Nelsan Ellis, the actor best known for starring in all seven seasons of HBO’s True Blood, died Saturday at the age of 39, due to complications from heart failure. Ellis was a Juilliard graduate who gained notoriety for the semi-autobiographical play he wrote in school, Ugly, which was the recipient of Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award. He made guest appearances in series such as Veronica Mars and Without a Trace after graduating, before landing the role of Lafayette Reynolds, a proudly gay short-order cook, in True Blood. His indelible performance in the HBO drama netted him great acclaim and awards recognition, and he remained a core cast member until the show’s conclusion in 2014. “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 series’s creator, Alan Ball, also provided a statement: “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
More recently, Ellis portrayed historical figures Martin Luther King, Jr. in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic Get on Up. He also had a regular role in the fifth season of Elementary, playing Shinwell Johnson.