Pickens began his career on the stage, first in his in hometown of Cleveland, and then in New York City, appearing in critically hailed productions such as the Roundabout Theatre Company's 25th anniversary revival of A Raisin in the Sun and the Negro Ensemble Company's legendary mounting of A Soldier's Play (in which he starred opposite Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson). His theater chops served him well on the big and small screen in the 1990s, where Pickens usually played noble men of authority like detectives, judges, doctors, along with slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Ghosts of Mississippi. Recurring roles on Beverly Hills, 90210, The Practice, The X Files and Roseanne made him a familiar face to tube viewers, but the fiftysomething finally became a bold-faced name when he landed the role of Dr. Richard Webber on Grey's Anatomy. Though Webber is a recovering alcoholic, Pickens doesn't drink because his late father struggled with alcoholism, and he abstains as a way of honoring him. To unwind, Pickens competes in rodeo and roping events---he owns a horse and is a member of the U.S. Team Roping Championship.
- Once wanted to be an illustrator or cartoonist.
- Caught an early big break with a 1989 guest spot on Roseanne, which turned into a recurring role.
- Appeared in four films directed by Barry Levinson: Jimmy Hollywood (1994), Sleepers (1996), Sphere (1998) and Liberty Heights (1999). Liberty Heights costarred his future Grey's Anatomy cast mate Justin Chambers.
- In 2006, he executive produced the musical revue Gospel! Gospel! Gospel! at Cleveland's Karamu House Theatre, where he used to perform.
- Was honored by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers during their Black Heritage Celebration in 2008.
- Delivered the keynote address at the 2008 summer commencement ceremony at Bowling Green State University, his alma mater; he also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award that day.
- Though he plays a recovering alcoholic on Grey's Anatomy, he does not drink; this is his way of honoring his late father, who struggled with alcoholism.
- Along with his wife, has helped raised his granddaughter, Dominique.
- Competes in rodeo and roping events across the country, and is a member of the U.S. Team Roping Championship.
- 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Winner
- 2005, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Nominee
- 1998, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Nominee
- 2007, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Nominee
- Gavyn Pickens — Daughter
- Marlin Pickens — Brother
- Carl Pickens — Son
- Gina Taylor Pickens — Wife
- Marie Walker — Sister
- Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, United States (BFA, 1976)