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True Blood star Nelsan Ellis died Saturday due to complications from heart failure. He was 39.
On the HBO hit, Ellis played the flamboyant, scene-stealing short-order cook Lafayette at Merlotte’s Bar. In the books, his character was killed off in the first novel, but because Ellis made Lafayette into such an enjoyable, fan-favorite character, he survived on the series.
Ellis was remembered by his True Blood co-stars, as well as co-stars from his numerous other film and television appearances, including The Soloist, The Butler, Get on Up and Elementary.
“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.”
True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer shared in a heartfelt tribute that Ellis was the only actor Ball allowed to improvise on the show. “Actually, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself,” wrote Moyer.
Other castmembers took to social media to express their heartbreak.
“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,” said Sam Trammell.
“Crushed today by the loss of my friend and castmate Nelsan Ellis. He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist. RIP,” said Joe Manganiello.
“One of the sweetest most talented men I’ve ever met. A terrible loss for all of us. Rest In Peace Nelsan. You will be missed. I don’t know how else to put words to this terribly sad news,” said Kristin Bauer.
“It was an utter privilege to work with the phenomenally talented and deeply kind soul .@OfficialNelsan I’m devastated by his untimely death,” said Anna Paquin.
One of the first places we shot on the pilot of True Blood was Sam Merlotte’s Bar. The kitchen Suzuki Ingerslev built in Merlotte’s had a walk in freezer & working gas burners. It remained my favourite set throughout all 7 seasons – when shooting in Louisiana many months later she took us to the actual bar she had used as inspiration. It was almost as amazing as our Merlotte’s, but not quite – They didn’t have a Lafayette. In the scene that was being shot that day, Lafayette, a male cross-dressing short order cook in the show, was expounding on his theory of men’s fear of the female anatomy.. specifically, the vagina. ‘I know every man whether straight, gay or George MotherFuckin’ Bush is afraid of the pussy..’ I’m not sure I have ever seen, before or since, people crowd around a monitor at video village with their hands clapped to their mouths from shock, sheer laughter and wonder as the actor playing Lafayette jiggled and shook and humped the butchers block to get his point across. it was completely original, funny, sardonic, risqué and brilliant. That was Nelsan Ellis. All of the above. I turned to Alan Ball when the scene was finished and whispered… ‘you can’t kill him!’ (Lafayette’s death at the of the first book is the cliffhanger that leads to Book 2… ) Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the 7 years of True Blood whom Alan allowed to improvise. Actually, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself. It was like he was possessed. In actuality Nelsan was quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind. A published playwright himself. I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre. To see that spark ignited. Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen. I can’t believe he’s gone. #nelsanellis
A post shared by Steve Moyer (@stephenmoyer) on
Nelsan Ellis was truly remarkable. A brilliant, charismatic, intelligent, soulful, wonderful dude. this is just completely tragic.
— Stephen Moyer (@smoyer) July 8, 2017
Very disturbed and sad that Nelsan Ellis has died. Such a huge talent. Such a wonderful man. The world is a poorer place today…
— Denis O’Hare (@denisohare) July 8, 2017
— janina gavankar (@Janina) 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
— Sterling K Brown (@sterlingkb1) July 8, 2017
Heartbroken over the passing of Nelsan Ellis. He was always so sweet to me and so entertaining to watch in screen.
— Gabby Sidibe (@GabbySidibe) July 8, 2017
Crushed today by the loss of my friend and castmate Nelsan Ellis. He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist. RIP pic.twitter.com/fvtquhIac7
— Joe Manganiello (@JoeManganiello) July 8, 2017
— Carrie Preston (@carriepreston) July 8, 2017
So blessed to share the screen with you you beautiful man. pic.twitter.com/DCD6WLAdJn
— Todd Lowe (@Todd__Lowe) July 8, 2017
wow rest in peace nelsan ellis. a great and underrated actor.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) July 8, 2017
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) July 8, 2017
Unbelievably sad news. Nelsan was such a sweet, gentle soul with an enormous talent. He will be missed greatly RIP https://t.co/NDdoaeM6Pj
— MichaelRaymond-James (@MRaymondJames) July 8, 2017
— Orlando Jones (@TheOrlandoJones) July 8, 2017
I am so sad about the death of Nelsan Ellis, a great talent gone too soon. Such a shock.
— Charlaine Harris (@RealCharlaine) July 8, 2017
Wow, Nelsan Ellis. A huge talent & beautiful man gone too soon. He shined his light bright, may he Rest In Peace God bless his soul. pic.twitter.com/Ew9DbSVFgv
— Jaime Murray (@MsJaimeMurray) July 8, 2017
— Lauren Bowles (@LaurenEBowles) July 8, 2017
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