UPDATE, 4:30 PM: A statement has been issued on behalf of Nelsan Ellis’ father, revealing the circumstances surrounding the True Blood actor’s death on Saturday. In it, he shares he shares his son’s battles with drug and alcohol addiction. The statement, released earlier today, follows in full.
“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.”
PREVIOUSLY, July 8: Nelsan Ellis, best known for playing Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s True Blood, has died due to complications from heart failure. He was 39. His reps confirmed the news today.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement this afternoon. “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.”
Said True Blood creator Alan Ball: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.” (Watch a clip of Ellis’ indelible portrayal below.)
Ellis, who joined the cast of CBS’ Elementary this past season as a series regular before his character Shinwell was murdered, was also in the Oscar Best Picture nominee The Help alongside Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Emma Stone. Spencer has already reacted on Instagram:
Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family. #RIPNelsanEllis. #brillIantactor #trueblood #getonup #thesoloist #thehelp. 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. #nelsanellis
His film credits also included playing Martin Luther King Jr in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, playing Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic Get On Up and 2015 Sundance pic The Stanford Prison Experiment. Most recently, he starred in the indie Little Boxes and has the upcoming True To The Game.
His TV credits include the Fox series The Inside which ran for seven episodes in 2005. He then landed the role in True Blood, where he starred opposite Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer on Southern gothic vampire series that ran from 2008-2014.
Here’s a clip of Ellis, in full glory as Lafayette, from a DVD extra that HBO posted on YouTube in 2009. Enjoy.