Nelsan Ellis, the actor known for his role of Lafayette on the HBO series True Blood, died at the age of 39.
His manager, Emily Gerson Saines, confirmed the news to EW. “Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure,” she said in a statement. “He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed.”
As Lafayette, the sassafras cook at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, Ellis was one of the cast members who stayed with True Blood up until the final season, which capped in 2014. “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.”
True Blood creator Alan Ball called working with Ellis “a privilege.” He said in his own statement, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me.”
Octavia Spencer, who starred alongside Ellis in The Help and the James Brown biopic Get On Up, wrote in a post on Instagram, “Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family.”
Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family. #RIPNelsanEllis. #brillIantactor #trueblood #getonup #thesoloist #thehelp. The first time I met him was on the set of the soloist and we were at rehearsal with a lot of the homeless cast members, and Nelsan was playing our counselor. He walked in wearing a pair of fitted camo cargo pants, a pristine white tshirt, a beret, and a denim jacket. Needless to say he was gorgeous, sexy. But his talent had me speechless. We became instant friends after that. He was sooooo funny. I miss him. #nelsanellis
Ellis’s True Blood costar Deborah Ann Woll called the news of his death “heartbreaking.”
GALLERY: Nelsan Ellis’ Life in Photos
A graduate of Juilliard, Ellis recently appeared on CBS’ Elementary as Shinwell Johnson, who featured throughout season 5. The character died on the show in May. The actor also landed TV roles on Veronica Mars and Without a Trace, as well as in films like The Soloist, Secretariat, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.