'True Blood' actor Nelsan Ellis dead at 39

WASHINGTON - Nelsan Ellis, an actor best known for his role in the vampire series " True Blood," has died.

He was 39 years old.

The actor died following complications from heart failure, his manager told CNN.

His portrayal of Lafayette, a gay cook and medium, helped him spring onto the acting scene after his character became a favourite of fans of the HBO drama, which ran from 2008 to 2014.

"We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Nelsan Ellis," the HBO network said in a statement Saturday.

"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."

As news of his death spread many fans posted a clip from the show where Ellis's character bursts out of his restaurant kitchen to confront a table of homophobic diners.

An alumnus of New York's prestigious Juilliard performing arts conservatory, Ellis's credits include silver screen appearances in 2009's "The Soloist" as well as 2011's Oscar-award winning film "The Help."

"My heart breaks for his kids and his family," wrote his co-star in that film Octavia Spencer in an Instagram post.

"He was sooooo funny. I miss him."

The Illinois native also depicted Martin Luther King Jr in "The Butler," released in 2013.

" True Blood" co-star Joe Manganiello took to Twitter to pay tribute to the late actor: "Crushed today by the loss of my friend and castmate Nelsan Ellis."

"He was a wonderful person, a pioneer, and a one of a kind artist."