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'True Blood' Actor Dies After Secret Alcoholism Battle

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The world was shocked when former "True Blood" actor Nelsan Ellis passed away on July 8. Two days later, Ellis' family revealed what happened to the 39-year-old: he was reportedly going through alcohol withdrawal, and his heart shut down.

In a statement that Ellis' family released to The Hollywood Reporter via the HBO alum's manager, Emily Gerson Saines, they shared that Ellis had been struggling with drug and alcohol abuse for many years, and it ultimately caused heart failure.

"After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own," Saines said in the statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

Ellis was hospitalized for four days before he was pronounced dead.

"Nelsan was a gentle, generous and kind soul," Saines continued. "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."

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On "True Blood," Ellis played Lafayette Reynolds, a gay short-order cook who quickly became a favorite among viewers -- so much so that he became a regular for the duration of the series, even though the character is not heavily featured in the books on which the series is based.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Ellis said that he auditioned four times before he was given the part. At first, he said he was told that he was acting like a caricature and needed to "go back to the drawing board and figure it out," but then he drew inspiration from his mother, and the rest is history.

"Once I started to act like my Mama, my fourth audition, I got the part," added the Julliard graduate.

Ellis also appeared in "The Soloist," "The Butler," "Get on Up" and "Elementary."

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"We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis," HBO said in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Nelsan was a longtime member of the HBO family whose groundbreaking portrayal of Lafayette will be remembered fondly within the overall legacy of 'True Blood.' Nelsan will be dearly missed by his fans and all of us at HBO."

Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, Chicago Tribune / Photo Credit: Kristin Dos Santos/Flickr (2), Hollywood Branded/Flickr

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