Nelsan Ellis, most famous for the role of Lafayette on HBO’s True Blood, has passed away at age 39 due to complications stemming from heart failure. For fans and colleagues, the news came suddenly on Saturday, July 8th, with confirmation to THR from Ellis’ manager Emily Gerson Saines. Her statement to the publication was brief, with few details, saying:
“Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure. He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed.”
After a few small TV roles post graduation from the prestigious Julliard School, Ellis landed the role of a lifetime as the most flamboyant line cook on the small screen. It was at Julliard where Ellis first befriended eventual True Blood co-star Rutina Wesley. Over the course of seven seasons on HBO, Lafayette Reynolds survived vampires, shapeshifters, and demonic possessions in the swampy backwaters of Bon Temps, LA. The character was short-lived in the books, but Ellis brought heart and a gravitas to the role that made Lafayette an integral character to the series.
After news of his passing, HBO released the following statement.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis. 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.”
Former True Blood boss, Alan Ball even issued his own statement on the actor’s passing, noting, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
After True Blood, Ellis went on to play Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Lee Daniel’s The Butler, Bobby Byrd in Get On Up, the James Brown biopic that starred Chadwick Boseman, and had a recurring role as Shinwell Johnson on ABC’s Elementary. Nelsan Ellis was also in the Academy Award nominated The Help, and most recently in The Stanford Prison Experiment. Former co-star Octavia Spenser expressed her condolences via Instagram after she learned of his passing, saying, “my heart breaks for his kids and family.”
At only 39 years old, Ellis leaves behind a son, his father, grandmother, aunt, and seven siblings. Per the family’s wishes, donations can be made to his family’s church home in Indiana and/or to the Jenesse Carter Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Center in Los Angeles.
Nelsan Ellis – November 30, 1977 – July 8, 2017
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