UPDATE: The family of Nelsan Ellis has gone into further detail about the cause of his death, saying that his heart failed due to alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Ellis’ manager relayed the news to The Hollywood Reporter:

“Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure,” read the statement. “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.”

ORIGINAL STORY: Nelsan Ellis, the actor who played Lafayette on HBO vampire series True Blood for its entire seven-season run, died Saturday at the age of 39.

Ellis’ manager, Emily Gerson Saines, confirmed the news, saying that he died of heart failure.

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“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, Ellis played fan favourite Lafayette, a smart-mouth short-order cook at local restaurant Merlotte’s.


Ellis’ portrayal of the out-there cook ensured his longevity on the show, even though the character of Lafayette was killed off in the original book series. HBO released a statement about his passing.

“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” said the network. “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.”

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“Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me,” added True Blood creator Alan Ball. “Working with him was a privilege.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Ellis graduated from Juilliard and had a few bit roles in TV before landing his breakthrough role of Lafayette. From there, he appeared in movies like Secretariat and The Butler, and had just started up a role on TV series Elementary.

His various co-stars and colleagues, including True Blood co-stars Sam Trammell, Stephen Moyer, Joe Manganiello, Michelle Forbes and Anna Paquin, tweeted their condolences over the weekend.

Ellis is survived by his grandmother, his aunt, his father and his seven siblings. He also has one son, Breon Ellis.

The funeral for Ellis is expected to be private, and in lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations be made to the Restoration Ministries Church of God and Christ or the Jenesse Center.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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