'Elvis' Director Baz Lurhmann Pays Tribute to Star Shonka Dukureh After Her Death: 'Heartbroken'

Shonka Dukureh, who appeared in Baz Lurhmann's Elvis Presley biopic, was found dead in her Nashville apartment on Thursday

Credit: Shonka Dukureh/Instagram; https://www.instagram.com/p/Cfc_cvlj3_D/?hl=en; LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 31: Baz Luhrmann attends the Elvis" UK Special Screening at BFI Southbank on May 31, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
Photo: Shonka Dukureh/Instagram; Mike Marsland/WireImage

Elvis director Baz Lurhmann is mourning the loss of Shonka Dukureh.

Following the death of Dukureh — who appeared in the Elvis biopic as Big Mama Thornton — on Thursday, Lurhmann, 59, shared a tribute via Instagram Friday to honor the star. She was 44 years old.

Alongside images of the actress/singer and himself, Lurhmann wrote a heartfelt note to remember Dukureh, saying, "A special light went out today and all of the Elvis movie family are heartbroken by the loss of Shonka Dukureh."

"From the moment she came into our world, Shonka brought joy, spirit and of course her voice and her music," he continued. "Whenever she was on set, on stage or even just in the room, everyone always felt uplifted."

Noting that "Shonka was just starting to find a larger audience for her tremendous talent," Lurhmann added, "I got to see her uplift whole crowds of people at Coachella and beyond."

"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," he concluded. "We send all our love and support to Shonka's children and family at this time."

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Earlier this week, Dukureh was found dead in a bedroom of the Kothe Way apartment in Nashville that she shared with her two young children, according to a news release from police. One of the kids found her unresponsive and ran to the apartment of a neighbor, who called 911 at 9:27 a.m.

Authorities said no foul play is suspected, though officials are awaiting autopsy results from the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office for an official cause of death, Nashville Metropolitan Police Department told PEOPLE.

"My deepest condolences to the family of Shonka Dukureh. Shonka graduated from Fisk and called Nashville home for many years," Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement via Fox 17. "Her powerful voice and artistry will live on through her music, and we honor her memory on this sad day."

RELATED: Elvis Actress and Singer Shonka Dukureh, 44, Found Dead in Her Nashville Apartment: Police

A celebrated gospel singer in the Nashville area, Dukureh's career as an actress was just beginning. Though she had a passion for the arts, her first love was being a teacher, local Nashville news outlet WPLN reported.

"I taught second grade for a little while over at Buena Vista Elementary in Metro Schools, and then did a lot of work with inner city youth doing after-school programing, summer programing — those programs that we need during the break so that kids can have a positive place to be," Dukureh previously told the outlet.

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In addition to appearing in Luhrmann's directed film, Dukureh appeared onstage with Doja Cat at Coachella this year. Doja, 26, and Dukureh collaborated on the song "Vegas" from the Elvis soundtrack.

Sharing a photo of herself and Dukureh via her Instagram Story on Friday, Doja also honored the late star, writing, "Rest In Peace Shonka — an incredible talent taken from us too soon."

"Was a true honor getting to know her and I am so grateful to her for lending her incredible vocals to 'Vegas,'" Doja added. "Her amazing performance in Elvis amongst her other artistry will live on. Sending my deepest condolences to her loved ones."

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