Tragic Details About The Dancing With The Stars Judges

The following article mentions sexual abuse, child abuse, and suicide.  

"Dancing With the Stars" debuted back in 2005 and has lasted almost two decades. Yet, while the show has undergone many changes over the years, by way of new hosts, different dancers, and of course, the ever-changing stars, most of the judges have been the same since day one! We're talking Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli, who have been critiquing the competition from the beginning. Then there's also Julianne Hough and her brother, Derek, who have not only had long stints as judges, but have also competed themselves as pro dancers on-and-off since 2007.

With that said, it makes sense that "DWTS" viewers feel connected to the judges, who are often just as entertaining as the dancers and celebrities, especially when it come to their hilarious commentary. Let's not forget that, per Parade, Goodman once told competitors, "You floated across that floor like butter on a crumpet." Or when Tonioli gushed, "Your rumba was so hot, I need an ice bucket." They also offer pretty good advice too, like when Inaba explained, "Dancing is about letting go of the mind [and] the ego and finding the power of the body."

The judges may be fun and inspiring, but they've also been through their fair share of heartache and obstacles to get where they are today. So let's break down the tragic details of the "DWTS" judges.

Carrie Ann Inaba has chronic health problems

Carrie Ann Inaba may look like she always has it together on "Dancing With the Stars," but the Hawaii native has actually been battling several chronic autoimmune conditions. She revealed on her blog Carrie Ann Conversations, "Over the years I've been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and I have the markers for antiphospholipid syndrome, which can lead to blood clots." Her diagnoses have been especially challenging because many of Inaba's symptoms are hard to see, which can feel isolating. She explained to Yahoo, "You feel like you're going crazy because nobody believes you, the doctors have a hard time diagnosing you."

Inaba was also a professional dancer, so her health conditions kept her from doing what she loved. "I had to surrender up the idea that I was a fit dancer, and that was my identity," she said. It even led her to take a leave of absence from her other show, "The Talk," in 2021 before eventually stepping down for good. Inaba took to social media to tell fans that she needed to "focus on [her] wellbeing," adding, "I know you guys understand health is the most important thing."

Inaba is using her struggles to help others, though, by spreading awareness on autoimmune diseases, whether it's through her Instagram Live series "Carrie Ann Conversations" or her blog. She wrote, "I believe strongly in sharing my journey, my solutions, and the things that have helped me with anyone who could use it."

Carrie Ann Inaba was sexually abused

Carrie Ann Inaba hasn't only suffered physically, she's been hurt emotionally, as well, having been sexually abused as a child. When discussing a documentary that covered abuse on her former show, "The Talk," Inaba revealed (via People), "I was molested as a kid and...there is a hole in me that I can never fill." She divulged more on how it had impacted her in another episode, too, like leading her to dress like a tomboy. She explained, "I thought that it was because I was attractive," adding, "I would do something to make it uglier on purpose."

What had to make things even worse was that Inaba's own mother had a difficult time believing her. As the former dancer shared on "The Talk" (via Entertainment Tonight), "She couldn't see it because she loved the various people around." That seemingly hurt their relationship, as Inaba added, "You still have to learn how to forgive and move on for your own life."

Unfortunately, Inaba went through more hardships after that, as she later disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted by a martial arts teacher. "He did something inappropriate and pulled down my pants. I froze," she said on "The Talk" (via People). In another episode, Inaba also shared how she was violated by a monk who pulled down her pants, but it's unclear if she was talking about the same incident. Inaba used that experience to heal, though, saying (via The U.S. Sun), "I didn't carry that with me...and keep shame with it."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Carrie Ann Inaba felt bullied by DWTS fans

Judging "Dancing With the Stars" isn't always as fun as it looks for Carrie Ann Inaba since she's felt harassed by viewers. According to E!, she revealed on "The Talk" in 2020, "I still get bullied," adding, "People start to bully me because of the way I judge people...I can't believe it still happens as adults." However, Inaba refuses to let trolls tell her how to do her job. "I'm not about to change because you try to bully me. It only makes me stand stronger in my convictions," she said.

Inaba did get a lot of heat, though, for how she judged "The Bachelorette" alum Kaitlyn Bristowe and her partner, Artem Chigvintsev. Fans believed Inaba evaluated them harshly because of her past romantic relationship with Chigvintsev. Even he admitted to Entertainment Tonight, "At this point, it starts being a little personal...I feel like it's different expectations." Yet Inaba shutdown those claims, blaming Bristowe's followers. She told Us Weekly, "I think it's hysterical... This is what I love about the 'Bachelor' fans and 'Bachelorette' fans. They can create a story around it!" Inaba made it clear that fandom shouldn't be taken too far either, adding, "I will not stand for bullying of me or anyone...But I am OK with passion."

After everything Inaba's been through, feeling attacked had to hurt. Luckily, she had the support of another contestant, rapper Nelly. He told TooFab, "She's just doing her job. Carrie Ann's sweet... they gotta leave my girl alone."

Len Goodman had cancer twice

Carrie Ann Inaba isn't the only "Dancing With the Stars" judge who's had health issues, as Len Goodman has had cancer not once, but twice. The former "Strictly Come Dancing" judge was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009 after an annual checkup. However, he decided to delay his treatment so he could continue working on "DWTS." He explained to the Daily Mail, "I could have said 'sorry' and not done the show, but the doctors felt I wasn't riddled with it." Goodman went on to get the tumor removed, but kept his diagnosis under wraps for a while. "It wasn't necessary to blabber it out to everyone," he said.

While Goodman recovered from prostate cancer, he was later hit with another blow. In 2020, he learned he had skin cancer on his face after he'd gotten a mole checked out by a doctor at the advice of a friend. He shared on "Good Morning Britain" (via Express), "They took it out and it's gone. It was a tiny little thing on my forehead... probably because I play a lot of golf and I don't wear a hat, which I do now."

Goodman admitted that he was shocked to have cancer for a second time, but he's glad he was able to once again detect it early. He seemingly wanted to use his experiences to spread awareness so others can too. He dished, "I would have probably carried on in my own sweet way and it could have become something far worse!"

Bruno Tonioli was bullied for being gay

Bruno Tonioli might be a beloved TV personality these days, but the Italian choreographer had a difficult time growing up because he was bullied for being gay. He recalled to the Mirror, "It was frightening. I really WAS the only gay in the village. I was labelled 'the queenie guy'... which was the worst thing you could be told in Italy in those days." Tonioli was subsequently threatened and assaulted by men who were jealous that his dancing skills got him attention from girls. "[They] chased me from the club with a broken bottle, then pinned me up against a wall," he said. 

While Tonioli was able to use his sense of humor to get himself out of that particular situation — the same sense of humor that helped make him a star — he was forever changed. "I realized I had to reinvent myself." He added, "I turned it to my advantage and became very popular, just by doing an act. So bullies no longer had any reason to attack me."

Although Tonioli acknowledges that things have since changed, he feels there's more to be done to keep others from having similar experiences. He told the Daily Mail, "It's the grassroots that have to change. There are still a lot of kids who kill themselves because of bullying." Perhaps that's why he makes it a point to speak out against hate, even posting on Instagram, "No one should be bullied or called names for simply being who they are."

Bruno Tonioli suffered a lot of loss

Bruno Tonioli suffered a series of tragic losses during one point in his life. He revealed to the Mirror, "Everybody passed away. Not just my mum — then my grandma, my grandfather, very close friends in London." He continued, "It was a relentless period where you have knock after knock. It was seven years of nightmare." It seems that the ballroom dancer had lost his mother first when she died unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 63. He recalled to the Daily Mail, "I had been very close to my mother and I felt so guilty. Why hadn't I been there."

Tonioli's father developed Alzheimer's disease soon after and died a few years later. "The pain of losing him and my mother within seven years nearly killed me. I didn't even know how I could keep going," he said. What made matters worse was that Tonioli's parents never got to see him on TV. He shared, "My heart still lurches and I think, 'Oh Dad, you would have loved this so much.' That's the enduring sadness... he never lived to see it.'

To this day, Tonioli still gets emotional talking about his family and doesn't often return to his hometown. He explained to Desert Island Discs (via Metro), "Going back is sad, especially as I have lost everyone." However, because of what Tonioli has been through, he doesn't let fame go to his head. "It has given me the biggest reality check," he said.

Julianne Hough was abused as a child

Like some of her fellow "Dancing With the Stars" judges, Julianne Hough also had a difficult childhood, as she was also abused. It happened after the "Footloose" star moved to London at age 10 to study dance at a prestigious academy. She revealed to Cosmopolitan, "I was abused—mentally, physically, everything." She explained that it got worse too, adding, "When I started hitting puberty, when I started becoming a woman and stopped being a little girl."

Unfortunately, Hough felt she never got much of a chance to be a little girl either because she started dancing professionally at a young age. "I was a tormented little kid who had to put on this sexy facade because that was my job," she said. Hough was also made to believe that there was no way out, either. She recalled, "​​I was told if I ever went back to the United States...I was going to amount to nothing."

Hough was eventually able to channel her trauma into her acting, especially for her film "Safe Haven," where her character also had past trauma. She told Entertainment Tonight, "I relate a lot to her. The fact that she had been in one situation that just sucked the life out of her." Fortunately, like her character, Hough was able to move past it. "I was just a dark person. So I had to leave that situation and kind of come into my own again and I did," she said.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Julianne Hough has dealt with mental health issues

Some people may be surprised to learn that Julianne Hough has dealt with some mental health issues over the years. She revealed to People, "I struggled with anxiety and depression growing up," adding, "I don't think a lot of people would know that about me because I come off as sunshine and happiness and positivity." Hough has apparently even been struggling with those conditions since she was a kid. She recalled to the Child Mind Institute, "I found it very very difficult to stay focused in the classroom. I had anxiety and depression... and I thought something was wrong with me."

Fortunately, the "Dancing With the Stars" judge discovered a way for her to cope with some of her problems. "I found an outlet that was me getting active, moving my body, and dance," she said. It's something that she continues to do as an adult, especially through her Kinrgy program, which is a workout she created that emphasizes movement for "mental clarity" and "emotional wellness."

Of course, Hough still faces some obstacles that have been difficult on her mental wellbeing, like her 2020 divorce from Brooks Laich. At the time, Us Weekly reported that she took to her Instagram Stories to imply she was having a hard time by joking about "having an emotional breakdown." She also shared a meme that read, "When feeling stuck, depressed, anxious, or hopeless, try taking your attention off of yourself and helping someone less fortunate than you."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Julianne Hough's dogs died on the same day

If you've been a longtime Julianne Hough fan, then you probably know how important her two dogs, Lexi and Harley, were to her. The "Grease Live!" star was not only often photographed out with her pups, but they even accompanied her on TV  and were frequently shown on her social media. So of course it was absolutely devastating when both of Hough's dogs died on the same day in September 2019. She took some time to privately grieve their deaths, before taking to Instagram weeks later to share the news with a tribute. She wrote, "Pure love is real, it existed through us. My heart expanded... I am forever grateful."

While Hough never shared how her dogs died, it appears it was traumatic. She revealed on Danica Patrick's podcast, "It was a heartbreaking one... I would have nightmares about how they died and they died that same way." It also sent her into a period of true sadness, which was something she hadn't really experienced. She shared, "I was so clear and then I lost my girls and that suffering hit in and that grief," adding, "It's another layer of 'I've never felt this kind of grief before.'"

However, Hough pointed out that Harley and Lexi's deaths taught her that she didn't always have to feel happy all the time or try to make everything perfect. Hough was ultimately thankful for the time they did have together, writing, "Thank you for the timeless memories."

Derek Hough was impacted by suicide

Like his sister, Juilanne, Derek Hough has been open about mental health issues throughout his career, especially because he was personally impacted by suicide. He first opened up about his experience at a benefit for a suicide prevention hotline in 2012, telling E!, "I had a suicide in the family a long time ago when I was 15 years old." He continued, "It was intense. He left a daughter behind to take care of and we helped raise."

Years later, in 2017, Hough went on to release his first solo single, "Hold On," to raise awareness about men's mental health. When discussing his song with Billboard, he again shared why the issue was so important to him. "I had also lost an uncle in London to when he took his own life... To see what it did to the family and the people around us, it's very traumatic," he said. While Hough initially wrote "Hold On" for a friend who was going through a hard time, the suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington inspired him to release it. He explained, "We had talked together briefly and I met his kids. So it really affected me and it brought up a lot of emotions."

All in all, the "Dancing With the Stars" judges have been through a great deal of hardships despite looking like they live the good life on TV. Yet, they all have seemingly used their tragedies to spread awareness and help others.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.