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 around 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:
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 film and TV shows, including The Soloist, The Butler, Get on Up and Elementary.
The character Lafayette was killed off fairly early on in the books, The Southern Vampire Mysteries. But True Blood fans loved Ellis’ portrayal so much, the character survived and was a regular on the series.
“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.