Nelsan Ellis’ family released a statement on Monday, confirming that the True Blood actor “suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years” and that a recent attempt to “withdraw from alcohol on his own” contributed to Ellis’ death.
“Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure,” Ellis’ manager, Emily Gerson Saines, said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter. Saines added, “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.”
In the statement, Saines called the actor a “gentle, generous and kind soul.” She added, “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.”
Ellis died Saturday at age 39. He had been best known for playing Lafayette on the HBO series True Blood throughout the show’s entire run and had recently concluded a recurring role on the CBS series Elementary.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement following Ellis’ death. “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,” and added in his own statement, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me.”
Writing on his Facebook page, True Blood star Stephen Moyer passed along his own condolensces as well.
“Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the [seven] 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,” Moyer wrote in a widely circulated tribute. “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.”
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