Fans of the HBO series True Blood are devastated as they learn of the death of Nelsan Ellis. The 39-year-old actor played fan favorite Lafayette on the show. According to an initial statement released by his manager Emily Gerson Saines, Ellis died “after complications with heart failure”; however, a new statement was later released confirming that the actor’s death was the result of complications following alcohol withdrawal, as the actor had been battling addiction for many years.
Ellis was a Juilliard grad who once talked about the struggles he endured in an institution so rigorous and “so white.” Despite the difficulties at first, Lafayette said that Julliard “transformed” him as an actor.
Playing Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood was Ellis’ first major role. In the books the show is based on, the character was killed off early but his immense popularity kept him on the show throughout its entire run. In all, Ellis appeared on 80 episodes of the series, portraying a flamboyant cook and medium who told it like it was. The role won him two Satellite Awards, an Ewwy for best supporting dramatic actor, and a NewNowNext Award for actor on the brink of fame. He also won the love of countless fans and the respect of his fellow actors.
Many of his co-stars tweeted their heartbreak upon news of his death. Anna Paquin tweeted: “It was an utter privilege to work with the phenomenally talented and deeply kind soul. I’m devastated by his untimely death.”
Some of his other roles were portraying Martin Luther King Jr in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and most recently a recurring role on the CBS series Elementary. Octavia Spencer, who starred alongside Ellis in The Help and The Soloist wrote on Instagram about her experience with the man: “The first time I met him was on the set of The Soloist and we were at rehearsal with a lot of the homeless cast members, and Nelsan was playing our counselor. He walked in wearing a pair of fitted camo cargo pants, a pristine white tshirt, a beret, and a denim jacket. Needless to say he was gorgeous, sexy. But his talent had me speechless. We became instant friends after that. He was sooooo funny. I miss him.”
Ellis leaves behind a son as well as other family members and countless fans.