Nelsan Ellis - Updated Apr 2024

Updated On February 12, 2024
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Nelsan Ellis


Nelsan Ellis was an American actor as well as a playwright. Nelsan Ellis was popular for his portrayal of  Lafayette Reynolds in the HBO television series True Blood (2008–2014). He even appeared in Elementary before his death.

Early Life and Childhood

Nelsan Ellis was born on November 30, 1977, in Harvey, Illinois. Name of his mother was Jackie Ellis and his father’s name was Tommie Lee Thompson. He had eight siblings namely Alice Nellis, Babon Ellis, Lakeeia Thomson, Maurice Turne, Shaentika Beard, Tianna Thompson, Tommie Lee Thompson, and Yvonne Ellis.

After his parents got divorced, he along with his siblings became wards of the state. Also, following his parent’s divorce, he and his mother moved to Alabama. There, their maternal grandmother raised them all in Bessemer, Alabama. Ellis was an American of his nationality with an African-American ethnicity. His childhood went through extreme poverty.

Sadly, Nelson passed away aged 39 on 8 July 2017 in New York City, USA. He lost his life to complications with heart failure.


Ellis went to Jess Lanier High School for a year. Then, he attended McAdory High School. His family moved to Bessemer, Alabama at the age of six, then again moved to Dolton, Illinois at the age of 14 where he attended Thornridge High School. He graduated in 1997 from this school located in Dolton, Illinois. Soon after quitting the United States Marine Corps, he went to Illinois State University.

At the age of 22, he enrolled at the Juilliard School, where he met Rutina Wesley, later a colleague in the series True Blood. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Moreover, while attending Juilliard, he wrote a semi-autobiographical play called Ugly. It was performed at the school and also won the Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award later on.

The play was about the devastating effects of domestic abuse. It was influenced by his real-life event when his sister Alice’s husband shot her in 2002. Also, Ellis had moved from Alabama to New York to attend the prestigious acting program at Juilliard.

How Did he die?

The extremely talented actor died on July 8, 2017, at the age of 39 years old. The reason for death is considered an ongoing struggle with drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome caused complications and ultimately he breathed his last breath in Woodhull Medical Center of heart failure.

Career and Professional Life

Ellis started his career in early 2000, with a role in a short film. In 2005, he appeared in the television film Warm Springs. In the following couple of years, he appeared in several guest roles as well as recurring roles.

Nelsan Ellis

Caption: Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood, Source: True Blood-online

The breakthrough role of Nelsan Ellis was as Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood. The homosexuality of his character was the main concern for the makers. But Ellis carried it off so easily. The show premiered on September 7, 2008, and concluded on August 24, 2014. True Blood comprises seven seasons with 80 episodes.

He also stepped in several feature films namely, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008), The Soloist (2009), and Secretariat (2010). Ellis was cast as Martin Luther King Jr. in The Butler. The Butler received mostly positive reviews from critics.

Nelsan Ellis

Caption: Nelsan Ellis as Shinwell (Left) and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock (right) in Elementary, Source: International Business Times

Ellis was cast as Shinwell Johnson in the TV series Elementary from 2016-2017. He only made it to season 5 of Elementary. His final work was in True to the Game and Roxanne Roxanne. After his death, both films were released. He was 39 at the time of his demise.

Awards and Achievements

Despite being from a broken family, Ellis was good at his school. He wrote a semi-autobiographical play titled Ugly for which he won Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award. Similarly, in 2008 he won a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for best supporting actor in HBO’s True Blood as the character Lafayette Reynolds. In the year 2009, he was nominated for a Scream Award for Best Supporting Actor. In the same year, he won the Brink of Fame: Actor at the NewNowNext Awards.

Meanwhile, in 2011, he won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for True Blood. As well as won the Ewwy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for True Blood.

Nelsan Ellis

Caption: Nelsan Ellis with his co-stars, Source: Deadline

Nelsan Ellis – Net Worth 2023

Nelsan always had an interest in acting. The main source of his income was acting and playwriting. At the time of his demise, he had an around net worth of $3 million.

Despite, being a famous personality, she hasn’t been endorsed by any brands till now. Hope she might be involved in some of the brand endorsements in the coming future.

Relationship Status

Nelsan was a married man. There is not much information about his wife. However, he has two children, a son Breon Ellis, and a daughter (an infant at the time of his demise). His daughter was still a newborn at the time of his death.

Nelsan Ellis – Body Measurements

The talented actor stood at a height of 5 feet and 10 inches. He was a very gentle and humble person. May his soul rest in peace.

Nelsan Ellis – Social Media

Nelsan Ellis was not active on any social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on.