "Grey’s Anatomy" cast and crew’s long working hours on the "Late Show with David Letterman." She later told Entertainment Weekly that she regretted saying anything at all at the time and that it taught her to think before she speaks.

Heigl also received a lot of backlash for calling "Knocked Up" a "sexist" film in a Vanity Fair interview, as she wasn’t pleased with how the film depicts women. In Heigl’s view, the male characters are portrayed as fun while the women are seen as difficult. Heigl told Vanity Fair that she couldn’t bring herself to truly like the movie, even though she enjoyed making it. It seems like her blatant honestly has only exacerbated her reputation for being "difficult."

She and her mother started a foundation to help animals in honor of her brother

Katherine Heigl holding a dog

Katherine Heigl adores animals. According to her 2014 interview with Good Housekeeping, she said she had 36 pets on her ranch — from dogs to horses.

Heigl’s love for animals keeps her close to her late brother, Jason, who felt the same. In 2008, Heigl and her mother, Nancy, started the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation to honor him, she told Entertainment Weekly. The foundation’s main goal is to help shelters rescue and find homes for pets, especially those at high risk of being euthanized. The foundation also provides funding to several clinics so they can care for shelter animals that need medical attention. Additionally, the foundation utilizes its resources to hold animal abusers accountable and to encourage people to take action when they suspect animal abuse.

Whenever animals are in need, Heigl is ready to help. In early 2022, People reported she was taking a stand against the method of euthanasia — gas chambers — the state of Utah uses for shelter animals. She told People there are better ways to help animals than putting them down in this cruel way. She urged the Utah State Legislature to make gas chamber euthanasia illegal — and, hopefully, they will listen.

The star initially started her family through adoption

Katherine Heigl with her daughters

It’s no secret that Katherine Heigl is a family person. After she married Josh Kelley, she was ready to start her own. Heigl’s sister, Meg, was adopted from Korea, and, so, Heigl wanted to do the same, according to NBC News. In 2009, she and Kelley adopted their first daughter, Naleigh, from South Korea when she was 9 months old and fresh out of open-heart surgery, as Heigl told Harper’s Bazaar. At the time, she was working on the film "Life as We Know It," which she said was somewhat surreal because her character was also a new mom.

Three years later, in 2012, the couple adopted another baby girl, Adalaide, from the U.S., since adopting from Korea and China had become incredibly challenging. The actress told Jay Leno (via People) that her husband needed some convincing — he didn’t think they’d adopt again so soon, let alone a newborn (a totally new experience for them). In the end, he agreed, and, now, of course, they wouldn’t trade their daughter and the experience for anything.

And then she unexpectedly became pregnant with her third child

Katherine Heigl holding newborn son

In 2016, Katherine Heigl became pregnant for the first time with what would be her third child. She was giddy with excitement, seemingly even more so because the pregnancy had not been planned. Announcing the news on her blog, she wrote about how she and her husband, Josh Kelley, had wanted to expand their family but hadn’t really decided how they would do it.

Heigl mentioned that they kept their options open — even considering fostering a child. Then, everything changed when she found out she was pregnant with a baby boy, something she wasn’t sure was an option for her in her mid-30s. She later told People that pregnancy wasn’t something she ever actually desired until then. Heigl also mentioned that she’d like to have another child of her own, but, after the 2020 pandemic, she changed her mind, Hello! reported.

Katherine Heigl’s mom helped her get her role on Suits

Katherine Heigl on "Suits"

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Katherine Heigl admitted to being a huge fan of "Suits" long before she starred in the show’s eighth season, saying she loved the show’s portrayal of women in positions of power. In fact, she and her husband finished watching the first five seasons in a week. She told E! that she loved starring in a show she already adored so much.

If not for her mother, however, Heigl might not have made it onto the show at all. She told Harper’s Bazaar that she was developing her own shows at the time, and her mom encouraged her to contact the creator of "Suits" about a possible collaboration — that’s how Heigl found out that "Suits" was, in fact, going to have an eighth season. Heigl told the creator she was available if they needed another actor. As it turns out, they did, and she was cast as Samantha Wheeler, a headstrong lawyer who doesn’t bow down to anything or anyone — much like the other female characters on the show.

She is a star and executive producer of Netflix’s hit show Firefly Lane

Katherine Heigl as Tully in "Firefly Lane"

Katherine Heigl is not slowing down anytime soon. She stole fans’ hearts once again as Tully on the Netflix show "Firefly Lane," telling Glamour that she fell in love with the show when she first read the script. Not only did she become one of the show’s stars, but she also became an executive producer.

As Heigl explained to Glamour, the show presented her with the perfect opportunity to challenge herself — something she really wanted to do after playing another challenging character on "Suits." Heigl told the magazine she initially wanted to play the role of Kate, because she could see a lot of herself in the character; however, rather than taking the easy way out, she decided to give the character of Tully a shot because it was way out of her comfort zone. In the end, Heigl actually drew inspiration from her mother’s personality after realizing the character reminded her of her mom’s no-nonsense approach to life.

"Firefly Lane" has allowed Heigl to tell the stories of women her age, and viewers can definitely relate. Netflix has renewed the show for a second season, and we can’t wait to see what Tully and Kate get up to next.

Katherine Heigl underwent major neck surgery

Katherine Heigl wearing neck brace

Katherine Heigl underwent a serious surgical procedure in 2021. She first shared the news with fans on Instagram, telling them that her first trip since the pandemic struck was not for fun — she had to go to Los Angeles to sort out a herniated disc in her neck, which was incredibly painful.

It turned out that she needed surgery and, a few days later, revealed on Instagram that the doctors had implanted two titanium discs in her neck. In the post, she expressed her gratitude to her doctors who made the scary experience less terrifying. She said the pain she’d experienced was gone, and she seemed in very good spirits, despite having to wear a neck brace. She also joked that she was officially "bionic" and that she could probably stand on her head for hours on end. Trust Heigl to find some humor in an uncomfortable situation.

She’s keeping her brother’s legacy alive by encouraging organ donation

Katherine Heigl smiling

The death of her brother changed Katherine Heigl’s life forever, but she continues to keep his memory alive by doing what she knows is right — and that includes encouraging people to become organ donors.

On the 35th anniversary of her brother Jason’s death, she took to Instagram to share her memories of him and the very difficult decision their family had to make after he died. Even though the family was still in shock, they decided to donate his organs because they knew he would have wanted them to do so. This way, they had the opportunity to prevent others from experiencing the heartbreak they had endured. Heigl took a moment to encourage others to become organ donors, too, saying, "Tragedies happen. But none of us are in this alone. At least, that’s what Jason taught me."