“Elvis” actress and blues singer Shonka Dukureh was found dead in her Nashville apartment Thursday, ET can confirm. She was 44.
According to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in the Baz Luhrmann production, was found dead Thursday morning, in the bedroom of her apartment that she shared with her two young children. One of them found her unresponsive and ran to a neighbor’s apartment, where police said, at 9:27 a.m., the neighbor called 911.
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While foul play is not suspected, Dukureh’s cause of death is not yet known, and is still under investigation, pending autopsy results from the Medical Examiner’s Office.
In addition to landing her first major film role in “Elvis,” Dukureh appeared in Doja Cat’s “Vegas” music video, where she played the Big Mama Thornton role as well.
Dukureh spoke to Memphis’ ABC24 News about her role in the film, and the “magical” experience of working alongside Luhrman and the rest of “Elvis”‘ cast and crew.
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“They got it down. I mean, they replicated the whole thing,” Dukureh said of the Beale St. set, used to depict Memphis’ bustling hub, in the film. “Baz was very, and his team, was very intentional about being detailed, and making sure that everything was done right, and I thought I was on Beale St. Of course, I knew I wasn’t ’cause I was in Australia, but the way everybody came together to re-create it, it was magical. It was magical.”
Dukureh said the film helped bring a whole new generation to Elvis and some of the other music greats featured in the film.
“I find, even as I’m looking at different people’s reaction online, that a whole new generation is talking about Elvis, and talking about some of the characters in the film,” she shared. “They’ve got people really talking. And so I’m glad to bring — if Big Mama’s name is mentioned more than myself, then that’s fine, because she’s due that. She’s due those flowers. She’s due that recognition. And so, I’m very honored to honor her.”
According to Dukureh’s website, the teacher turned Hollywood star, who lent her powerhouse vocals to the film, was set to release her first studio album this summer.