Nelsan Ellis, who slayed his way into the hearts of TV viewers with his portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s vampire drama True Blood, has entered immortality at age 39. The actor, who died July 8 of complications from heart failure, was currently costarring in the CBS series Elementary and had featured roles in the films The Help and Get On Up.
Still, it was as True Blood‘s fry cook Lafayette, who dealt drug-like vampire blood on the side, that Ellis made the strongest impression. His character who died early on in the Charlaine Harris novel on which the series was based, but fan response to Ellis’ ferocious, take-no-prisoners portrayal of Lafayette was so strong his storyline evolved throughout all seven seasons. Ellis, who was straight and leaves behind a young son, was fiercely outspoken when a fellow straight actor, Luke Grimes, left the series in objection to becoming Lafayette’s love interest. Ellis said at the time, “You make a statement when you do something like that… If you have a child, if you have a son, and he comes out as gay, what are you going to do? If you have a daughter who comes out gay …? You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects… I can’t approach a character with judgment. I certainly can’t tell my boss, “I can act what I want to act, but not what you tell me to act,” especially on a show where you come in, knowing what it is… I didn’t like what he did because he made a statement, and sometimes you have to take responsibility.”
UPDATE: On June 10, Ellis’ family released a statement through his publicist that revealed the actor died of heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal. The full statement reads:
Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. According to his father, during his withdrawal from alcohol he had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.
On the morning of Saturday July 8th, after four days in Woodhull Hospital, Nelsan was pronounced dead. 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.
Watch clips of Ellis and read some of the responses to his passing from his costars below.
— Anna Paquin (@AnnaPaquin) July 8, 2017
I don't know if I've ever seen the level of humility and kindness that came with the Magnificent Talent that Nelsan Ellis had. Miss u friend
— Sam Trammell (@SamTrammell) July 8, 2017
My heart is broken today over the loss of @OfficialNelsan I was in complete awe of your talent and so honored to have known your kindness.
— Anna Camp (@TheRealAnnaCamp) July 8, 2017
Nelsan Ellis, you will truly be missed. Such a great talent gone far too soon. ? https://t.co/XLnmDqHGAR
— Charlaine Harris (@RealCharlaine) July 8, 2017
— Deborah Ann Woll (@DeborahAnnWoll) July 8, 2017