Nelsan Ellis Dead at 39

True Blood star Nelsan Ellis died on July 8. He was 39.

"Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure," Saines said. "He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed."

Days after his death, Ellis' family agreed to release to The Hollywood Reporter, through his manager Emily Gerson Saines, the exact circumstances surrounding the beloved actor's passing.

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.


On True Blood, Ellis' Lafayette Reynolds was a short-order cook at Merlotte's. In the books, he was killed off, but because Ellis made him such an enjoyable character, he survived on the series.

"We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis," HBO said in a statement. "Nelsan was a longtime 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."

Ellis appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including The Soloist, The Butler, Get on Up and Elementary.

Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois. He attended Thorn Ridge High School in Dolton, and later attended Oxford University and Columbia College in Chicago before graduating from the famed Juilliard School.

Ellis is survived by his grandmother, Alex Brown; his father, Tommie Lee Thompson; and his son, Breon Ellis. He is also survived by his siblings Lakeeia Thomson, Tommie Lee Thompson, Babon Ellis, Maurice Turne, Tianna Thompson, Shaentika Beard and Yvonne Ellis, and aunt Tartheaia Thompson.

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