Nelsan Ellis, the actor who portrayed Lafayette on all seven seasons of the HBO horror-drama series True Blood, has died at the age of 39.
“Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure,” the actor’s manager Emily Gerson Saines, told the Hollywood Reporter. “He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed.”
Days after Ellis’ passing, the actor’s family issued a statement about his long struggle with drugs and alcohol, per The Hollywood Reporter. “After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own,” read the family’s statement. During Ellis’ withdrawal from alcohol, he suffered from a blood infection causing his kidneys to shut down and blood pressure to drop. The actor spent four days in Woodhull Hospital before he died.
“Nelsan was a gentle, generous and kind soul. He was a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, and a great friend to those that were lucky enough to know him. Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life. His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.”
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement. “Nelsan was a long-time member of the HBO family whose groundbreaking portrayal of Lafayette will be remembered fondly within the overall legacy of True Blood. Nelsan will be dearly missed by his fans and all of us at HBO.”
True Blood creator Alan Ball added, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
A graduate of Julliard, Ellis’ first major role was as Lafayette Reynolds, a short order cook and vampire blood dealer on the hit HBO series. Ellis’ portrayal of the character was so beloved by True Blood fans that even though Lafayette was killed off early in the Sookie Stackhouse book series, the character lasted the entirety of the show.
Crushed today by the loss of my friend and castmate Nelsan Ellis. He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist. RIP pic.twitter.com/fvtquhIac7
— Joe Manganiello (@JoeManganiello) July 8, 2017
“It was an utter privilege to work with the phenomenally talented and deeply kind soul. I’m devastated by his untimely death,” Ellis’ True Blood co-star Anna Paquin tweeted.
In addition to True Blood, Ellis appeared Lee Daniels’ The Butler (as Martin Luther King, Jr.), Secretariat, The Help, The Stanford Prison Experiment and as singer Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic Get On Up. Most recently, Ellis had a reoccurring role in the CBS detective series Elementary.
Actress Octavis Spencer wrote on social media Saturday, “Just got word that we lost [Ellis]. My heart breaks for his kids and family.”
Nelsan Ellis was truly remarkable. A brilliant, charismatic, intelligent, soulful, wonderful dude. this is just completely tragic.
— Stephen Moyer (@smoyer) July 8, 2017