A shocking loss. Elvis star Shonka Dukureh was found dead in her Nashville, Tennesse, home on Thursday, July 21. She was 44.
“No foul play is evident in today’s death of actress Shonka Dukureh, 44, who portrayed Big Mama Thornton in this year’s Elvis movie. Dukureh, a Fisk [University] graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children,” read a tweet from the official Metro Nashville PD account on Thursday.
Dukureh’s cause of death was not immediately revealed. A spokesperson for the Davidson County Medical Examiner later confirmed to E! News that the actress’s body is being held for an autopsy, the result of which will be released at a later date.
Prior to her death, the Fisk University graduate took to social media to reflect on her recent experience filming Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, in which she portrayed Big Mama Thornton, the woman who performs “Hound Dog” years before Presley recorded it in 1956.
“Gratefulness is where I live cuz my granny, gmama, momma, family modeled and instilled it in me,” the Tennessee native captioned a clip of her performing earlier this month. “It isn’t a posture of less than or crumbs scraping, but one that acknowledges good things aren’t a guarantee and when we encounter them thankfulness, gratefulness is the least we can express.”
Costar Olivia DeJonge, who portrays Priscilla Presley, told Entertainment Weekly in June that “a star was born” when Luhrmann cast Dukureh in the role of Big Mama. “[I] saw something in her sort of break free. It was just, it was insane to watch,” the Society alum gushed at the time.
Dukureh, for her part, reposted a clip from Dejonge’s interview, via her Instagram, writing, “Grateful to not only hear her words but the beautiful sentiments of all the cast present as well as Baz. If [you’re] sitting somewhere wondering when, if, folks will get you, just keep on keeping on, the right folks will.”
Elvis, which Luhrmann first announced he would be directing and cowriting in 2014, hit theaters last month — seven years after the creative process began. The movie, which stars Austin Butler in the titular role, follows the “Burning Love” artist during his rise to fame and unprecedented rock ’n’ roll superstardom as he attempts to maintain relationships with the people he holds close, including wife Priscilla and manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).
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