Nelsan Ellis, Star Of HBO’s “True Blood,” Dead At 39

Nelsan Ellis attends HBO's "True Blood" panel during Comic-Con International 2014 in San Diego. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Nelsan Ellis, best known for playing short-order cook Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood,” has died, the network announced Saturday (July 8). 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.

Nelsan was born in Illinois and a graduate of The Juilliard School in New York City. His acting resume included 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.”

Actress Octavia Spencer, his costar on “The Help,” remembered Ellis 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.