Elvis Actress Shonka Dukureh Found Dead at 44
“A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh,” director Baz Luhrmann wrote in a tribute posted to Instagram July 22. “From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music.”
Luhrmann then shared some of his memories of Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in the film.
“Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted,” he continued. “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.”
Recalling how “a favorite word of Shonka’s, in daily use, was ‘blessings,'” the filmmaker expressed how he and “the entire Elvis cast, crew and musical collaborators, feel truly blessed to have had time with her.” He concluded his message by sending “all our love and support to Shonka’s children at this time.”
Luhrmann wasn’t the only one from the film to honor Dukureh. Austin Butler, who played Elvis Presley, and Olivia DeJonge, who portrayed Priscilla Presley, both shared Luhrmann’s message on their Instagram Stories, and Kelvin Harrison Jr., who played B.B. King, called Dukureh “a gift to us all.”
In addition, Doja Cat—whose song for the film “Vegas” featured Dukureh (with the two performing the track at Coachella)—expressed her condolences.