Additionally, she has established herself as a cover model, appearing in numerous publications including Maxim, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan. Heigl is married to singer Josh Kelley, with whom she has one son and two adopted daughters.
Heigl was born in Washington, D.C., in Columbia Hospital for Women. She is the youngest of four children of Nancy (née Engelhardt), a personal manager, and Paul Heigl, a financial executive and accountant. Her father is of German (including Swiss-German) and Irish descent, and her mother is of German ancestry. Her siblings are Meg (adopted), Jason (deceased), and Holt. Heigl lived in Virginia and then Denver, before her family moved into a Victorian-style farmhouse in the town of New Canaan, Connecticut, when Katherine was five, and where she spent the rest of her childhood. In 1986, her older brother Jason died of injuries suffered in a car accident, after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck while out for lunch with some of his high school classmates. His organs were donated by his family after death. Her brother's death led Heigl's parents to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Heigl was reared in that faith (prior to that, her mother had been Lutheran and her father Catholic).
When Heigl was nine, an aunt visiting the family decided to take a number of photographs of her. After returning to her home in New York, her aunt sent the photos to a number of modeling agencies, with the permission of Heigl's parents. Within a few weeks, she signed with Wilhelmina Models as a child model. Soon after signing with the agency, a client slated Heigl for use in a magazine advertisement where she made her debut. At the time, she was earning $75 an hour posing for Sears and Lord & Taylor catalogs. Heigl first appeared in a national television spot for Cheerios cereal.
After her film debut in That Night in 1992, Heigl played Christina Sebastian in Steven Soderbergh's Depression-era drama King of the Hill before being cast in her first leading role in the 1994 comedy My Father the Hero. During this time, Heigl continued to attend New Canaan High School, balancing her film and modeling work with her academic studies. Heigl dropped out of New Canaan High School after her sophomore year to pursue her career in Hollywood. In 1995, she starred in the Steven Seagal action thriller Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Heigl portrayed a 16-year-old traveller on a train across a mountain pass to visit the grave of her deceased father with uncle Casey Ryback (Seagal), an ex-SEAL counter-terrorist expert. The main plotline has the train hijacked by mercenaries in Colorado, keeping her as a hostage. Much of her work in the film was opposite Morris Chestnut, Sandra Taylor and Everett McGill. Despite an increased focus on acting, she still modeled extensively, appearing regularly in magazines such as Seventeen. She landed the lead role in Disney's made-for-television film Wish Upon a Star in 1996, portraying two body-swapping characters along with Danielle Harris, the same year as Heigl's parents divorced and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. After her high school graduation in 1997, she moved into a four-bedroom house in Malibu Canyon, California with her mother, who also became her manager. In 1998, she co-starred with Peter Fonda in a re-working of the classic Shakespearean play The Tempest, set during the American Civil War and starred in the horror film Bride of Chucky.
In 1999, Heigl turned her attention to television when she accepted the role of Isabel Evans on the science fiction TV drama Roswell, a role that was expanded in the show's second and third seasons. Heigl had auditioned for all three of the show's female leads (the other two roles eventually went to Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino) before she was finally cast as Isabel, an alien human hybrid. Heigl was frequently featured in photo essays in magazines such as Life, TV Guide, and Teen as well as FHM. She appeared in the FHM and Maxim calendars, FHM's annual "100 Sexiest Women in the World", and was featured in the Girls of Maxim Gallery. In May 2006, Maxim awarded her #12 on their annual Hot 100List as well as voted the 19th "Sexiest Woman in the World" by readers of FHM magazine. While Roswell was in production, Heigl worked on several films, including 100 Girls, an independent 2001 film, and Valentine, a horror film starring David Boreanaz and Denise Richards.
Heigl accepted a role in Ground Zero, a television thriller scheduled to be telecast that fall which was based on the bestselling James Mills novel The Seventh Power, in the spring of 2001. She co-starred as a brilliant and politically-concerned college student who helps to build a nuclear device to illustrate the need for a change in national priorities. The device ends up in the hands of a terrorist following betrayal by a fellow student. However, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the film was shelved when its plot was considered inappropriate. It reemerged in 2003 under the title Critical Assembly. After the attacks, Heigl recorded a public service announcement for the American Red Cross in an effort to help raise money for victims. In 2003, Heigl appeared in three television movies, including the horror genre Evil Never Dies, a modern-day variation on the Frankenstein story co-starring Thomas Gibson, Love Comes Softly for Hallmark Entertainment as Marty Claridge, a young, pregnant newlywed traveling west and reprised her role in the sequel Love's Enduring Promise the next year. Heigl played Isabella Linton in MTV's modern revamp of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. In October 2003, Heigl was cast opposite Johnny Knoxville in The Ringer, a Farrelly brothers comedy that was released in December 2005. Heigl starred as Romy in the 2005 television film Romy and Michele: In the Beginning, a prequel to the 1997 film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
In 2005, Heigl was cast in what would become her highest-profile role to date, as medical intern Dr. Isobel "Izzie" Stevens on the ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy. The show, originally a mid-season replacement, became a huge ratings success and one of the highest-rated series on broadcast TV. The same year, Heigl landed the starring role in the independent film Side Effects, a romantic comedy about marketing and the pharmaceutical industry, where she was also executive producer.
In late 2006, Heigl was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for her work on Grey's Anatomy. Also in 2006, she filmed Knocked Up, a comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow, starring opposite Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Apatow's real-life wife, Leslie Mann. Upon its June 2007 theatrical release, the film received largely positive reviews from critics, and proved to be a box office success. The fees Heigl could command increased after the film's success. The movie grossed $148,761,765 in the U.S., for which she earned a salary of $300,000 USD. In a highly publicized Vanity Fair interview, Heigl admitted that though she enjoyed working with Apatow and Rogen when she starred in Knocked Up, she had a hard time enjoying the film itself. She called the movie "a little sexist", claiming that the film "paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys". In his review for The Guardian, humorist Joe Queenan called Knocked Up "the latest in a new genre of romantic comedies in which an unappealing hero gets together with a gorgeous, successful woman".
Heigl's comments spurred widespread reaction in the media, including personal attacks in which she was called "an ungrateful traitor", a "hypocrite", and "assertive, impatient go-getter who quickly tired of waiting for her boyfriend to propose", and her religious beliefs and private relationships were derided. Clarifying her remarks to People magazine, Heigl said: "My motive was to encourage other women like myself to not take that element of the movie too seriously, and to remember that it's a broad comedy"; and added, "Although I stand behind my opinion, I'm disheartened that it has become the focus of my experience with the movie". During this otherwise successful run, Heigl also starred in Zyzzyx Road; filmed in 2004 and not released until 2006, it has been cited as the lowest-grossing feature film of all time. She has been on FHM's "100 Sexiest Women in the World" list twice as of 2007.
On September 16, 2007, Heigl won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Izzie Stevens on Gray's Anatomy. In her acceptance speech, she said that even her mother didn't think she would win. When her name was called for the award, her spontaneous vocal response ("Shit!") had to be censored. Earlier, she corrected telecast announcer Rebecca Riedy, who had been given an incorrect phonetic spelling of Heigl's name and mispronounced it as Hi-jell before the presentation of the award with Kyle Chandler for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.
In January 2008, Heigl starred with James Marsden in the film 27 Dresses, for which she received $6 million USD. The New York Post expressed some disappointment with the mismatch of Heigl's talent and the film's "chick-flick" triviality, suggesting Heigl might be more compatible "with female directors such as Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) or Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)...". Heigl was announced the Most Desirable Woman of 2008, according to AskMen.com.
There was some speculation that Heigl might be leaving Grey's Anatomy after the end of the 2008–2009 season. This speculation revolved around her refusal to submit her name for Emmy consideration and the time she had devoted to producing a film version of Carolyn Jessop's book Escape. Heigl publicly stated that she'd opted out of the Emmy race that year because she felt the material she'd received didn't warrant Emmy consideration. Reports indicated that the comment angered the show's producers and writers, who interpreted it as a slight on their work. Grey's showrunner Shonda Rhimes said she was not insulted by Heigl's Emmy withdrawal, and noted that Heigl's character was downplayed during the season because Heigl had asked for a lighter work schedule. Despite Heigl's reported displeasure with the previous season, and persistent rumors that her character had died, Heigl's return for the sixth season of Grey's was confirmed by ABC.
Heigl starred with Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth, which opened on July 24, 2009. The film was made on a budget of $38 million and earned $205 million at the worldwide box office. In June 2010, Heigl starred in the Lionsgate comedy-thriller Killers, with Ashton Kutcher and then starred in and produced the big-screen drama Life As We Know It, directed by Greg Berlanti, which revolved around a woman and a man whose respective best friends die in a car accident; following the tragedy, they are left to share in caring for the deceased's orphaned daughter. Heigl received $12 million for both films.
Speculation as to whether Heigl would leave Grey's Anatomy lingered through most of season six. On March 11, 2010, Heigl reportedly did not show up for work on the show, and Heigl and series creator Shonda Rhimes subsequently reached an agreement to immediately release Heigl from her contract. As a result, Heigl's appearance on the January 21 episode of Grey's Anatomy was her final appearance of that season and, thus far, in the series. Heigl said that she left the show to focus not on her film career, but on her family.
In 2011, Heigl appeared in the ensemble romantic comedy New Year's Eve, directed by Garry Marshall. Despite being a commercial success, grossing over $142 million worldwide, the film received generally negative reviews. Heigl next had the lead role in One for the Money (2012). Based on a series of novels by Janet Evanovich, the film's lead character is Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter working for a bonding company. The film was a failure, grossing just over $36 million worldwide against its production budget of $40 million. For her performance, Heigl received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress.
In January 2012, Heigl stated in an interview that she had asked the producers of Grey's Anatomy if she could return to the show to wrap up Izzie's storyline. "I've told them I want to [return]," she said. "I really, really, really want to see where [Izzie] is. I just want to know what happened to her and where she went and what she's doing now. My idea is that she actually, like, figures it out, and finds some success and does really well in a different hospital. She was always floundering, you know, and so she was always one step behind the eight ball and I want to see that girl take some power back." She said she regretted leaving the show. "Oh yeah, sometimes, yeah. You miss it. I miss my friends. It was a great work environment ... and it becomes a family. I spent six years together with these people every day ... you grow up together, in a way ... I always felt that if they wanted me to come back and sort of wrap up that storyline ... I want them to know that I'm down with it if they want me to, but I completely understand if it doesn't necessarily work ... They've got a lot of story lines going on there."
In 2013, she appeared alongside Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon in The Big Wedding, a comedy about an estranged family reuniting for a ceremony. A very poor critical and commercial reception greeted the film upon its release—it holds a 7% rating on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and only made US$7.5 million in its opening weekend—and for her role, Heigl was nominated for Worst Supporting Actress at the 34th Golden Raspberry Awards. In June 2013, she began appearing in a television commercial for Vicks' ZzzQuil.
In November 2012, Heigl was cast as the voice of a squirrel, Andie, in the animated film The Nut Job, which was released on January 17, 2014. Heigl starred in the romantic drama Jackie & Ryan (2014), opposite Ben Barnes, portraying a recent single mom battling to hold onto her daughter and the love interest of a modern-day train hopper. The film was released in a limited release and through video on demand by Entertainment One in the US.
She next starred as a rejected and jealous housewife in the dark comedy Home Sweet Hell (2015), alongside Patrick Wilson and Jordana Brewster. Released for VOD and a limited theatrical run in North America, the film received largely negative reviews. Variety wrote in its verdict: "Considering how often [Heigl] has been slammed for not being just another docile, eager-to-please female celebrity, it’s hard not to suspect that she might have relished the chance to play an unapologetically ball-busting shrew — a grotesquely exaggerated version of a stereotype she’s been assigned many times over. Indeed, Heigl’s performance as a coolly murderous model housewife is the only real reason to even consider watching Home Sweet Hell, an otherwise flailing and risible tale of adultery, extortion and suburban malaise that suggests a poor woman’s Gone Girl". She received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress. Heigl starred as the titular role in the independent film Jenny's Wedding, about a woman who finally decides to get married, but her choice of partner tears her conventional family apart. An Indiegogo campaign was later launched to help raise money for post-production costs, and like Heigl's previous few projects, the film was distributed for a VOD and limited release in certain parts of the US only.
Heigl returned to television in the NBC drama series State of Affairs, about a CIA attache. The show premiered in 2015, to largely negative reviews; Rotten Tomatoes' critical consensus was: "State of Affairs benefits from Alfre Woodard's talent, but this overly serious show is dragged down by Katherine Heigl's unsympathetic character and a surfeit of unintentional laughs". It cancelled after one season due to a lackluster viewership. In 2017, Heigl replaced KaDee Strickland in the lead role of Sadie Ellis, in the CBS legal drama Doubt. However, as with State of Affairs, the show premiered to what was described as "tepid" ratings by The Hollywood Reporter, and CBS announced its cancellation after just two episodes.
She starred opposite Rosario Dawson and Geoff Stults in the erotic thriller Unforgettable (2017), portraying a divorcée who begins to torment the new fiancé of her ex-husband. The film was her first wide release in three years; it garnered mediocre reviews and grossed a paltry US$4.7 million in its opening weekend. Nevertheless, Globe and Mail remarked that "Heigl works overtime to humanize the resentful mom—her face is like an old-fashioned cash register with the prices popping up—but she's more fun to watch as the story grows ugly and violent, and she unleashes the demon within". She reprised the voice-over role of Andie in the animated sequel The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, which was released theatrically on August 11, 2017.
In June 2006, Heigl became engaged to singer Josh Kelley, whom she had met a year earlier on the set of his music video for "Only You". They chose not to live together before they were married, with Heigl later explaining, "I think I just wanted to save something for the actual marriage... I wanted there to be something to make the actual marriage different than the dating or the courtship." They were married on December 23, 2007, in Park City, Utah.
In September 2009, the couple adopted a daughter, Naleigh, from South Korea, the birthplace of Heigl's adoptive sister Meg. She was born with a heart defect and underwent open heart surgery before leaving Korea. In April 2012, Kelley and Heigl adopted a second daughter, Adalaide, from the U.S. In June 2016, the couple announced that they were expecting their third child. Heigl gave birth to a son, Joshua Bishop Kelley, Jr., on December 20, 2016.
Heigl's brother-in-law is singer Charles Kelley of the country music trio Lady Antebellum.
Heigl has worked with Best Friends Animal Society on several projects including their Pup My Ride program. The program transports small dogs from high-kill animal shelters to other parts of the US where there is a greater demand for such dogs. Her involvement in this led her to give Best Friends a grant which would fund a year of the program. Heigl and her mother, Nancy, started Heigl's Hounds of Hope which operates as part of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation. The Foundation was created in honor of Heigl's brother, who was killed in a car accident in 1986 at the age of fifteen. Heigl's Hounds of Hope rescues larger dogs with behavior problems from shelters with a high kill rate and rehabilitates them through training and other adjustments to make them suitable for re-homing. As of 2014, Heigl has eight dogs of her own.
In 2010, Heigl was honored with the "Presidential Service Award" by ASPCA for her work and dedication to animal welfare. In 2011, Heigl launched the "I Hate Balls" Campaign, focused on promoting spay/neuter of pets, to help save the lives of millions of companion animals. The initiative features a Public Service Announcement starring Heigl and produced by Funny or Die. In 2012, on behalf of PETA, she signed a letter to members of the Utah legislature, urging them to reject a law that would make undercover filming in factory farms a criminal offense. In the same year, Heigl was honored by "Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)" for her dedication and commitment to adoption and by American Cancer Society for her work in helping to amplify the awareness of cancer related issues through her public support of her mother's disease experience.
Heigl is a strong proponent of organ donation, working as a spokesperson for Donate Life America. When Heigl was 7 years old, her brother Jason died as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. Heigl's family chose to donate Jason's organs to people in need of organ transplants. Heigl cites this experience as a major motivating factor behind her activism for organ donation.