True Blood star Nelsan Ellis, who played Lafayette on the HBO series, has died. He was 39.
The actor passed away from complications due to heart failure, his manager, Emily Gerson Saines, told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed," she said in a statement.
Ellis played Lafayette Reynolds, a short order cook at the central location of Merlotte's, on True Blood for its entire seven-season run. The character is killed off early in the book series but lived on the show due to his popularity.
"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 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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True Blood star Anna Paquin tweeted Saturday that she was "devastated" by the actor's death and called it an "utter privilege" to work with Ellis.
Born in Harvey, Ill., Ellis briefly joined the Marines before attending Juilliard, where he earned a BFA in 2004.
His other credits include The Soloist, The Help, Lee Daniels' The Butler, in which he played Martin Luther King Jr., and Get On Up, in which he portrayed R&B singer Bobby Byrd. He joined Elementary last year as Shinwell Johnson.
Ellis' True Blood co-stars and Octavia Spencer, who starred with him in Get On Up and The Help, remembered him on social media Saturday.
One of the first places we shot on the pilot of True Blood was Sam Merlotte's Bar. The kitchen Suzuki Ingerslev built in Merlotte's had a walk in freezer & working gas burners. It remained my favourite set throughout all 7 seasons - when shooting in Louisiana many months later she took us to the actual bar she had used as inspiration. It was almost as amazing as our Merlotte's, but not quite - They didn't have a Lafayette. In the scene that was being shot that day, Lafayette, a male cross-dressing short order cook in the show, was expounding on his theory of men's fear of the female anatomy.. specifically, the vagina. 'I know every man whether straight, gay or George MotherFuckin' Bush is afraid of the pussy..' I'm not sure I have ever seen, before or since, people crowd around a monitor at video village with their hands clapped to their mouths from shock, sheer laughter and wonder as the actor playing Lafayette jiggled and shook and humped the butchers block to get his point across. it was completely original, funny, sardonic, risqué and brilliant. That was Nelsan Ellis. All of the above. I turned to Alan Ball when the scene was finished and whispered... 'you can't kill him!' (Lafayette's death at the of the first book is the cliffhanger that leads to Book 2... ) Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the 7 years of True Blood whom Alan allowed to improvise. Actually, I'm going to take that back. It wasn't that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN'T STOP himself. It was like he was possessed. In actuality Nelsan was quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind. A published playwright himself. I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre. To see that spark ignited. Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen. I can't believe he's gone. #nelsanellis
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
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— Sam Trammell (@SamTrammell) July 8, 2017
My heart is broken today over the loss of @OfficialNelsan I was in complete awe of your talent and so honored to have known your kindness.— Anna Camp (@TheRealAnnaCamp) July 8, 2017
Very disturbed and sad that Nelsan Ellis has died. Such a huge talent. Such a wonderful man. The world is a poorer place today...— Denis O'Hare (@denisohare) July 8, 2017