Jul 22, 2022
“Elvis” actor Shonka Dukureh was found dead Thursday in the Nashville, Tennessee, apartment she shared with her two young children, police said.
Dukureh, a blues singer, played Big Mama Thornton in the blockbuster biopic about Elvis Presley's rise to stardom released last month.
One of her children found her unresponsive in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apartment and ran to a neighbor's apartment for help, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department. The neighbor called police at 9:27 a.m., according to authorities.
No foul play is “evident” in her death, police said.
Her death is unclassified pending autopsy results from the medical examiner’s office.
NBC News is reaching out to her representatives for comment.
Related video: Elvis Actress Shonka Dukureh Found Dead at 44
Nashville Mayor John Cooper shared his condolences Thursday saying: “Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day.”
"Elvis" director Baz Luhrmann paid tribute to Dukureh on Instagram. “A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh,” he wrote.
“Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted. 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 continued.
"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.”
The post was shared by actor Austin Butler who portrayed Elvis in the film.
Dukureh was from Charlotte, North Carolina, and lived in Nashville. She studied theater at Fisk University and had a master's degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University, according to her website.
“Shonka’s initial career aspiration was to become a teacher, however, she would soon learn that her vocal talents, coupled with an innate sense for the dramatic were most suited for a career as a performing artist,” her website states.
"Elvis" was Dukureh’s first major film role and her voice is on the film’s version of “Hound Dog.” The character she played, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, was the first to record Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Hound Dog” in 1952.
Reflecting on her role as Big Mama Thornton, she told The Tennessean: “[Big Mama Thornton] was really raw with what she did and very honest and truthful and [made] music as she felt it. And I could totally relate to that”
“I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music and understanding that I’m able to do it because she’s done it and laid that foundation,” she added.