Nelsan Ellis Remembered: True Blood Co-Stars, Author and EP Pay Tribute

True Blood‘s Nelsan Ellis, who died at the age of 39, is being remembered by friends and former co-stars.

Ellis, who played Lafayette Reynolds on the HBO vampire drama and Shinwell Johnson on CBS’ Elementary, died due to complications from heart failure. Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Joe Manganiello, who respectively played Sookie Stackhouse, Bill Compton and Alcide Herveaux on True Blood, took to social media to express their grief over the loss of “a phenomenally talented,” “wonderful person.”

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One of the first places we shot on the pilot of True Blood was Sam Merlotte’s Bar. The kitchen Suzuki Ingerslev built in Merlotte’s had a walk in freezer & working gas burners. It remained my favourite set throughout all 7 seasons – when shooting in Louisiana many months later she took us to the actual bar she had used as inspiration. It was almost as amazing as our Merlotte’s, but not quite – They didn’t have a Lafayette. In the scene that was being shot that day, Lafayette, a male cross-dressing short order cook in the show, was expounding on his theory of men’s fear of the female anatomy.. specifically, the vagina. ‘I know every man whether straight, gay or George MotherFuckin’ Bush is afraid of the pussy..’ I’m not sure I have ever seen, before or since, people crowd around a monitor at video village with their hands clapped to their mouths from shock, sheer laughter and wonder as the actor playing Lafayette jiggled and shook and humped the butchers block to get his point across. it was completely original, funny, sardonic, risqué and brilliant. That was Nelsan Ellis. All of the above. I turned to Alan Ball when the scene was finished and whispered… ‘you can’t kill him!’ (Lafayette’s death at the of the first book is the cliffhanger that leads to Book 2… ) Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the 7 years of True Blood whom Alan allowed to improvise. Actually, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself. It was like he was possessed. In actuality Nelsan was quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind. A published playwright himself. I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre. To see that spark ignited. Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen. I can’t believe he’s gone. #nelsanellis

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Charlaine Harris, author of the True Blood novels that inspired the series, has expressed her sorrow, calling Ellis “a great talent gone too soon.”

The Elementary writers room has also expressed their deepest condolences, referring to Ellis as “a treasured member of the Elementary family.”

Keep scrolling for additional tributes…

Michael Raymond-James, True Blood

Sam Trammell, True Blood:

Mehcad Brooks, True Blood:


Anna Camp, True Blood:

Denis O’Hare, True Blood:

Carrie Preston, True Blood:

Michelle Forbes, True Blood:

Michael McMillian, True Blood:

Deborah Ann Woll, True Blood:

Mariana Klaveno, True Blood:

Lauren Bowles, True Blood:

Tara Buck, True Blood:

Kristin Bauer, True Blood:

Janina Gavankar, True Blood:

Aisha Hinds, True Blood:

Adina Porter, True Blood:

Robert Patrick, True Blood:

Todd Lowe, True Blood:

Jim Parrack, True Blood:

Lindsay Pulsipher, True Blood

Gregg Fienberg, executive producer of True Blood:

Jessica Chastain, The Help (in which Ellis co-starred):

Octavia Spencer, The Help:

Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, on which Ellis guest-starred:

True Blood creator Alan Ball has released a statement, referring to Ellis as a “singular talent.” HBO has also paid its respects, calling Ellis “a long-time member of the HBO family whose groundbreaking portrayal of Lafayette will be remembered fondly.” (Read both statements in full here.)

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