Nelsan Ellis, known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood,” has died at age 39, reports Variety.
The actor died after complications from heart failure.
“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.”
“Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure,” Emily Gerson Saines, his manager, told The Hollywood Reporter. “He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed.”
Ellis’ “The Help” costar Octavia Spencer broke the news on Instagram Saturday morning, saying, “Just got word that we lost (Nelsan). My heart breaks for his kids and family.”
The Illinois-born actor, who studied at Juilliard, played the role of Lafayette on the HBO drama from 2008 to 2014, and more recently appeared in the CBS detective series “Elementary.” He also was a playwright and a stage director.
Ellis also appeared as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” and as singer Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up.”
On Twitter, some fans posted one of his more famous scenes as Lafayette, where the character marches out of the kitchen to confront some bigoted diners.
In a 2012 TV interview in Chicago, Ellis recalled that it took four auditions for him to nail the role of Lafayette. At first, he said, he was playing the role as a caricature, and was told to “go back to the drawing board and figure it out.”
He then began to channel his mother. “Once I started to act like my Mama, my fourth audition, I got the part,” he said.
“True Blood” creator Alan Ball called Ellis “a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
Born in Harvey, Illinois, Ellis attended Thornridge High School, where he credited teachers with instilling the craft of theater in him. He later attended Juilliard in New York City.