Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nelsan Ellis’ family shares his struggle with alcohol addiction

Photo: Matthew Eisman / Getty Images

Over the weekend, we shared the sad news that Nelsan Ellis, an actor best known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s True Blood, died at the young age of 39. Now, Ellis’ family has come forward to share the backstory behind Ellis’ death, in the hopes that it might help others who are struggling with addiction. As it turns out, Ellis had been grappling with drugs and alcohol for years, and just before he died he attempted to quit alcohol on his own. The withdrawal led to a number of physical symptoms, including the racing heartbeat that precipitated his death from heart failure.

His family wants this information to be made public as a warning to others, so that they know the risks of withdrawal and to reach out for help when they want to detox. Here’s the statement, originally shared on The Hollywood Reporter through Ellis’ manager manager Emily Gerson Saines:

Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. According to his father, during his withdrawal from alcohol he had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.

On the morning of Saturday July 8th, after four days in Woodhull Hospital, Nelsan was pronounced dead. Nelsan was a gentle, generous and kind soul. He was a father, a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, and a great friend to those that were lucky enough to know him. Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life. His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.


Share This Story