On July 8th, 2017, the cast, the production and fandom for True Blood were rocked by the news that 39 year old Nelsan Ellis had died from heart complications.
One of the most memorable characters from the HBO series, True Blood, is LaFayette Reynolds. First introduced as a gay Public Works employee/Short Order Cook/Sex Worker/Drug Dealer, the character quickly begins a journey which not only disproves stereotypes but one that also develops into a complex study of what comprises the human condition. The role married the incredible talent of Nelsan Ellis to a role that garnered him a number of nominations and awards for his performance in the show.
A Juilliard graduate, Ellis’ creative talent expressed itself early in his career, drawing influences in his own life. As a student at Juilliard in 1997, he wrote and produced Ugly, a play about domestic abuse following the 2002 shooting of his sister by her spouse. Ugly received recognition with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Martin E. Segal Award when the show was performed at Lincoln Center. Ellis’ award-winning rendition of LaFayette drew inspiration from his mother and sister for the mannerisms that made the character come to life as a person instead of a stock character.
Numerous people who worked with Ellis have expressed condolences and grief through social media, describing him as an incredible talent and person of creativity and love.
Anna Paquin (Sookie):
“It was an utter privilege to work with the phenomenally talented and deeply kind soul .@OfficialNelsan I’m devastated by his untimely death.”
Stephen Moyer (Bill):
“Nelsan Ellis was truly remarkable. A brilliant, charismatic, intelligent, soulful, wonderful dude. this is just completely tragic.”
Sam Trammell (Sam):
“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.”
Born in Illinois on November 30, 1978, Ellis also lived in Alabama from age 6 to age 14, returning to Illinois and graduating high school from Thornridge High School in Dolton. After a brief stint as a US Marine recruit at age 17, he attended Illinois State University. At age 22, he transferred to Juilliard where he befriended his future co-cast member, Rutina Wesley (Tara). He earned a BA in 2004 at the prestigious fine arts school. He soon found work on the small screen. In 2005, he portrayed Carter Howard on The Inside. His signature role of LaFayette followed in 2008. His final small screen role is Shinwell Johnson on CBS’ Elementary.
Following the finale of TB, Ellis gave remarkable performances as Martin Luther King, Jr in The Butler, Bobby Byrd in Get on Up, and Mack Burns in Little Boxes. His final performance as Tyrik in True to the Game is set for release later this September.
Ellis’ personal life is intensely private. He is survived by his grandmother, his father, seven siblings and his son, Breon.