Nelsan Ellis Cause of Death: How Did Alcohol Play a Role?

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We have new information on the sad death of Nelsan Ellis.

The former True Blood star, who portrayed fan favorite Lafayette Reynolds from the show's very first episode up through its last, died on Saturday at the age of 39.

Nelsan Ellis Image

Upon announcing this tragic news, Ellis' manager stated that her client passed away from "complications with heart failure."

No further insight was provided at the time, leaving fans to wonder how such an unfortunate development occurs for someone at such a young age.

But now that same manager, Emily Gerson Saines, has released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that elucidates certain aspects of Ellis' life and death.

He apparently battled a drug and alcohol problem for years.

Just prior to passing away, Ellis attempted to get clean and sober without the help of any professionals or any programs.

“After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own,” the star's family said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, through Saines.

Nelsan Ellis

“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.”

We can also now report that Ellis spent four days in Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn before dying on Saturday.

In this same statement, Saines refers to the actor a “gentle, generous and kind soul.”

She adds:

“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.”

Ellis will forever be best remembered to playing the outspoken, cross-dressing, courageous and hilarious gay character of Lafayette on True Blood.

But also appeared on episodes of Elementary and in such movies as The Help and The Butler.

Tributes poured in over the weekend from co-stars who were heartbroken to learn of Ellis’ passing.

“Crushed today by the loss of my friend and castmate Nelsan Ellis. He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist,” Tweeted Joe Manganiello, for example.

Octavia Spencer, who appeared opposite Ellis in two movies, said she and the actor became “instant friends” after meeting on the set of The Soloist.

Of their first encounter at work, she wrote, “Needless to say, he was gorgeous, sexy. But his talent had me speechless … I miss him."

Nelsan Ellis on True Blood

And this is from HBO:

"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."

Perhaps most memorably and most emotionally, however, Stephen Moyer penned a lengthy message on Facebook the day after Ellis died.

"Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the [seven] years of True Blood whom [creator Alan Ball] allowed to improvise," wrote the veteran actor behind Bill Compton, adding in beautiful detail:

True Blood Lafayette

Actually, I’m going to take that back.

It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself.

It was like he was possessed.

In actuality, Nelsan was quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind. A published playwright himself.

I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre.

To see that spark ignited. Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen.

I can’t believe he’s gone.

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