Nelsan Ellis, the actor who starred in HBO’s True Blood as Lafayette Reynolds, has died. He was only 39.
“Nelsan has passed away after complications with 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.”
Ellis, who had been in numerous films including The Help, Get On Up and The Butler, was best known for his role as the flamboyant and hilarious Lafayette on True Blood. While the Merlotte’s short order cook (and drug dealer) was killed off in the books the show was adapted from, the creators and writers refused to kill him in the series, mostly because Ellis’s brilliant performance made the character a fan favorite, THR suggests.
Lafayette was also very popular due to him being one of the only Black gay characters on television at that time, serving as a much-needed example of representation and inclusion. And while other actors with less self-awareness and talent would have turned Lafayette into a one-dimensional caricature or the butt of the joke, Ellis gave him layers, nuance and complexity—reflecting the humanity of the Black LGBTQ community.
In a statement, HBO sent their condolences: “We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis. 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 added: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
People, including his former castmates, also flocked to Twitter to remember the beloved actor:
Ellis was born in Harvey, Ill and attended Thorn Ridge High School in Dolton, Illinois. He later attended Oxford University and Columbia College in Chicago, before graduating from the famed Julliard School says THR.
Ellis is survived by his grandmother (Alex Brown), his father (Tommie Lee Thompson) and his son (Breon Ellis).