Actor Nelsan Ellis, best known for his memorable portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds on HBO's True Blood, has died at age 39. Ellis' manager, Emily Gerson Saines, confirmed the actor's death in an email Saturday. The Hollywood Reporter, which was first to report Ellis' death, quoted her as saying he died from complications of heart failure. The Illinois-born actor, who studied at Juilliard, played the role of Lafayette, a gay short order cook, on the HBO drama from 2008 to 2014, and more recently appeared in the CBS detective series Elementary. He also was a playwright and stage director. Ellis appeared as Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniels' The Butler, and as singer Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic Get On Up. He also appeared in The Help, and the AP reports his castmate Octavia Spencer mourned his death on Instagram. "My heart breaks for his kids and family," she wrote.
Some fans tweeted one of his more famous scenes as Lafayette, where the character marches out of the kitchen to confront some bigoted diners. Ellis' "groundbreaking portrayal of Lafayette will be remembered fondly within the overall legacy of True Blood," said HBO in a statement. "Nelsan will be dearly missed." True Blood castmate Joe Manganiello tweeted that Ellis was "a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist," per CNN. Creator Alan Ball called Ellis "a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me. Working with him was a privilege." In a 2012 interview, Ellis recalled that it took four auditions for him to nail the role of Lafayette. At first, he said, he was playing the role as a caricature, and was told to "go back to the drawing board and figure it out." He began to channel his mother. "Once I started to act like my mama, my fourth audition, I got the part," he said. (Read more obituary stories.)