Is there life after “McDreamy”?

Earlier this year, when Maine native Patrick Dempsey departed ABC’s long-running series “Grey’s Anatomy,” you would have thought a plague of locusts was about to descend.

After Dempsey’s beloved character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, was suddenly killed in an episode ironically titled “How to Save a Life,” it resulted in a social media firestorm.

Fans took to Twitter to express their outrage, often using an unprecedented number of exclamation points. Facebook turned into a wailing wall of agony and despair. Chat rooms were abuzz with sincere — though not always grammatically correct — expressions of grief (“So very wrong. Him and Meredith was meant to see this out to the end …”).

One disenchanted viewer seemed to sum up the feelings of millions when she posted, “This better have all been a bad dream … or I’m done.” For many, Dempsey was one of the primary reasons they tuned into the highly rated hospital drama every week.

After 11 seasons, how could the fictional Grey Sloan Memorial possibly survive without the carefully coiffed neurosurgeon known as “McDreamy?”

And more important, now that he was written out of the show, would Patrick Dempsey be forced to sell storm windows to make ends meet? He may have rebounded after the barely released “Meatballs III” or the roundly panned “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but could Dempsey’s career really recover from this kind of seismic shift?

Not wanting to be left out of the mass mourning, ABC executives issued one of those officious-sounding news releases that explained that “Grey’s Anatomy” would continue, while Dempsey was free “to pursue other interests.” As it turned out, they weren’t kidding.

Weeks after Dempsey had hung up his scrubs for good, those remarkably well-informed “Hollywood insiders” reported that the Emmy-nominated actor was putting together development deals for scores of film and television projects. And at least one of those proposed ventures seemed custom-tailored for him.

Dempsey’s production company, Shifting Gears, announced that it had optioned Michael Cannell’s bestseller, “The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit.” Dempsey and his producing partners plan to turn the book, which concerns the first American to win the Grand Prix, into a dramatic series for Sundance Television. Whether Dempsey will star in the series or only produce has yet to be determined.

He has also reportedly secured the licensing rights to produce the Garth Stein novel “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” According to Amazon, “Stein’s tale of family, loss, redemption and fast cars (is) recounted entirely from the perspective of a retriever-terrier mix named Enzo.”

Both projects feature auto racing, one of the actor’s real-life passions.

Like icons Paul Newman and Steve McQueen before him, Dempsey has proven to be as successful on the racetrack as he has been on screen. This past weekend, the actor and two co-drivers achieved a second-place finish in the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans auto racing competition in France. And recently Dempsey was quoted as saying that he could envision himself “walking away from acting” to devote more time to racing at some point in the future.

While his long-range plans may involve taking his career in a very different direction, a year from now Dempsey will be back on the big screen. Alongside stars Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth, Dempsey will appear in Universal’s “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” the third film based on author Helen Fielding’s popular series of books.

“Nice to be working in England,” Dempsey recently said as production got underway on the latest installment of the Bridget Jones saga, the first for Dempsey. “Renee and Colin are an absolute joy to work with. A good couple of days rehearsing at Pinewood Studios. I really like it here!”

After his European adventures, the actor-racer returns to his Lewiston roots this weekend for the three-day Dempsey Challenge. For the very devoted members of his local fan base, it’s always a welcome return.

“Patrick demonstrates an outstanding commitment to this community,” said Meredith Kendall, the Reiki coordinator for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. “I’ve seen him wade through a huge crowd, then stop to speak at length with someone he recognizes, or someone who catches his attention. This makes it hard to keep him on schedule, but it shows his connection to local people.”

One of those people is Lewiston’s Marjorie Clifford, the mother of the late Anne Elizabeth Murphy Lampal, who befriended Dempsey when both were enrolled at St. Dominic Regional High School in the early 1980s.

“Patrick and Anne were good friends, acting in plays together,” Clifford recalled. “He is an easygoing, down-to-earth young man who has not forgotten his roots. His fame seems not to have influenced him at all and he appears sincere and empathetic to everyone he meets or reconnects with.

“Many parents,” Clifford said, “have shared with me that Patrick goes out of his way to connect with any child he sees wearing a St. Dom’s shirt. It’s not just children though, as some of the older women will mention the kiss on the cheek they received from Patrick.”

Registered nurse Karen Maffeo Creamer of Wells will volunteer at this year’s challenge. Maffeo Creamer says she’s inspired by the fact that “Patrick Dempsey is ‘being the change’ he wants to create in the world. He believes in the mission of the Dempsey Center and doesn’t expect only others to do the work. He is an example of the integrity that is so rarely seen in today’s celebrities.”

Mark Griffin is a Lewiston native and New York City-based writer who is the author of a forthcoming biography of Rock Hudson to be published by HarperCollins.


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