Celebrities, friends and former costars are remembering actor Nelsan Ellis, who PEOPLE confirmed died after complications with heart failure at the age of 39.
Known for his breakout role as Lafayette on HBO’s True Blood, Ellis had a number of high-profile credits to his name — including parts on the big screen in The Help, Secretariat, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (where he portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr.).
His Help costar Octavia Spencer — who also starred alongside Ellis in the James Brown biopic Get On Up — was one of the first celebrities to react, writing a post on Instagram, “Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial,” she said. “My heart breaks for his kids and family.”
Just got word that we lost @nelsanellisofficial. My heart breaks for his kids and family. #RIPNelsanEllis. #brillIantactor #trueblood #getonup #thesoloist #thehelp. The first time I met him was on the set of the soloist and we were at rehearsal with a lot of the homeless cast members, and Nelsan was playing our counselor. He walked in wearing a pair of fitted camo cargo pants, a pristine white tshirt, a beret, and a denim jacket. Needless to say he was gorgeous, sexy. But his talent had me speechless. We became instant friends after that. He was sooooo funny. I miss him. #nelsanellis
“Shocked & saddened to hear of Nelsan Ellis’ passing,” Ellis’ friend Dulé Hill wrote on Twitter. “Major fan of this talented actor. Way too young.”
Writer and producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe called Ellis’ death “heartbreaking” — tweeting, “Nelsan Ellis was a kind soul and a tremendous talent. What a terrible loss.”
Here are some of the other stars who spoke out about Ellis:
As Lafayette, the sassafras cook at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, Ellis was one of the cast members who stayed with True Blood up until the final season, which capped in 2014.
“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis,” HBO said in a statement. “Nelsan was a long-time 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.”
True Blood creator Alan Ball called working with Ellis “a privilege.” He said in his own statement, “Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me.”