Nelsan Ellis
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Nelsan Ellis

Nelsan Ellis
Nelsan Ellis at True Blood premiere party (crop).jpg
Ellis at the True Blood Season Two premiere party at Paramount Studios in June 2009
Born(1977-11-30)November 30, 1977
DiedJuly 8, 2017(2017-07-08) (aged 39)
Cause of deathComplications from alcohol withdrawal
Education
OccupationActor, playwright
Years active2002-2017
Children2

Nelsan Ellis (November 30, 1977 - July 8, 2017)[1] was an American actor and playwright. He achieved critical acclaim for his portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds in the HBO television series True Blood (2008-2014), for which he won a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy, among other accolades.[2] He also starred as Shinwell Johnson in Elementary from 2016 to 2017,[3] and played a variety of guest roles in other television series, including Veronica Mars and Without a Trace.[4]

In addition to his television work, Ellis appeared in several feature films throughout his career. He portrayed Eddie Sweat in the Disney sports drama Secretariat (2010), was Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013), and was Bobby Byrd in the 2014 James Brown biopic Get on Up. His final acting role was in True to the Game, which was released posthumously.[5]

Early life

Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois,[6] near Chicago, the son of Jackie Ellis and Tommie Lee Thompson.[7][8] When Ellis and his siblings were young, their mother, a single parent after her divorce, broke down after the death of her brother. Ellis and his siblings became wards of the state, and later were raised in Bessemer, Alabama, by their maternal grandmother. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade.[9]

In Alabama, Ellis attended Jess Lanier High School for a year and transferred to McAdory High School.[10] He moved back to Illinois at age 15, where he lived with his maternal aunt. In 1997 he graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois.[11]

He joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17, but quit not long afterward.[12] Following this, Ellis attended Illinois State University.[13]

In 2000, at the age of 22, he was accepted for enrollment at the Juilliard School,[12] where he befriended Rutina Wesley, later a colleague in the series True Blood.[14] Ellis earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Juilliard in 2004.[15]

Career

Ellis began his acting career in the early 2000s, with a role in the short film Lost. In 2005, he starred in the television film Warm Springs. From 2005 to 2006, he played the recurring role of Carter Howard in the television series The Inside. He followed this up with guest roles in Veronica Mars and Without a Trace, both in 2007.

Ellis at the International Comic-Con San Diego with Ryan Kwanten, Deborah Ann Woll, Anna Paquin, Rutina Wesley, and Stephen Moyer to promote True Blood in 2011.

In mid-2007, Ellis was cast as Lafayette Reynolds in the pilot for True Blood, as a short-order cook at Merlotte's Bar & Grill, a drug dealer, a member of Jason Stackhouse's road crew, and Tara Thornton's cousin. The pilot was shot in the early summer of 2007 and was officially ordered to series in August.[16] Production on the series began later that fall.[17]

In casting Lafayette Reynolds, Alan Ball had concerns because the character's homosexuality would be a dominating trait. He said "you don't want to bring in someone who's going to play that in a phony way".[18] Nelsan Ellis said that it took him a few episodes to find the character.[19] Ellis has said that he based many of Lafayette's mannerisms on his mother and his sister, and that the costuming also helped him to get into character.[18] He told The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I have more makeup on than any of the females in the cast. Once they get me with the fake eyelashes and the eye makeup, I listen to some Rihanna and I'm there.

True Blood premiered on September 7, 2008, and concluded on August 24, 2014, comprising seven seasons and 80 episodes.[20][21] In 2008, Ellis received a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for best supporting actor in a television series for his role as Lafayette Reynolds.[22] In 2009, he was nominated for a Scream Award for Best Supporting Actor.[23] In 2011, he won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in True Blood.[24]

Ellis has also performed in several feature films; his early roles include The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008) and The Soloist (2009). In 2010, he portrayed Eddie Sweat in the Disney sports drama Secretariat.[25]

In 2012, Ellis was cast as Martin Luther King Jr. in a supporting performance in Lee Daniels' The Butler.[26][27]The Butler received mostly positive reviews from critics, with a 71% rating on the film critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 171 reviews.[28]

The following year, Ellis joined the cast of Get on Up, a biographical drama film about the life of singer James Brown. He portrayed Bobby Byrd, Brown's longtime friend.[29]Get on Up was met with positive reviews from critics.[30]

From 2016 to 2017, Ellis starred as Shinwell Johnson in the TV series Elementary.[3] His character dies near the end of Season 5. The first episode to air after Ellis' death, the Season 6 premiere, ended with the screen "In Memory of Our Friend Nelsan Ellis". His final acting role was in True to the Game, which was released posthumously.[5]

Death

Ellis died at the age of 39 on July 8, 2017, in Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.[31][32] His family released a statement on July 10, 2017, saying that he had an ongoing struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. He had been reluctant to talk to anyone about his addiction because of his sense of shame. In the days prior to his death, Ellis was attempting to withdraw from alcohol on his own; he was hospitalized due to serious complications from alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which resulted in his death.[33][34][35] Ellis was survived by his grandmother; his father, Tommie Lee Thompson; and his son, Breon Ellis, and his newborn daughter. He is also survived by his siblings Lakeeia Thompson, Tommie Lee Thompson, Babon Ellis, Maurice Turne, Tianna Thompson, Shaentika Beard and Yvonne Ellis and aunt Tartheaia Thompson.

Awards and nominations

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
2002 Lost Hoffa Short film
2005 Trespass Donny Short film
2008 The Express: The Ernie Davis Story Will Davis, Jr.
2009 The Soloist David Carter
2009 Talent Titus
2010 Secretariat Eddie Sweat
2011 The Help Henry the Waiter
2012 The Reluctant Fundamentalist Wainwright
2013 Page 36 Writer and Director Short film
2013 The Butler Martin Luther King, Jr.
2014 Get on Up Bobby Byrd
2015 The Stanford Prison Experiment Jesse Fletcher
2016 Little Boxes Mack Burns
2017 True to the Game Tyrik Dedicated in his Memory
2018 Roxanne Roxanne Mr. Lester Posthumous release

Television

Year Title Role Notes
2005 Warm Springs Roy Collier Television film
2005-2006 The Inside Carter Howard 12 episodes
2007 Veronica Mars Apollo Bukenya Episode: "I Know What You'll Do Next Summer"
2007 Without a Trace Deng Nimieri Episode: "Lost Boy"
2008-2014 True Blood Lafayette Reynolds Regular; 80 episodes
Won Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Won Satellite Award for Best Cast - Television Series
Nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Won Ewwy Award for best supporting actor in a Drama series
Won NewNowNext Award for Brink of Fame: Actor
Nominated for a Scream Award for best supporting actor
2015 RuPaul's Drag Race Himself, Guest Judge Episode: "Conjoined Queens"
2016-2017 Elementary Shinwell Johnson Main character; 11 episodes

References

  1. ^ "Nelsan Ellis". Yahoo! TV. Archived from the original on August 13, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  2. ^ Hipes, Patrick (July 10, 2017). "Nelsan Ellis' Family Shares Circumstances Of 'True Blood' Actor's Death - Update". Deadline. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Why Elementary Went With That Shocking Death". CINEMABLEND. May 8, 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ "'True Blood' Actor Nelsan Ellis Dies at 39". EW.com. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Actor Nelsan Ellis' final role in upcoming film 'True to the Game' (trailer)". Rolling Out. July 9, 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  6. ^ Herrmann, Andrew (November 22, 2008). "'True Blood' actor Nelsan Ellis credits Thornridge teachers with on- and off-screen success". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved 2009. Ellis, now 30
  7. ^ "True Blood actor Nelsan Ellis died due to alcohol-withdrawal complications", Hollywood Reporter
  8. ^ "Chicagoan Nelsan Ellis starred in True Blood; dies at 39", Chicago Sun-Times
  9. ^ Wallace, Jane. "Nelsan Ellis: Actor, Dyslexic". The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. Retrieved 2016.
  10. ^ Sharp, Dave (August 9, 2009). "'True Blood's' Lafayette a glamorously shady character". The Birmingham News. Retrieved 2009.
  11. ^ Castro, Danilo (July 8, 2017). "Nelsan Ellis Cause of Death: How Did the 'True Blood' Actor Die?". Heavy.com. Retrieved 2017.
  12. ^ a b Gopala, Nisha (July 7, 2011). "Nelsan Ellis on True Blood's Season of the Witches, Lafayette's Mohawk, and Dodging the Marines". Retrieved 2011.
  13. ^ "National Tournament Results - National Forensic Association". sites.google.com.
  14. ^ "Alumni News". The Juilliard School. May 2008. Archived from the original on November 11, 2011. Retrieved 2012.
  15. ^ "Juilliard School Newsletter". September 6, 2011. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  16. ^ Schneider, Michael (August 9, 2007). "HBO rolls with Ball's 'True Blood'". Daily Variety. Retrieved 2008.
  17. ^ Mitovitch, Matt Webb (August 10, 2007). "True Blood Vampire Saga Tests Positive at HBO". TV Guide. Retrieved 2008.
  18. ^ a b Hiltbrand, David. "Actor brings extended life to 'True Blood' character". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010.
  19. ^ Rhett, Starrene. "Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette) Talks 'True Blood,' Gay Marriage, Tyler Perry". Vibe Magazine. Retrieved 2010.
  20. ^ "HBO Renews True Blood for Seventh Season". Daily Dead. Retrieved 2013.
  21. ^ The Screen Spy Team (September 3, 2013). "True Blood to End its Run in 2014". Screen Spy.
  22. ^ a b "2008 13th Annual SATELLITE Awards Nominees". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  23. ^ a b "Scream 2009 Best Supporting Actor" Archived September 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on September 1, 2009.
  24. ^ a b "Nelsan Ellis". TV Fanatic. Retrieved 2017.
  25. ^ Patterson, John (November 27, 2010). "Secretariat is simply Seabiscuit reconfigured for the Tea Party set". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (May 7, 2013). "'The Butler' Trailer: Oprah Winfrey Plays 'Proud' Wife to Forest Whitaker (Video)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013.
  27. ^ Labrecque, Jeff (May 8, 2013). "'The Butler': The new trailer showcases Oscar-winning actors tackling history - VIDEO". PopWatch (column). Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2013.
  28. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. August 16, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  29. ^ Gallagher, Brian (October 21, 2013). "Nelsan Ellis Joins the James Brown Biopic Get on Up". movieweb.com. Retrieved 2013.
  30. ^ "Get on Up (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014.
  31. ^ Parker, Ryan (July 8, 2017). "'True Blood' Star Nelsan Ellis Dies at 39". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017.
  32. ^ "True Blood star Nelsan Ellis dies aged 39". BBC. July 8, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  33. ^ Parker, Ryan (July 10, 2017). "Nelsan Ellis' Family Shares Circumstances of 'True Blood' Actor's Death". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017.
  34. ^ Gonzalez, Sandra (July 10, 2017). "Nelsan Ellis struggled with addiction before death". CNN. Retrieved 2017.
  35. ^ Kelley, Seth (July 10, 2017). "Nelsan Ellis' Family Shares Details About 'True Blood' Star's Cause of Death". Variety. Retrieved 2017.
  36. ^ Riley, Jenelle. "Interview: Sweat and Tears, Too". Backstage. Retrieved 2017.
  37. ^ "NewNowNext Awards: Who Won?". Retrieved on May 23, 2009.

External links


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