Actor Nelsan Ellis PICTURE: REUTERS
When 39-year-old actor Nelsan Ellis died last Saturday, his manager Emily Saines said he died from “complications with heart failure”.

However, Saines released a new statement showing the story to be much darker and complicated. The heart failure was caused by Ellis’s attempt to stop abusing alcohol on his own, which had been a lifelong, but private, struggle. The subsequent withdrawal led to his death.

“Nelsan’s father bravely agreed to share the circumstances of his heart failure,” Saines told the Hollywood Reporter.

“Nelsan suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years.”

Though he was in and out of rehab, his sobriety never lasted. “After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own.”

Attempting to detox without medical attention, particularly after sustained use for a long period, is extremely dangerous.

WebMD stated: “Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks, months or years and then either stop or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption.”

Symptoms, which can begin “as early as two hours after the last drink”, include shaky hands, sweating, anxiety, vomiting, seizures and death.

Many believe musician Amy Winehouse may have died from attempting to quit alcohol cold turkey.

“When heavy drinkers suddenly stop or significantly reduce their consumption, the neurotransmitters previously suppressed by alcohol are no longer suppressed. They rebound, resulting in a phenomenon known as brain hyperexcitability,” WebMD noted.

Ellis experienced many of these symptoms.

In his statement, his father said during the actor’s withdrawal from alcohol he “had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted and his heart raced out of control.”

Unlike some celebs whose visits to rehab are splashed in the news, Ellis’s battle was a private one. Most of his fans never suspected a thing. His father said Ellis “was ashamed of his addiction and was reluctant to talk about it."

There’s a sad irony, the character Ellis was best known playing was Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s vampire show, True Blood.

In the show, Lafayette was a gay short-order cook with a penchant for taking and selling “V” - vampire blood, which in the show’s mythology produces extreme, euphoric highs.

He’s also often seen with a half-drunk bottle of liquor in his hand or within arm’s length.

Drinking and drug use is a major feature of the show.

It’s set in a fictional town, Bon Temps, Louisiana, the name a play on the Cajun French phrase, laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll).

The show presents many stereotypes, including the idea that Louisianans spend life on a mardi gras-type bender - as if life in the bayou is one big bacchanal.

Even so, he didn’t publicly discuss his substance abuse issues.

But in the wake of his sudden and unexpected death, his family chose to tell the world in hopes of helping anyone else who might be others struggling with addiction.

They believed “in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others".

“Nelsan was 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,” the family said.