Nelsan Ellis, the actor who starred on HBO’s True Blood as the fan favorite Lafayette Reynolds, struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years. That battle ultimately cost the 39-year-old his life.
Now, 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. Ellis died Saturday of heart failure. His death was met with a massive outpouring from friends and fans around the world, who were shocked and heartbroken over the news.
In an effort to help others who may be struggling with the same addictions that afflicted Ellis, his family released the following via Saines to THR:
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.
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 appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including The Soloist, The Butler, Get on Up and Elementary.
The character Lafayette was killed off fairly early on in The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series. But True Blood fans loved Ellis’ portrayal so much, the character survived and was a regular on the TV iteration.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement on Saturday. “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 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.