*Nelsan Ellis — best known for his role of Lafayette on “True Blood” — died July 8 of heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal complications, his family confirmed in a statement. He was laid to rest Saturday, July 22 at Holy Temple Cathedral in his hometown of Harvey, IL.
Stars from “True Blood” gathered with family and friends to celebrate his life and legacy, including Anna Paquin, Carrie Preston, and Rutina Wesley, who, along with Viola Davis, delivered an emotional tribute to the award-winning performer. Alfre Woodard and Tika Sumpter also attended the funeral.
“Nelson was like my baby,” Davis said. “It felt like I was his mom and I always wanted to keep him alive like a mom does. You want to keep your babies safe. I never wanted him to be sick and when I saw that he was sick I just begged him to get better. Because I didn’t want to let him go. And I still don’t want to let him go. And I think it’s the best thing in the world that he didn’t stay too close to me because I think he had better and bigger things to do in the world, other than to stay my baby. I’ll miss him greatly.”
And to his young son Breon Ellis, Davis said: “I thank God for his grace and his power of restoration because I see it in Breon. His love lives in you. I hope you know that.”
Watch Viola’s (along with her husband Julius Tennon) loving tribute to Nelsan Ellis below:
Even the Obamas penned a memorable letter which was read aloud during the services. “Nelsan will live on through the beauty of the art he created,” they said.
Ellis, who also starred as Bobby Byrd in the 2014 James Brown biopic “Get on Up,” met Rutina Wesley at Juilliard — where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2004. They co-starred on HBO’s hit vampire drama series “True Blood” from 2008 until the show ended in 2014.
“I couldn’t find the words but when I did, this is what came to me,” Wesley began her tribute on Saturday. “He was a lover. He loved everything, which is why people didn’t understand him. That’s the beauty of it. He thought everything was beautiful. Everything. So poetic. Charismatic. An energy none can compare. One who touched so many forever… deep, in places they can not reach. A spirit divine and fine. A chameleon transforming before you and you transforming because of him. He could move your soul in a moment. An artist like nothing I’ve seen or will see again. A darkness wrapped up in light — tight, yearning… searching. Moving seas of hearts with a smile that darts right through you. How I loved thee — fiercely. Vulnerable, shining beacon. Stand tall, my friend. Rest. Peace has finally found you.”
After her tribute, Rutina sang about how she will always love her friend Nelsan Ellis, watch:
Ellis, whose life and career was highlighted in a 16-page full-color program, is survived by his grandmother Alex Brown; his father, Tommie Lee Thompson; and his siblings Lakeeia Thomson, Tommie Lee Thompson, Babon Ellis, Maurice Turne, Tianna Thompson, Shaentika Beard and Yvonne Ellis and aunt Tartheaia Thompson.
“If I never knew what God looked like before, I saw him in you,” his sister Lakeeia said. “Thank you for holding up the light. For loving all of us so fiercely and for leaving behind a legacy of love that will never be forgotten. Through your example, I have learned the power of forgiveness. The necessity of vision how imperative it is to try time and again. You will forever be my muse, my good conscience, and the righteousness to which I aspire. I love you now and for all eternity.”
There was also a public viewing for Ellis on Friday (July 21) at the Leak and Sons Funeral Home on Country Club Hills, IL.
Sources say that a separate memorial will be held in Hollywood at a later time.
Check out the gallery below: