Elvis director Baz Lurhmann pays tribute to film's late star Shonka Dukureh: 'A special light went out'

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Elvis director Baz Lurhmann pays tribute to film's late star Shonka Dukureh: 'A special light went out'
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Following her death on Thursday, Elvis star Shonka Dukureh is being honored by director Baz Lurhmann, who helmed the new film about the legendary rocker.

"A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh," Lurhmann wrote on Instagram. "From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit, and of course her voice and her music. Whenever she was on set, on stage, or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted."

Shonka Dukureh and Baz Lurhmann
Shonka Dukureh and Baz Lurhmann

Warner Bros.; Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic Shonka Dukureh; Baz Lurhmann

Dukureh, who played Big Mama Thornton in Lurhmann's Elvis Presley biopic, was found dead Thursday morning in the bedroom of the Nashville apartment she shared with her two young children. She was 44.

Her turn as Thornton, the iconic R&B singer-songwriter who originally recorded "Hound Dog," was Dukureh's first film role.

In his Instagram post, Lurhmann shared photos of Dukurah in character and on the Elvis set.

"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," the Australian director wrote. "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."

Lurhmann concluded his post with a statement to Dukurah's loved ones: "We send all our love and support to Shonka's children and family at this time."

Dukureh received a bachelor's degree in theater from Fisk University and earned a master's degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University. She was born in Charlotte, N.C., before moving to Nashville.

John Cooper, the city's mayor, also paid tribute to Dukureh, writing on Twitter, "My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh. Shonka graduated from @Fisk1866 and called Nashville home for many years. Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day."

Police said they do not suspect foul play in Dukureh's death, which has been marked as unclassified pending autopsy results from the Nashville medical examiner's office.

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