Nelsan Ellis' family says he died from heart failure due to alcohol-withdrawal complications

The actor starred as Lafayette Reynolds on "True Blood."

ByABC News
July 10, 2017, 5:57 PM

— -- The father of Nelsan Ellis wants the world to know how the "True Blood" actor died in hopes of helping others struggling with addiction.

Ellis' manager released a lengthy statement Monday to The Hollywood Reporter from the actor's father, Tommie Lee Thompson.

The statement explained that Ellis, who portrayed the beloved Lafayette Reynolds on the hit HBO series, struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. It was ultimately complications from his attempt to withdraw from alcohol that killed the actor Saturday at age 39, the statement said.

Ellis' manager confirmed the report to ABC News.

"Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure," the statement published in the Reporter began. "Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years."

"After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own," the statement continued. "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."

The statement then detailed the last few moments of the actor's life.

"On the morning of Saturday July 8th, after four days in Woodhull Hospital, Nelsan was pronounced dead," it read. "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."

The statement noted that "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."

Ellis was born Nov. 30, 1977, in Harvey, Illinois. After a short stint in the U.S. Marines when he was 17, Ellis was accepted into the famed Juilliard School in New York, where he graduated in 2004.

He is not only survived by his father but also his grandmother, Alex Brown, and his son, Breon Ellis, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The actor is also survived by seven siblings and his aunt, the magazine added.

After news of his death broke, Hollywood stars took to social media to remember Ellis, including Oscar-winning actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Grammy Award-winning singer Jill Scott also remembered Ellis, along with acclaimed director Ava DuVernay among others.