Actor and star of True Blood Nelsan Ellis has passed away after complications from heart failure. He was only 39 years old.
On True Blood, Ellis played Lafayette Reynolds: a short order cook at Merlotte’s, a drug dealer, a member of Jason Stackhouse’s road crew and Tara Thorntons’s cousin. In the books, he was killed off at the beginning of the second novel in the series. But because Ellis made the character such an enjoyable character, he survived the television series.
A Philly.com article reads: “Take Lafayette Reynolds, a hash-slinging, drug-dealing, trash-talking queen who now turns out to be a witch, too. ‘Lafayette’s a great example,’ creator Alan Ball said, ‘because he gets killed in the books. … After the first season of working with Nelsan, I just went, ‘There’s no way we can kill this character.””
In the third season, Lafayette is introduced to a male witch, Jesus, who becomes his romantic interest.
In casting, Ball had concerns that the character’s sexuality would be a dominating trait, “because you don’t want to bring in someone who’s going to play that in a phony way”.
Ellis says that it took him a few episodes to find the character. He based many of Lafayette’s mannerisms on his mother and his sister, and that the costuming also helps him get into character.
“I have more makeup on than any of the females in the cast. Once they get me with the fake eyelashes and the eye makeup, I listen to some Rihanna and I’m there,” Ellis once said.
After news of Nelsan’s death broke, Ball said: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
“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.”
Ellis also appeared as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and his film resume also included The Help and the James Brown biopic Get On Up.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones.