‘Elvis’ actor Shonka Dukureh’s cause of death revealed


Actor and singer Shonka Dukureh, who appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” died last month of natural causes, according to Tennessee’s Davidson County Medical Examiner’s office.

Dukureh was found dead at age 44 on July 21 in the bedroom of her Nashville apartment, which she shared with her two young children, Nashville police announced last month. No foul play was evident.

The official cause of death was “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” a representative for the medical examiner’s office told The Times on Tuesday.

The Mayo Clinic classifies arteriosclerosis as a condition that occurs when arteries become thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to the organs and tissues. Hypertensive heart disease is a condition that develops in people who live long-term with high blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Dukureh made her movie debut in Luhrmann’s 2022 biopic alongside Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. She played pioneering musician Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, who was the first to record the hit song “Hound Dog” in 1952.

Dukureh recorded a rendition of “Hound Dog” for the “Elvis” soundtrack and was featured in Doja Cat’s single “Vegas,” which was also in the film. She joined Doja Cat onstage to perform the track at Coachella earlier this year.

“Gratefulness is where I live cuz my granny, gmama, momma, family modeled and instilled it in me,” Dukureh wrote of her gratitude for starring in the box-office hit. “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.”

Following her death, Luhrmann took to Instagram to call Dukureh a “special light” and expressed that he was “heartbroken” by her passing.

“From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music,” the Oscar-nominated director 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.”

Doja Cat also paid her respects to her fellow musician and collaborator.

“Rest in peace Shonka — an incredible talent taken from us too soon. Was a true honor getting to know her and I am truly grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to ‘Vegas,’” the “Kiss Me More” artist wrote in an Instagram Story. “Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones.”


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