LOS ANGELES — Nelsan Ellis, the actor who lit up the screen on HBO’s vampire drama “True Blood,” has died at age 39.
The cause of death was complications from heart failure, his manager, Emily Gerson Saines, told CNN.
Ellis had roles in several movies during his career, including “Get on Up,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “The Help.” But he was best known for his performance on “True Blood” as Lafayette, a cook and medium whose tell-it-like-it-is attitude made him a favorite among the television show’s fans.
HBO said in a statement Saturday that it was “extremely saddened” to hear of his passing.
“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,” the statement read. HBO, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.
“True Blood” creator Alan Ball added: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
Octavia Spencer, who worked with Ellis on “The Help,” paid tribute to him on Instagram: “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
“True Blood” cast member Joe Manganiello, who played the werewolf Alcide, tweeted that Ellis was “a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist.”
And Sam Trammel, who played Sam on “True Blood,” wrote on Twitter: “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the level of humility and kindness that came with the Magnificent Talent that Nelsan Ellis had. Miss u friend.”
Other cast members also took to Twitter to pay tribute to the late actor.