Shocking and sad news today out of Hollywood:
Nelsan Ellis, an actor best known for his standout role on True Blood, has died at the age of 39.
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer confirmed the shocking passing Saturday morning on Instagram, sharing a photo of Ellis along with the following caption:
"Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family. #RIPNelsanEllis. #brillIantactor #trueblood #getonup #thesoloist #thehelp"
The two had starred together in the James Brown biopic Get On Up.
The actor’s manager, Emily Gerson Saines, has also confirmed the death in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that reads as follows:
“Nelsan has passed away after complications with heart failure. He was a great talent, and his words and presence will be forever missed.”
The former HBO star was born in Harvey, Illinois and then moved to Alabama after his parents got divorced.
He attended Juilliard and wrote a semi-autobiographical play titled Ugly that was performed at the famous school; he later took home the Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award.
In 2008, Ellis won a 2008 Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for role as Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood.
The character was a flamboyant, proud, brave gay man in Louisiana and Ellis was a prominent part of the drama’s main cast since the opening episode.
He remained with the show until it concluded in 2014.
Off screen, Ellis embraced the responsibility that came along with such a groundbreaking role, telling Vibe Magazine of gay marriage a few years ago:
"I support it."
"I think anybody should… I have my religious views, but I don’t choose to oppress them on anybody."
"I think in this country, anybody can do whatever they want to do as long as it’s not hurting anybody else or violating the laws of society."
"If you want to get married to a man then get married to a man. If two women want to get married they should get married. It’s not hurting me."
"The beautiful thing about this country is that I can be a Christian and feel free to do so."
"Or somebody cannot be a Christian and do whatever that entails. Or somebody can be a Christian and still be gay and I support it."
"Let gay people get married."
In response to the news of his passing, HBO has released the following statement:
“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.”
Added True Blood creator Alan Ball, just moments ago:
"Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege."
Along with this memorable part, Ellis appeared on episodes of Elementary and Without a Trace.
On the big screen, he co-starred in such films as The Help, Secretariat and Little Boxes.
We expect to hear plenty more statements to be released in the coming hours as more and more television stars learn of Ellis’ death.
We send our condolences to his loved ones.
May Nelsan Ellis rest in peace.
UPDATE: Here is a rundown of reactions from some of Ellis’ True Blood co-stars:
Deborah Ann Woll: Heartbreaking.
Michael McMillian: Stunned, devastated by the terrible news of @OfficialNelsan’s passing. Nelsan was a genius and a beautiful soul. Sending love to his family.
Joe Manganiello: 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. Watching him work was like watching someone channel a spirit. It was mesmerizing. RIP.
Kristin Bauer: One of the sweetest most talented men I’ve ever met. A terrible loss for all of us. Rest In Peace Nelsan. You will be missed. I don’t know how else to put words to this terribly sad news…
Sam Trammell: 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.
Michael Raymond-James: Unbelievably sad news. Nelsan was such a sweet, gentle soul with an enormous talent. He will be missed greatly RIP.