To his “True Blood” co-stars and fans around the world, Nelsan Ellis was a “singular talent” and “virtuoso performer.” His sudden death comes as a shock to all, and points to one of the most deadly aspects of alcohol addiction: detox.
A graduate of the famed Juilliard School and a published playwright, Nelsan Ellis was an American actor who starred in numerous films and TV shows, including “Get on Up,” “The Soloist,” “Elementary,” “The Help,” and most famously, the HBO series “True Blood.” His family remembers Nelsan as “… 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.”
Ellis’ death came as an unexpected tragedy on July 8, 2017, after he spent four days at the Woodhull Medical Center in New York City. In the hours following his death, it was announced that the 39-year-old died from heart failure. But fans across the globe soon learned that Ellis’ death was caused by a lifelong struggle with alcohol abuse — something only his family knew about.
A statement released by Ellis’ family through his agent, Emily Gerson Saines, reveals the circumstances surrounding his sudden passing: The star died from physical withdrawal while attempting to detox from alcohol on his own. Through Saines, Ellis’ family spoke out about the actor’s death, shedding light on his hidden battle in an effort to help others struggling with alcohol addiction.
“Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years,” she said. “After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. 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.”
Unlike so many celebrities before him, Ellis did not die from an overdose or alcohol poisoning; his conscious effort to put down the bottle for good ultimately led to his death. Ellis’ final moments of life, as described in the statement, illustrate the harrowing effects of alcohol addiction, and how dangerous it can be to quit cold turkey without detox or medical care.
Dangers of At-Home Alcohol Detox
Home-detoxing from alcohol is much more likely to be deadly than successful. While detoxifying the body from alcohol at home can be done, its success rate is dependent on various factors, including the severity of the addiction and the person’s overall health. Some of the potential dangers of detoxifying from alcohol at home include:
- Physical Risks: Detoxifying from any substance can result in a range of withdrawal symptoms, many of which can only be safely treated by a doctor. As was the case with Ellis’ death, alcohol withdrawal can cause potentially life-threatening heart complications that require immediate medical attention, like:
- Cardiac arrest
- Heart palpitations
- Heart arrhythmia
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
Rehab facilities are staffed with experienced medical professionals who can safely treat patients with consideration to these symptoms. This is why detoxing at a dedicated center is often the best choice for those struggling with alcoholism.
- Mental Risks: Many people struggling with alcoholism have co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety and PTSD. During the detoxification phase, many of these disorders can be magnified, leading to suicidal thoughts or tendencies. If detox occurs in an environment where medical professionals are present around the clock to monitor patients, these risks can be prevented.
- Relapse Risks: Even after reaching a state of sobriety, the potential to relapse may still be present. In a home environment where there may not be any accountability partners or support, it can be all too easy to relapse by visiting the local liquor store to buy alcohol or heading to the neighborhood bar for a drink. Most rehab facilities, including The Recovery Village, offer sober living and aftercare programs to keep people accountable for their sobriety. These programs are designed to help recovering alcoholics stay sober and may include counseling, therapy and relapse prevention therapy (RPT).
At-home detox can be deadly; don’t go it alone. If you want to detox safely from alcohol, treatment at a rehabilitation center is the best option. We can help. Call The Recovery Village to get started.
Hidden Battles, Societal Stigmas
Unbeknownst to his fans and costars, Ellis’ struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years. It’s a sad irony, then, that his most famous role was in the HBO southern vampire drama, “True Blood.” Ellis embodied Lafayette Reynolds, a flamboyant, cross-dressing medium and short-order cook. The entire show, from the first season to the finale, was drenched in drug and alcohol use; sass-master Lafayette was no exception. Aside from being everyone’s go-to for relationship advice, Lafayette was also one of Bon Temp, Louisiana’s dealers of “V,” or psychoactive vampire blood, and he always nursed a half-empty bottle of liquor.
Regardless of the Cajun theme of “Laissez les bons temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll” present throughout the show, the very real stigma of alcoholism was likely inescapable for Ellis. In the statement, his family mentioned that Ellis never asked for help overcoming his alcohol abuse. “Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life,” read the statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
In the wake of Ellis’ death, countless people mourned his passing and spurned the societal stigma of alcohol abuse for indirectly ending his life. Twitter posts read, “There are soo soo [sic] many stars who are struggling and then end up dying way before their time. The stigmas need to end,” and “Shaming addicts instead of supporting and rehabilitating makes outcomes like this far too likely. So sad.”
A Light for Others
Nelsan Ellis’ death came as a shock to those who loved him, and showed the sad reality of alcohol addiction: It can happen to anyone, and can take lives unexpectedly. “True Blood” star Anna Paquin, who played Sookie Stackhouse, mourned the loss of Ellis on social media, saying, “I assumed Nelsan was going to be in my life forever and this has been a shocking reminder of how fragile life is.”
His family hopes his death will serve as a reminder of the destruction drugs and alcohol abuse can cause. Saines’ statement concluded with, “His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.”
Even those who never knew Ellis acknowledged his death as a call to those who are struggling with addiction to speak up before it’s too late. Fellow TV star Mayim Bialik wrote on Facebook, “I want to honor this man. And all the men and women I don’t know whose lives are cut short because of their addictions. And their illnesses. In this small way, I am trying to do that. If you need help, get help. NAMI and Alcoholics Anonymous can help you. Detoxing can be very dangerous on your own. Please get help.”
A Legacy Remembered
Nelsan Ellis will be dearly missed by his family, fans, and all who knew him. “True Blood” stars expressed their shock and sadness at Ellis’ passing and described fond memories of working alongside this “… quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind” soul. In a Facebook post, “True Blood” star Stephen Moyer spoke to Nelsan Ellis’ legacy, saying:
“I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and time again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre. To see that spark ignited. Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen.”
Ellis’ closest co-star, Rutina Wesley, who played Lafayette’s cousin Tara, shared an original poem about Ellis after his passing. Her words speak to the vibrancy of his artistic soul that will be remembered always:
“He could move your soul to whole
in a moment
like nothing I’ve seen or will ever see again.
A darkness wrapped up in light, tight, yearning
moving seas of hearts with a smile that darts
right through you
how I loved you
fiercely vulnerable shining beacon
stand tall my friend, rest, peace has finally found you.”
If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, don’t stay silent. Whether you’re looking to ask a counselor for help or just want a listening ear, call The Recovery Village. We’re here to connect you with affordable, effective rehabilitation so your tomorrow can be a little brighter. You can break free from addiction, and recovery can be reality. And we’ll be with you through it all.