'Elvis' actress Shonka Dukureh dies at 44

Baz Luhrmann paid tribute to Dukureh, calling her "a special light."

July 22, 2022, 10:46 AM

"Elvis" actress and musician Shonka Dukureh has died. She was 44.

Dukureh was found dead in her bedroom in her Nashville apartment Thursday morning around 9:27 a.m. local time by one of her two children, according to a press release from Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Officials say the child found Dukureh unresponsive and ran to a neighbor's apartment, where the neighbor called 911.

Police said no foul play is evident in Dukureh's death, which is unclassified at present pending autopsy results.

Dukureh played Big Mama Thornton in the Baz Luhrmann-directed "Elvis," appearing alongside Austin Butler, Tom Hanks and fellow musicians Yola and Gary Clark. It is her only film credit listed on IMDb.

Thornton, who recorded "Hound Dog" before Elvis Presley, is often viewed as an important figure in rock 'n' roll history.

Dukureh sang "Hound Dog" in the film.

PHOTO: Shonka Dukureh as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures' drama "Elvis," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Shonka Dukureh as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures' drama "Elvis," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Kane Skennar/Warner Bros.

Luhrmann took to Instagram on Friday to pay tribute to Dukureh. "A special light went out today and all of the 'Elvis' movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh," he wrote.

"From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music. Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted," he continued. "Shonka was just starting to find a larger audience for her tremendous talent, and I got to see her uplift whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond."

Luhrmann concluded, "A favorite word of Shonka's, in daily use, was 'blessings,' and I, along with the entire 'Elvis' cast, crew and musical collaborators, feel truly blessed to have had time with her. We send all our love and support to Shonka's children and family at this time."

Rapper Doja Cat paid tribute to Dukureh on Friday as well. The two appeared together at Coachella in April to perform "Vegas," their song from the "Elvis" movie.

Dukureh appears in the music video for the song.

"Rest in Peace Shonka -- an incredible talent taken from us too soon," Doja Cat wrote in an Instagram story. "Was a true honor getting to know her and I am so grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to 'Vegas.' Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on."

"Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones," she added.