Actor Nelsan Ellis, best known for playing Lafayette Reynolds on US TV series True Blood, has died.
The actor’s manager told The Hollywood Reporter that he died from complications from heart failure at age 39.
Ellis’ character Lafayette was a short-order cook at Merlotte’s restaurant on vampire drama True Blood. In the books the series was based on, the character was killed off, but he survived on the series because of his popularity among fans.
True Blood creator Alan Ball said in a statement Ellis was “a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege.”
The show’s network HBO said in a statement that “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.”
Ellis said in interviews he identified as straight, but is being remembered by fans as a champion of gay rights.
In 2014, when reports claimed co-star Luke Grimes quit “True Blood” when his character turned out to be gay, Ellis told New York magazine: “You make a statement when you do something like that. You make a statement, a big statement, when you go, ‘I don’t want to play this part because it’s gay.’
“If you have a child, if you have a son, and he comes out as gay, what are you going to do? If you have a daughter who comes out gay? You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects.”
Nelsan was to appear at the inaugural Queer Expo event in Melbourne next weekend.
“We are extremely heartbroken to hear this morning that our guest, and the incredible actor and person, Nelsan Ellis has passed away,” organisers wrote on Facebook.
“Words cannot express our sorrow and heartache at this news. Thank you for the incredible body of work you left us Nelsan.”