An autopsy has revealed the cause of death for 44-year-old actress/singer Shonka Dukureh. The gospel singer and former elementary school teacher who stole scenes portraying Big Mama Thornton in the Baz Luhrmann biopic Elvis died from natural causes due to “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” according to a copy of the report from the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office, People reported.
Dukureh was found dead in her Nashville apartment on July 21; at the time police said that no foul play was suspected. Her death was deemed “natural” by the medical examiner, which cited high blood pressure and a thickening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque as the contributing factors. The star’s passing came less than a month after Dukureh made her film debut in the Presley biopic starring Austin Butler as the rock icon. Dukureh earned praise for her powerful rendition of the song that helped Elvis become a global icon, “Hound Dog,” which appears on the film’s soundtrack.
A Fisk University graduate and Nashville singer, Dukureh shared the apartment with her two young children, police said. One of the children found her unresponsive and went to the apartment of a neighbor, who called 911 shortly before 9:30 a.m. In one of her biggest moments in the spotlight, Dukureh shared the stage with Doja Cat at this year’s Coachella, where she backed Doja on the Elvis soundtrack original “Vegas,” which interpolates Big Mama Thornton’s 1952 rock building block classic “Hound Dog.”
“@DojaCat killed it at Coachella and the whole cast and crew are so proud of @iamShonkaDukureh, who came all the way to Australia to play the role of Big Mama Thornton in our forthcoming movie,” Luhrmann said at the time.