Nelsan Ellis, the actor who starred in HBO’s True Blood (2008-14), has died. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ellis’ death was confirmed by his manager Emily Gerson Saines. He was 39.
But how did the actor die?
According to Saines’ statement, “Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure. Any prior history of heart trouble or health issues were not made publicly known prior to his death. “He was a great talent,” added Saines, “And his words and presence will be forever missed.”
Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois, and attended Thorn Ridge High School in Dolton. He later attended Oxford University and Columbia College in Chicago, before attending from the prestigious Juilliard School. He appeared in numerous films, including The Soloist (2009), Secretariat (2010), The Help (2011) and The Butler (2013), where he played Martin Luther King, Jr. Most recently, he appeared in the independent film Little Boxes (2016).
But for many, he will be remembered as Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood, a role he originated in 2008. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the character was actually killed off in the books that True Blood are based on, but due to Ellis’ charisma onscreen, the producers decided to have him survive the entirety of the show’s run.
In addition to Saines, numerous friends and collaborators of Ellis released statements to pay tribute to the late actor. “Nelson was a singular talent,” said True Blood creator Alan Ball, “Whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
HBO, who distributed the show, wrote: “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.”