Ashley Judd appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday (May 12) to discuss her mother country icon Naomi Judd‘s recent death by suicide. Speaking to Diane Sawyer from her home in Nashville, Ashley opened by thanking the everyone who has reached out with condolences and explaining why she’d been “deputized” by the family to share information about Naomi’s cause of death.
“She used a weapon … mother used a firearm,” Judd told Sawyer. “So that’s the piece of information that we are very uncomfortable sharing.” Judd said she did the interview because the family wanted to reveal the information on their own so they could control the news about their beloved matriarch’s death before autopsy results were released.
“My mother knew that she was seen and she was heard in her anguish and that she was walked home,” Ashley said tearfully. “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 and it is enough to … it lies, it’s savage, and my mother, our mother couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the Hall of Fame by her peers. That is the level of catastrophe that was going on inside of her. 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.”
That lie, she said, was the belief that “you’re not loved, you’re not worthy … her brain hurt. It physically hurt.” She went on to describe a global superstar who was “very isolated” by her disease, but who would venture out every day to the local Cheesecake Factory — “where all staff knew and loved her” — and to Walgreens, where she would pass out $100 bills she had stuffed into her bra. “Just an unfailingly kind, sensitive woman,” she said of her mother.
Sisters Ashley and Wynonna Judd issued a joint statement in which they announced Naomi Judd’s death on April 30. “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered,” they wrote. “We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”
Naomi Judd, 76, who had been open about her long struggle with mental illness and depression, died on the eve of the Judds’ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ashley said she used to visit her mother and stepfather every day, and on the day Naomi took her life, Ashley left her side momentarily to greet a friend who had come to visit and offer some support. When she returned to her mother’s room, she discovered her mom’s body. The actress urged anyone who is struggling with depression or who has suicidal thoughts to share them and be open and vulnerable about their feelings.
The actress-activist also shared a letter from sister Wynonna, which read, “Thinking a lot about you today. I love you [four exclamation points]. I’ve been looking at photos of us when we were little. You were such a cutie pie. I laugh and I cry and I thank God we have each other … we have each other and I’m grateful we’re connected as we walk together through this storm. I just can’t believe she’s gone.”
CMT announced this week that it will televise a public memorial to the singer on Sunday (May 15) from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. “Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration” will air live and commercial-free at 7 p.m. ET and is slated to feature tributes from daughters Wynonna and Ashley, s well as some as-yet-unannounced special guests and performers.
Watch Ashley Judd’s interview below:
If you’re thinking about suicide, or are worried about a friend or loved one, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours, at 1-800-273-8255.