The actress who has risen to fame playing Big Mama Thornton in the new Elvis biopic has sadly died at the age of 44.
Shonka Dukureh was found dead in her home in Nashville on Thursday, which she shared with her two young children, the Metro Nashville Police Department has reported.
The devastating news comes a month after the Elvis movie was released, giving the actress a breakthrough starring role as Big Mama Thornton, the singer who originally sang Elvis’ hit Hound Dog.
Shonka was discovered by one of her children unresponsive in a bedroom in her home. Her child went to a neighbour for help who then called 911.
Police have confirmed that there are no signs of foul play, but her death is currently described as “unclassified” and is pending autopsy results.
Elvis director Baz Luhrmann led the tributes, posting: “A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh.
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“From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music.
“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.
“A favorite word of Shonka’s, in daily use, was “blessings,” and 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.”
Austin Butler, who plays Elvis in the film, simply reposted Baz Luhrmann’s post on his own Instagram story as a tribute.
Speaking about her role in the hit film, Shonka told Shadow and Act back in April: “It’s just been a dream. […] It has really been a chance of a lifetime, this life-altering experience.”