‘True Blood’ Star Nelsan Ellis Dead at 39
On July eighth, television and movie fans were devastated to hear that Nelsan Ellis, star of HBO’s True Blood, had passed away due to heart failure. He was 39.
The celebrity was a Chicago native, who pursued a career as an actor after dropping out of the military. While he began his theatrical education at the University of Illinois, his talent landed him a spot at the prestigious Julliard School in New York City.
Although Ellis was popular with LGBT audiences thanks to his portrayal of a flamboyantly gay short order cook on True Blood, the actor was straight off-screen. He was married, although famously private about his personal life. He leaves behind a son, Breon Ellis.
A Remarkable Career
Although Ellis did some minor film and stage work after his graduation from Julliard, it was his breakout role in True Blood that turned him into a major celebrity. Ellis portrayed LaFayette, a restaurant cook who sold marijuana on the side. The character was sassy, tough and played to perfection by Ellis. Even in a show full of supernatural creatures, the very human LaFayette was a fan favorite.
Executive producer Alan Ball was reported to have some serious concerns when casting LaFayette, fearing that LaFayette would become a gay caricature instead of a nuanced character. Ball found exactly what he was looking for in Ellis, who reportedly based his portrayal of LaFayette off of his mother and his sister.
Although he was heterosexual, the talented thespian found playing LaFayette to be relatively simple. On getting into character, Ellis remarked, “[once I put on] the fake eyelashes and the eye makeup, I listen to some Rihanna and I’m there.”
Ellis became a champion of gay rights as a result of the LGBT fan-base he garnered while playing LaFayette. Ellis was the subject of some minor controversy when he condemned his former costar James Kent when the actor reportedly left True Blood after a script called for his character to partake in a romantic scene with another man.
“[That] has ripple effects,” Ellis said in reference to Kent’s departure, which he worried would send a damaging message to gay and lesbian youths.
Ellis also impressed audiences by portraying Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Butler, in addition to playing singer Bobby Byrd in Get On Up, the biopic about the life of James Brown.
Ellis also was popular on social media, where he lent his celebrity endorsement to many charities, especially those that provide arts education to underprivileged youths.
Pained By Addiction
Sadly, Ellis was one of the many Hollywood stars whose life was pained by addiction. Even in a world of celebrity endorsement deals and attending every important celebrity event, addiction has the power to ruin lives.
Shortly after Ellis passed, his manager Emily Saines publicly expressed that Ellis had dealt with a lifelong addiction to alcohol. With the permission of the actor’s family, Saines explained that Ellis had been trying to quit drinking on his own. The severity of his withdrawals from alcohol led his heart to fail.
“[After multiple attempts to quit in rehab facilities], Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own,” Saines said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
The Ellis family has said that the actor kept his addiction extremely private due to shame. While fans are often made aware of their favorite stars’ substance abuse battles, Ellis was very careful to hide his struggles from the public eye. For this reason, the news that his death was addiction-related has been utterly shocking to his fans and colleagues.
Doctors and medical professionals strongly suggest that anyone suffering from extreme withdrawal symptoms seek medical intervention instead of trying to detox on their own. Sadly, it was the actor’s attempt to quit drinking by himself and without medical supervision that led to his tragic death.
“[Alcohol] detox is the only actual drug detox you can die from,” clinical addiction expert Cyndie Dunkerson told NBC News. Dunkerson explained that other drug withdrawal symptoms might make a patient feel like they’re dying, but that alcohol withdrawals are the only ones that can lead to actual fatalities. Dunkerson called losing patients to alcohol addiction “the thing I hate about my job.”
The Ellis family has said that they hope his passing will serve as a “cautionary tale” to anyone who might be struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Anyone who is trying to quit drinking and experiencing serious physical addiction or withdrawal symptoms is strongly urged to seek professional intervention.
“He was a wonderful person, a pioneer and a one of a kind artist,” Joe Manganiello wrote on social media. True Blood leading lady Anna Pacquin said that Ellis was “phenomenally talented” and a “deeply kind soul.” Costar Carrie Preston posted a picture of herself and Ellis attending a celebrity event, remarking that he was a “genius.”
“[He was] a great and underrated actor,” said singer The Weeknd. This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown also weighed in, remarking, “this brother was one of the baddest.”
Hollywood will undoubtedly be reeling from the passing of this remarkable talent for a very long time. Hopefully, this death will inspire anyone struggling with an alcohol addiction to seek professional help.