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‘Elvis’ star Shonka Dukureh, 44, died of natural causes, says medical examiner’s office

Dukureh was found dead in her Nashville, Tennessee, apartment in July, less than a month after the release of "Elvis."
Shonka Dukureh portrayed Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann's biopic "Elvis." 
Shonka Dukureh portrayed Big Mama Thornton in Baz Luhrmann's biopic "Elvis." Warner Bros.
/ Source: TODAY

The cause of death for "Elvis" actor Shonka Dukureh has been disclosed after her body was found inside of her Nashville apartment in July.

Dukureh's official cause of death was "hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease," the Davidson County Medical Examiner's office said in a statement to NBC News.

Johns Hopkins Medicine defines atherosclerosis as the thickening or hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition when the force of blood against artery walls is too high, according to JHM.

The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has said Dukureh, 44, was found dead in her apartment that she shared with her two young children on July 21. Police said at the time there were no signs of foul play.

Dukureh's death came less than a month after the release of Baz Luhrmann's biopic "Elvis," which was her major film debut. Luhrmann mourned the loss of Dukureh in an Instagram post shortly after her death.

"A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh,” Luhrmann said. "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."

Dukureh portrayed rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton in the film, and her voice was included on the film version of "Hound Dog." Her vocals were featured on Doja Cat's single for the film, "Vegas." Dukureh also starred in the music video and made an appearance at Coachella with Doja Cat.

"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. "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."

Doja Cat also remembered Dukureh in a message posted to her Instagram stories.

"Rest in Peace Shonka — an incredible talent taken from us too soon," she said. "Was a true honor getting to know her and I’m so grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to 'Vegas.' Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones."

Dukureh was a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in theater from Fisk University and a master's degree in education from Trevecca Nazarene University, according to her online biography.