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‘Elvis’ actor and singer Shonka Dukureh died of natural causes, medical examiner says

Dukureh, 44, was found dead in July in the Nashville, Tennessee, apartment she shared with her two young children.
Shonka Dukureh in "Elvis."
Shonka Dukureh in "Elvis."Warner Bros.

“Elvis” actor Shonka Dukureh, who was found dead in her Nashville, Tennessee, home last month, died of natural causes, according to the local medical examiner’s office. 

A spokesperson for the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s office said the official cause of death was “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is when the force of blood against artery walls is too high. Atherosclerosis is the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque, made up of fatty substances and cholesterol, in the arteries’ inner lining, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Dukureh, a blues singer, died nearly one month after the blockbuster biopic "Elvis," her first major film role, was released in June. She played Big Mama Thornton and her voice is on the film’s version of the song “Hound Dog.”

Dukureh was found dead in the Kothe Way apartment she shared with her two young children on July 21 and no foul play was suspected in her death, the Metro Nashville Police Department said at the time. She was 44.

One of her children found her unresponsive in the bedroom and ran to a neighbor’s apartment for help, police said.

Dukureh was from Charlotte, North Carolina, and lived in Nashville. She studied theater at Fisk University and had a master’s degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University, according to her website

“Elvis” director Baz Luhrmann paid tribute to Dukureh on Instagram following news of her death, saying: “A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh.”

“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,” Luhrmann continued. “I, along with the entire Elvis cast, crew and musical collaborators, feel truly blessed to have had time with her.”