Nelsan Ellis, known for playing Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood,” died on Saturday of heart failure related to alcohol withdrawal, according to a statement released by his family on Monday. The actor was 39.
According to the family’s statement, Ellis had attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own, but had a blood infection that caused his kidneys to “shut down,” his liver to swell, and his blood pressure to drop.
Ellis had “suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years,” according to the statement. But he was “ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life.” The family hopes his life can “serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.”
Ellis was born in Harvey, Ill., and moved to Alabama during his childhood before returning to Chicago. He received his B.F.A. from Juilliard, and appeared on “True Blood” between 2008 and 2014.
At Ellis’ time of death, 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.”
Read the full statement from Ellis’ family, released to Variety through his manager Emily Gerson Saines, below:
Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. 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.
On the morning of Saturday July 8th, after four days in Woodhull Hospital, Nelsan was pronounced dead. Nelsan was a gentle, generous, and kind soul. He was a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, and a great friend to those that were lucky enough to know him. 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.