Update: 8/29/22 at 5:45 p.m. ET
Dukureh’s official cause of death is “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” read the coroner’s report obtained by Us Weekly. The late actress’ manner of death was “natural.”
The report noted that she was “discovered unresponsive in bed by her minor son … [who] ran to the neighbors for help, who then called 911.”
Original story continues below:
Less than one month after the release of the 2022 Elvis biopic, Shonka Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in the film, was found dead in her Nashville home. 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,” the official Metro Nashville Police Department account tweeted on Thursday, July 21. “Dukureh, a Fisk [University] graduate, was found dead in the bedroom of her Kothe Way apt that she shared with her 2 young children.” A Davidson County Medical Examiner spokesperson told E! News that the actress’ body is being held for an autopsy.
Dukureh made her film debut with Elvis, portraying R&B singer Thornton — the artist who originally recorded “Hound Dog,” which would later go on to become one of Presley’s signature songs. Dukureh’s powerful cover of the hit appears on the film’s soundtrack.
Dukureh was a fixture in her Nashville community. In addition to graduating from Music City’s Fisk University, one of the top HBCUs in the country, the mother of two was a gospel singer who used to work as an elementary school teacher.
“I taught second grade for a little while over at Buena Vista Elementary in Metro Schools, and then did a lot of work with inner city youth doing after-school programing, summer programing — those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be,” Dukureh told WPLN in June, laughing about how her former students are stunned that she’s in Elvis. “They’re blown away, like, ‘Wow! Miss Shonka! Really?’ I said, ‘I’m still Ms. Shonka, you know!’”
While the late star may have made her big break in Elvis, her career was already on the rise earlier this year, providing her vocals for the Doja Cat track “Vegas” and performing with the “Say So” artist at Coachella in April.
Upon hearing the news of Dukureh’s death, Doja Cat took to her Instagram Story to pay tribute to the singer gone “too soon.”
“Rest in Peace Shonka – an incredible talent taken from us too soon. Was a true honor getting to know her and I am so grateful to her for lending vocals to ‘Vegas,’” the “Kiss Me More” singer wrote on Thursday. “Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones.”
Keep scrolling to learn more about Dukureh’s life: