The news of actor Nelsan Ellis’–most famed for his role as Lafayette on True Blood–untimely death at just thirty-nine years old from heart failure immediately seemed to raise suspicion about what, exactly, was the cause behind it. Now, two days after his unexpected demise, his family has chosen to reveal that, “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.”
If this sounds like a familiar tale, it isn’t simply because it’s what tends to happen to just about every hardcore, raging alcoholic that attempts to give up the drug (among probable other drugs)–unless you’re Sandra Bullock’s fictional character in 28 Days. No, there’s another parallel as well. The one to Amy Winehouse, who, while arguably more extreme, mirrors the same sort of trajectory.
Just as Ellis, she secured her foothold into the entertainment industry on talent–Ellis himself attending Juilliard as a testament to his predilection for the theatrical. Both seemed to remain under the radar with their initial forays into their respective fields. It wasn’t until each experienced the stratospheric success of what they would come to be known for, True Blood and Back to Black, that their dalliances with substance abuse would intensify.
While, obviously, Ellis’ reputation for addiction didn’t quite compare to Winehouse’s–splashed across tabloids like so many waves–the same trajectory seemed to occur, wherein just as a spike in their fame was going to occur again thanks to letting go of old bad habits, it turned out these bad habits were they very things keeping them alive.
Like Winehouse, it appeared as though Ellis was finally about to turn a corner in his career with his appearance on Elementary as Shinwell Johnson, in addition to a forthcoming release co-starring Vivica A. Fox called True to the Game. In contrast to Winehouse, however, Ellis always came across as being capable of working while addicted. For Winehouse, a cold turkey approach was necessary for her to even come correct via satellite for her 2008 Grammy performance.
Regardless of how their handling of addiction diverged, both suffered the ironic comeuppance of dying as a result of stopping what had so long been a disservice to them. In Winehouse’s case, it was briefly picking it back up again that caused the shock to her body. Alas, sometimes the things we love the very most are what end up killing us.