Family of True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis Says His Death Was Due to Alcohol Withdrawal

Nelsan Ellis in a scene from True Blood (HBO)
Nelsan Ellis in a scene from True Blood (HBO)

Nelsan Ellis, the actor best known for his portrayal of the flamboyant character Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s True Blood, died Saturday from complications related to heart failure.


On Monday, however, his family released a statement, going more in depth into the circumstances of his death, including the fact that the 39-year-old tried to withdraw from a longtime alcohol dependency on his own.

Ellis’ family released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter through his longtime manager. It noted that the family hoped its candor might help others dealing with addiction issues. The statement reads:

Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. 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.

On the morning of Saturday July 8th, after four days in Woodhull Hospital, Nelsan was pronounced dead. Nelsan was a gentle, generous and kind soul. He was a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, and a great friend to those that were lucky enough to know him. 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.

In addition to a statement released by HBO on Saturday, Imani Motion Pictures, which produced Ellis’ last completed film, True to the Game, based on the street-lit novel by Teri Woods, also released a statement about the late Juilliard graduate:

Nelsan Ellis was a classically trained actor that impacted the world with his talent. From commanding the attention as a fan favorite on HBO’s True Blood to becoming family to us as a primary star of our upcoming film, True to the Game, Nelsan was a consummate professional who the True to the Game family was proud to not only call colleague but friend. He will be sorely missed. Much love and light.


THR reports that Ellis is survived by his grandmother Alex Brown; his father, Tommie Lee Thompson; and his son, Breon Ellis. He is also survived by his siblings Lakeeia Thomson, Tommie Lee Thompson, Babon Ellis, Maurice Turne, Tianna Thompson, Shaentika Beard and Yvonne Ellis and his aunt Tartheaia Thompson.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



That breaks my heart. Alcohol withdrawal is very real and can most definitely kill you without proper medical care.