12/02/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
ACTRESS SHERRY STRINGFIELD has always treated her career as something she could do without if she wanted. And she has frequently wanted. In 1992 she left CBS's Guiding Light to travel in Europe. Two years later she left NYPD Blue after only one season. Now, having abruptly quit ER, TV's top-rated series—her final episode as Dr. Susan Lewis aired Nov. 21—Stringfield, 29, has once again defied showbiz convention. "She walks away from roles most people would die for," says USA Today TV critic Matt Roush.
Her exit "has been in the works all season," says one ER insider. "She did not like the fame. She's a very shy person." Adds ex-beau Paul Goldstein, 41, chairman of Nevica skiwear: "Millions of people would give their right leg not just to have her salary but her lifestyle. She just wanted a normal lifestyle."
She may get it. In return for releasing her from her five-year contract, Warner Bros., which produces ER, has required Stringfield to agree not to appear in another TV series for 2½ years nor to do any movies without the studio's permission. Planning to return to New York City, where her current love interest, banking executive Odell Lambroza, lives, Stringfield may teach drama at her alma mater, the State University of New York at Purchase College. "We'd love to have her," says Israel Hicks, dean of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film.
And what about ER? Dr. Lewis's final scene, with Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) declaring his love, left open the possibility that String-field might return someday. "We all love and adore her," says one cast member. "Everyone is sorry to see her leave."