Nelsan Ellis, best known for playing Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood,” died Sunday, July 8 in Los Angeles. He was 39.
His family released a statement say that in the days before his death, Ellis had been trying to quit drinking alcohol, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome led to heart failure.
According to his family, Ellis spent most of his adult life in and out of rehab, but he had never been able to make it stick. Finally, the actor decided to try and go cold turkey and the results proved deadly.
“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,'” said HBO in a statement. “Nelsan will be dearly missed by his fans and all of us at HBO.”
His film credits also included playing Martin Luther King Jr. in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” playing Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” and in the 2015 Sundance pic “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Most recently, he starred in the indie “Little Boxes” and the upcoming “True to The Game.”
He was also in the Oscar Best Picture nominee “The Help” alongside Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Emma Stone.
His TV credits include the Fox series “The Inside” which ran for seven episodes in 2005. He then landed the role in “True Blood” in 2007, where he starred opposite Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer in the Southern Gothic vampire series that ran from 2008-2014. Ellis also joined the cast of CBS’s “Elementary” this past season as a series regular before his character Shinwell was murdered.