“True Blood” actor Nelsan Ellis’ family said on Monday that the star died Saturday from heart failure due to complications from his “withdrawal from alcohol.”
In a statement, HBO said, “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.”
Ellis did not have a lead role in the series. But his portrayal of the gay short-order cook who deals in blood was so popular among fans that even though the character was killed off in the book version of the vampire drama, he was kept on for all seven seasons of the show, Rolling Stonereports.
And yet the Juilliard-trained Ellis initially struggled to bring to life the character of Reynolds, according toVibe magazine.
“The most intriguing thing about him is his strength and his stillness,” Ellis told the magazine in a 2010 interview. “He’s not quick on his toes unless he gets heated. He’s just in that Southern way — sort of sauntering along, being who he is.”
When asked whether he had heard feedback from the gay community, Ellis told the magazine, “Only in that they haven’t seen a dude like that before. And he’s not a stereotype.”
Production of True Blood ended in 2014, but tributes from Ellis’ castmates poured forth on social media over the weekend.
“(T)hat beautiful, gifted man was also the most humble artist I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing or working with,” True Blood co-star Anna Paquin posted on Instagram. “Nelsan inhabited characters that bore no resemblance to himself in a way that put him in that tiny category of true virtuoso performer.”
Ellis’s family released a statement through manager Emily Gerson Saines toThe Hollywood Reporter stating: “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.”
The Illinois-born actor died at age 39 after four days in the hospital, according to the statement from his family.
The American Addition Centers says cutting off alcohol “cold turkey” should not be done without a medical supervisor present or it could cause health problems, even lead to death.
“Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, as the brain and central nervous system experience a rebound after being suppressed by alcohol repetitively for an extended period of time,” according to American Addiction Centers. “Sudden removal of the central nervous system depressant can be life-threatening.”
Ellis’ family statement ended with: “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.”
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