HBO True Blood Star Nelsan Ellis has died on Sunday, July 9, due to heart failure at the age of 39.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement. “Nelsan was a long-time member of the HBO family whose groundbreaking portrayal of Lafayette will be remembered fondly with the overall legacy of True Blood. Nelsan will be dearly missed by his fans and all of us at HBO.”
Ellis was best known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood, and had won a Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 2008 for the character. He became a True Blood fan-favorite for his portrayal of the scene-stealing, gay short order cook at Merlotte’s Bar in the fictional Louisiana town.
Breaking stereotypes of gay men, the character originally did not survive in the books but Ellis’ memorable portrayal of Lafayette kept him in the series, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Born in Harvey, Illinois in 1977, Ellis studied at Illinois State University before getting his BFA at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. While at Juilliard, he won the Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award for his semi-autobiographical play Ugly.
Ellis’ recent casting was in CBS’s Elementary, in which he played a former drug dealer and former patient of Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson. He also starred in films like Get on Up, The Help and Little Boxes, and played Martin Luther King, Jr., in Lee Daniels’s 2013 film The Butler.
Heartbroken over the passing of Nelsan Ellis. He was always so sweet to me and so entertaining to watch in screen.
— Gabby Sidibe (@GabbySidibe) July 8, 2017
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) July 8, 2017
— Carrie Preston (@carriepreston) July 8, 2017
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 pic.twitter.com/fvtquhIac7
— JOE MANGANIELLO (@JoeManganiello) July 8, 2017
— Anna Paquin (@AnnaPaquin) July 8, 2017