Nelsan Ellis, who played short-order cook Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s vampire series True Blood, died from complications from heart failure at the age of 39, Variety reports. Actress Octavia Spencer, who appeared with Ellis in The Help, reported the actor’s death on Instagram, writing “Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family.”
Ellis hailed from Harvey, Illinois, and after a brief stint in the Marines, studied at Illinois State University and Julliard. He appeared on Fox’s crime drama The Inside in 2005 before landing his breakout role on True Blood. From there, he branched out into features, appearing in The Soloist, The Help, Get on Up, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler; most recently he could be seen in a recurring role on CBS’ modern-day Sherlock Holmes show Elementary.
Ellis’ True Blood co-workers were quick to mourn him. Show creator Alan Ball said in a statement, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.” Anna Paquin, who starred on the show, tweeted her own thoughts at losing Ellis at such a young age:
Ellis is survived by his son, his father, a grandmother, and seven brothers and sisters.