Nelsan Ellis, star of HBO’s ‘True Blood,’ dead at 39

Nelsan Ellis attends HBO’s “True Blood” panel during Comic-Con International 2014 at San Diego Convention Center on July 26, 2014 in San Diego, California. ETHAN MILLER / GETTY IMAGES

(CBS) Nelsan Ellis, best known for playing short-order cook Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood,” has died, the network announced Saturday. He was 39.

“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,” the statement said.

The show’s creator and executive producer, Alan Ball, also released a statement Saturday afternoon: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”

Ellis’ manager, Emily Gerson Saines, told CBS News that the actor passed away after complications with heart failure.

Ellis was born in Illinois and a graduate of The Juilliard School in New York City. His acting resume includes a portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” and the James Brown biopic “Get On Up.” Ellis recently played a starring role in the CBS detective series “Elementary.”

The “Elementary” writers room extended prayers to Ellis’ loved ones on Twitter.

“Nelsan Ellis will always be a treasured member of the Elementary family,” they wrote. “Our hearts & prayers are w/his loved ones on this saddest of days.”

Actress Octavia Spencer, his co-star on “The Help,” remembered the actor on Instagram. “Just got word that we lost [Ellis]. My heart breaks for his kids and family,” Spencer wrote.

Anna Paquin, who played Sookie Stackhouse in “True Blood,” called Ellis “phenomenally talented” and a “deeply kind soul.”

Joe Manganiello, Ellis’ “True Blood” co-star, said on Twitter that he was “crushed” by the loss of his friend and cast mate. “He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist,” he wrote.

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