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Ashley Judd Breaks Silence About Her Mother Naomi Judd's Death

Ashley Judd interviewed on Good Morning America
(Image credit: Good Morning America)

Country music fans are still mourning the sudden and surprising death of the legendary Naomi Judd, who tragically took her own life the day before she and daughter Wynonna Judd were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wynonna and sister Ashley Judd addressed her passing during their emotional appearance at the event, and have shared some touching memories in the meantime, but only now are the details surrounding the death coming out, as the family hopes to avoid unnecessary rumors being spread upon the eventual autopsy report’s release.

Ashley Judd sat down for a tearful and powerful conversation with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer for Good Morning America, where she opened up about Naomi Judd’s final day, how her mother’s death was discovered, and why she’s speaking so candidly about it now while still in the early phase of grieving. In her words:

It was a mixed day. I visit with my mom and pop every day when I’m home in Tennessee, so I was at the house visiting as I am every day. Mom said to me, ‘Will you stay with me?’ and I said, ‘Of course I will.’ I went upstairs to let her know that her good friend was there and I discovered her. I have both grief and trauma from discovering her. . . . Mother used a firearm. That’s the piece of information that we are very uncomfortable sharing, but understand that we’re in a position that -- if we don’t say it, someone else is going to.

As it occasionally goes regarding the deaths of beloved celebrities, both social media and official media outlets can spread factually questionable details before they’ve been officially confirmed by knowledgeable parties, which can add additional layers of grief and stress to already unfortunate circumstances. It’s particularly sensitive where cases of suicide are confirmed, obviously, leading Ashley Judd to share her own truths in order to get out ahead of any potential misinformation, even beyond the touching memories she’s shared on social media and in a personal essay through USA Today.

The actress, who hasn’t appeared in any scripted roles following her court victory over Harvey Weinstein, spoke specifically to the timing of the news, saying she understands there’s a public-facing side of her family that goes beyond their personal and intimate forms of grief. Hence, the family felt it was important for her to be the messenger in this case, despite the “way too soon” timing, so that the details surrounding Naomi Judd’s don’t get skewed by those without direct information.

Ashley Judd described the moments after finding her mother on that tragic day, and having to share that news with her stepfather of nearly 33 years, Larry Strickland. She continued:

I was in high-functioning shock. And we all grieve in our own way, and I just said, ‘Pop, I love you and I miss you,’ and then I obviously had to say the next piece. But that’s how we are as a family. We love each other and we are with each other.

Understandably, Ashley Judd also spoke further about the topic of mental illness, not just only in terms of what her own mother was working through, but also to promote spreading awareness and understanding how common and deep-seated it is, so that others are able recognize warning signs in their loved ones. She addressed the perceived magnitude of Naomi Judd’s suffering in regards to its pre-Hall of Fame timing.

When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease. It’s very real. It lies. It’s savage. Our mother couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the Hall of Fame by her peers. I mean, that is the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her, because the barrier between the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart, and the lie that the disease told her was so convincing. . . . She obviously was suffering. And, as such, her days up until that moment were hurtful to her.

Among the more heartbreaking details shared during the interview, Ashley Judd also discussed some of her mother’s more amusing and heartwarming quirks, and said her mental illness never seemed to stop her from going to the Cheesecake Factory on a regular basis. And that she would tell Ashley about all the staff there who knew and loved her, or details about those working at the local Walgreens. Her memory will definitely live on in many family members, friends and fans. 

A public memorial service honoring Naomi Judd will be held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, with CMT giving fans a chance to pay their respects by airing it via a commercial-free telecast. It will take place on Sunday, May 15, at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.