Country-music star Naomi Judd died from suicide, her actor daughter Ashley Judd confirmed Thursday during a “Good Morning America” interview with ABC journalist Diane Sawyer.
The “Double Jeopardy” and “Twin Peaks” star spoke tearfully with Sawyer as she shared details of her mother’s April 30 death, one day before the 76-year-old musician and her elder daughter, Wynonna Judd, were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Judds singer, whose family had previously only said they lost her “to the disease of mental illness,” used a gun to end her life, and Ashley Judd said that she was the one who discovered her body.
Her family — including stepfather Larry Strickland and sister Wynonna — deputized Ashley to disclose the matriarch’s manner of death because “we don’t want it to be part of the gossip economy,” she said. In fact, stories about suicide had already been circulating online before Thursday’s interview with Sawyer. They also wanted anyone suffering from similar struggles to seek help before it’s too late.
“My mother knew that she was seen and she was heard in her anguish … and she was walked home,” Judd told Sawyer.
“Our mother couldn’t hang on to be recognized by her peers. That is the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her,” she said. “Because the barrier between the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart and the lie the disease told her was so convincing.”
The lie, she explained, was her mother’s thoughts “that you’re not enough, that you’re not loved, that you’re not worthy.”
“Her brain hurt. It physically hurt,” she said.
Speaking slowly and often through tears, Judd thoughtfully shared other details and read aloud a letter from Wynonna, who couldn’t be there for the interview because she “needed some time to process.”
“I need this time to myself,” Wynonna’s letter said. “I’m not ready yet to speak publicly about what happened. So I know you understand why I’m not there today.”
Added Ashley: “I will share with you that she used a weapon. Mother used a firearm. So that’s the piece of information 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.”
Ashley, who at no point in the broadcast used the term suicide, said that she found her mother’s body when she was visiting Naomi’s Tennessee home.
“I have both grief and trauma from discovering her,” said Judd, with Sawyer adding that the family “prays that everyone will honor the rest of the details as private.”
“My mother is entitled to her dignity and her privacy. And so there are some things that we would just like to retain as a family,” Ashley said.
“Mom was a brilliant conversationalist, she was a star. She was an underrated songwriter. And she was someone who suffered from mental illness and had a lot of trouble getting off the sofa — except to go into town every day to the Cheesecake Factory where all the staff knew and loved her,” she joked, adding that the singer was “just an unfailingly kind, sensitive woman. She was very isolated in many ways because of the disease and there were a lot of people who showed up for her over the years, including me.”
The Judds — known for the 1990 hit “Love Can Build a Bridge,” among many others — were still honored on May 1 and Ashley and Wynonna attended the emotional ceremony. On Mother’s Day, Ashley penned a poignant op-ed for USA Today and said that she has “incandescent rage” over her mother’s mental health struggle and “unintended pregnancy” at age 17.
The family is holding a public memorial — “Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration” — at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium on Sunday, which will be broadcast live on CMT.
Suicide prevention and crisis counseling resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach the Crisis Text Line.