Nelsan Ellis, the actor who starred on HBO’s True Blood as Lafayette Reynolds, has died, his manager Emily Gerson Saines, told The Hollywood Reporter. 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.”
On True Blood, Lafayette played 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.”
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.
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.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Jenesse Center or The Restoration Ministries Church of God and Christ.