Inside Naomi Judd's Life Before She Passed Away

The following article includes mentions of sexual assault, domestic abuse, child molestation, mental health issues, and suicide.

Naomi Judd's tragic death at age 76 left the country music world grieving one of the greats. As one half of the mother-daughter duo The Judds, she made fans yearn for a better world free from hate and division when she penned the 1990 hit "Love Can Build a Bridge," but she struggled for decades to find peace in her own life.

In a 2016 interview with People, Naomi spoke openly about having suicidal thoughts. "Think of your very worst day of your whole life — someone passed away, you lost your job, you found out you were being betrayed, that your child had a rare disease — you can take all of those at once and put them together and that's what depression feels like," she said. Sadly, her two daughters, Wynonna Judd and Ashley Judd, linked her death to the mental health issues that had plagued her for years. "Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness," they said in a statement to AP. "We are shattered."

Naomi and Wynonna rapidly rose to fame after forming The Judds. They released their debut album in 1983, and the unique pair could boast over a dozen No. 1 hits by the time Naomi's 1990 hepatitis C diagnosis forced her to retire, per the Chicago Tribune. But she survived the health scare that could have been an early death sentence, and in her final years, Naomi led an active life.

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

If you or someone you know is struggling 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.

Inside Naomi Judd's mental health advocacy

Naomi Judd was always an open book when it came to her mental health struggles, and she even wrote a book about them in 2016: "River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope." In addition to offering encouragement and hope to others by sharing her experiences, she helped raise money for non-profits that focus on raising mental health awareness and providing aid to those struggling with mental illness. Per the Williamson Source, she participated in an online meet-and-greet fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Tennessee in 2020.

For Mental Illness Awareness Week in 2018, Judd partnered with a physician to pen a letter advocating for further research into why people commit suicide. It referenced the suicides of Travel Channel star Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade. " amount of fame or fortune can protect people from the despair than can lead some of us to take our own lives," read the plea for action, which was published by People.

In a 2018 interview with The Detroit News, Judd revealed that a few celebs had reached out to her to talk about their own experiences with suicidal depression. "Of course, I did whatever I could to counsel and encourage them, and I would never out them," Judd said. "But I was always hoping that they would come out themselves. Because we have to reduce the stigma, we have to let people know, it's a disease of the brain."

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

If you or someone you know is struggling 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.

She reflected on her 'alphabet of tragedies'

In a 2020 interview with "Country Music Success Stories," Naomi Judd spoke about the adversity she's faced throughout her life. "I've been through an alphabet of tragedies and trials, and I'm still here," she said. Those trials included being raped while she was in high school. To make matters worse, the Kentucky native was forced to quit school and was shunned by her community.

Judd ended up getting married to her first husband, Michael Ciminella, and moving to California. The couple eventually divorced, and Judd began dating a man who was physically abusive. "I had no clue that this kind of stuff existed," she said of his treatment of her. After he assaulted and raped her, the young mom decided to move back to Kentucky, where she and her daughters initially lived in a cabin with no heat. 

Judd also revealed that an uncle molested her when she was child. She didn't tell any family members about the incident. "In a way, I had to parent myself," she said in a 2016 "Good Morning America" interview. Judd pointed out on "Country Music Success Stories," "You can't go through all that stuff without it coloring every day."

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).

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

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.

The proud mom supported Ashley Judd's decision to speak out about Harvey Weinstein

In 2017, Naomi Judd's youngest daughter, "Double Jeopardy" star Ashley Judd, helped jumpstart the Me Too movement when she joined a group of women who spoke to The New York Times about the sexual harassment and abuse that they allegedly suffered at the hands of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. According to Naomi, Ashley consulted with her before sharing her story. "She said, 'Mama, I need your opinion,'" Naomi recalled during a 2018 appearance on Fox News' "A Few Moments With." "She held my hand, and she said, 'I'm really thinking about going public by telling people about Harvey Weinstein.'" Naomi's response to her daughter? "Honey, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Go get 'em." 

According to Naomi, it was her own experience with sexual harassment that inspired Ashley to speak out. When Ashley was a child, one of Naomi's bosses fired her because she refused his advances. "I remember sobbing walking home, a month behind on my rent, worried that we would end up in some homeless shelter," Judd told the Tennessean in 2020.

Ashley and Naomi shared such a strong bond that they lived next to each other on a farm in Tennessee, per OWN, and Naomi viewed her daughter as a true inspiration. "I'm just like Ashley; I feel so fierce, and I'm so bold about helping other people," Naomi told "Access Hollywood" in 2017.

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).

How she helped Ashley Judd after her devastating leg injury

Living near her daughters turned out to be a real blessing for Naomi Judd in 2021 after Ashley Judd suffered a horrific injury while filming in the Congo. A fall left her leg shattered, and she was unable to walk for nearly six months, per a post on her Instagram page. As Ashley recovered at home after her hospital stay, Naomi kept fans updated on how her daughter was doing. "She could have died," the singer said in a July 2021 appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show." "She's surviving. She's very courageous." 

That March, Naomi appeared on "Watch What Happens Live" and revealed how a pre-fame career was helping her be an exceptionally capable caretaker. "I'm going to go up and take [Ashley's] stitches out when we're done because I used to be a nurse before I became a singer," she said (via E! News). Naomi's career-derailing hepatitis C health scare is connected to her old nursing job — she contracted the disease from a needle at work.

Naomi told ET that her oldest daughter, Wynonna Judd, was also helping Ashley out during her long road to recovery, and Wynonna even shampooed her bedridden little sister's hair. The sisterly love made Naomi proud. "They're my role models," she gushed. "Don't tell 'em I said that!"

She played a mystical character in a Lifetime movie

Naomi Judd wasn't just a Grammy-winning musician; she also dabbled in acting. Judd actually landed her first role before her music career took off, playing the "Girl on Bus" in the 1979 movie "More American Graffiti." According to The Washington Post, her red 1957 Chevy also makes an appearance in the film. But most of her acting gigs were on TV, including small parts in the series "Touched by an Angel" and "Frasier."

Her final role was in the 2021 Lifetime movie "V.C. Andrews' Ruby," which is set in New Orleans and the bayou. "I get to play a shaman, so this is new territory for me, the superstition, the voodoo," Naomi told ET. "I had to learn about it, and it was a blast." In an interview with "Today," she described a scene that called for her character to perform an exorcism and confirmed that her daughter, Ashley Judd, helped her prep for the role by running lines with her. 

However, Naomi said that she wouldn't allow her daughters to discuss their showbiz jobs when they came over for dinner. "I kind of have to stop and say, 'Nope. Just tell me, do you want dessert, do you want me to rub your feet?' Yeah, home is the most important thing for us." In a 2021 appearance on "Watch What Happens Live," Naomi revealed that she loves acting, but added, "It's so much more important that you know how to act in real life."

A TV series about The Judds was in development

If you've read Naomi Judd's 1993 memoir "Love Can Build a Bridge," you know that her life is the stuff that Hollywood scripts are made of: There's drama, tragedy, familial tension, and a rags-to-riches rise that culminates in the creation of one heck of a soundtrack. So it shouldn't come as much of a shock that a major network was planning on bringing The Judds' story to the small screen as part of a scripted series.

Per a 2020 Deadline report, Naomi and Wynonna Judd had the honor of being the artists chosen as the focus of the potential premiere season of the Fox anthology "Icon," which would tell the true stories behind some of the music industry's biggest stars. "The series will spotlight the drama behind the glamour and the dynamic relationship between the loving, yet often challenging, Naomi and Wynonna," reads Deadline's description of the project.

The mother-daughter team were executive producing the series, and after Naomi's heartbreaking death, Deadline reported that she had been working closely with showrunner Adam Milch to make sure that her story got told to her satisfaction. As of this writing, the project's future remains up in the air. In its statement reacting to Naomi's death, Fox wrote in part, "A true giant and beloved by all, her work in music, film and television will forever entertain and inspire millions of people across the globe."

She was inducted into the Women Songwriters Hall of Fame

In June 2021, Naomi Judd was honored for her contributions to music by being inducted into the Women Songwriters Hall of Fame. "It's always gratifying when someone acknowledges your best efforts," Naomi said in a press release, per CMT. "I love expressing my deepest feelings as I did in writing 'Love Can Build a Bridge.'" While The Judds won five Grammy awards and had 14 Billboard Hot Country chart toppers, "Love Can Build a Bridge" was more meaningful to Naomi than many of their other big hits. "That's one of the most intricate songs I've ever written," she told Sounds Like Nashville in 2017, recalling that she penned the lyrics about unity and compassion after seeing a homeless man sleeping outside in the cold. "It literally came out fast for me," she said. "I'd never written a song that effortlessly."

Naomi also wrote the song "Change of Heart." In a 2021 appearance on "Country Music Success Stories," she recalled how a teenage Wynonna Judd made a last-minute decision to perform the future No. 1 hit during their live audition for RCA. Naomi had finished the song just the night before, and she feared that they wouldn't remember the lyrics, but Wynonna killed it and sealed the deal. 

Even after she left The Judds, Naomi continued writing songs. Per The Boot, she helped Wynonna launch her solo career in 1992 by co-writing one of her hit singles, "My Strongest Weakness."

She fondly remembered working with Betty White

After Betty White died in 2021, Naomi Judd paid tribute to the beloved television icon by reminiscing about her own experiences with "The Golden Girls" star. "She may have looked like she'd just come from a bridge party, but then she'd crack a joke with sexual innuendo," Judd stated (via CMT). "She was one of my role models." Judd wasn't lying about looking up to the good-natured actor with a wicked sense of humor; in a 2013 appearance on "Today," she revealed that her performance in the Hallmark film "Nearlyweds" was inspired by White.

Per CMT, Judd said that she met White's late spouse, Alan Ludden, when she competed on the game show "Password" in 1973. In "Love Can Build a Bridge," Judd recalled how she made regular appearances on quiz shows back then, but wrote, "...[I] lasted only three days on 'Password,' because an inebriated Peter Lawford became distracted and more interested in squeezing my knee than playing the game."

Judd and White bonded through their animal advocacy, and they both worked with the American Humane organization. After Judd's death, the nonprofit's president praised her dedication to helping her furry friends, writing in part, "She was a fearless champion for animal and veteran rights and walked the halls of Congress with us to secure language in the 2016 Defense Authorization Act to help bring our brave Military Working Dogs back home to U.S. soil where they belong."

She spilled a secret about Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton and Naomi Judd might have been competing for the same fans at one point in time, but Parton had nothing but love for her fellow country music icon when she paid tribute to Judd on Instagram. After learning of her friend's death, Parton wrote, "We were very similar. We were the same age and both Capricorns. We loved big hair, makeup and music."

Judd and Parton also shared a penchant for being excellent storytellers. In 2021, Judd regaled "Watch What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen with a cheeky tale about the time she saw Parton all dressed down like a cowboy's dreams. That is to say, the "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That" singer didn't have a stitch on.

The two women were at the Grand Ole Opry, in the dressing room, when Judd apparently saw some body art on Parton where the sun doesn't shine. "She might have a butterfly tattoo," Judd teased. She also recalled a humorous Dollyism that her pal shared with her the last time they met: "If you're like me, the older you get, the less makeup, but the more underwear you wear." Judd mentioned Parton again in one of her last interviews at the 2022 CMT Awards, joking to ET that Parton was to blame for her long red carpet absence. "Nashville ran out of rhinestones. That damn Dolly Parton took all of them," she quipped. "... I finally found some." 

Naomi Judd's final performance was a family reunion

Naomi Judd and Wynonna Judd's relationship was rocky at times. In a 2016 "Good Morning America" interview, Naomi acknowledged that she'd made a lot of mistakes as a mother, but while she had admitted as much to Wynonna, they weren't on speaking terms at the time. Their falling out happened after they reunited for a 2010 tour. "I love her, but there are just times we need a break from each other," Naomi confessed. 

But by 2017, the mother and daughter were getting along well enough that they agreed to perform together at a Kenny Rogers farewell concert, per AP. Fans who yearned for The Judds' good ol' days got another treat when Naomi and Wynonna took the stage at the CMT Awards in April 2022 for their first television performance together in two decades, per People. Sadly, the family reunion would be the last time they shared the stage together.

Ahead of the show, Naomi told CBS Miami that she was looking forward to seeing her fans. "I love them so much," she said. "That's, to me, better than winning a Grammy or anything." She and Wynonna wowed the crowd with an emotional performance of "Love Can Build a Bridge," complete with a choir. In her last red carpet appearance at the event, Naomi spoke about her relationship with Wynonna, telling ET, "If we can get along, anybody can." 

The Judds were excited about their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame

When Naomi Judd appeared on "Watch What Happens Live" in March 2021, host Andy Cohen asked her how she felt about The Judds' absence from the Country Music Hall of Fame, and she told him that she wasn't bitter about the lack of recognition at all. "The awards are very strange for me because I so appreciate when all of my buddies get to get awards, and I haven't really thought that much about if they're going to give me anything," she said. 

While The Judds weren't inductees at the time, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum had created an exhibit to honor them in 2018. It included meaningful memorabilia like a prized heirloom quilt, some of the singers' costumes, and their original lyric scribblings, per the Tennessean. And mere months after Naomi spoke to Cohen about the seeming Hall of Fame snub, it was announced that she and Wynonna Judd were on its list of 2021 inductees. "I'm a 10 on the one to 10 scale," Naomi told ET of the honor.

As for Wynonna, she said she agreed with the fans who told her that Naomi's recognition was long overdue. "My mother, to me, is the queen of my parade — and it's time to celebrate her," she told People. Heartbreakingly, Naomi died the day before The Judds' induction ceremony was scheduled to take place on May 1, 2022.

The Judds were about to embark on their last tour

The year 2022 looked like it was going to be big for Naomi Judd and Wynonna Judd. While still basking in the glow of their CMT performance and the announcement about their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Judds were preparing for another farewell tour that was scheduled to begin on September 30, 2022. Their 2010 "Last Encore" tour was supposed to be it for Naomi and Wynonna, and tensions became so high between them that they stopped speaking to each other after it was over. "There was a period of estrangement, and I didn't want to lose her," Naomi told the Las Vegas Sun.

The mother and daughter would build a bridge and reunite again for their 2015 Las Vegas residency. Wynonna explained that Naomi's sometimes domineering attitude and lack of a filter were partly to blame for their contentious relationship, but they seemed excited about getting back on the road together in 2022. "I'm chompin' at the bit to belt out our hits and reconnect with [our fans] once again," Naomi told Billboard in April 2022. "The cherry on top is singing with my beloved, wild and extremely talented daughter."

Sadly, fans won't get to see Naomi on stage in all her sequined glory again, but she did print her own tour T-shirts. "The one that I made says, 'The Judds' final tour,'" she told ET, "and underneath it, it says, 'We s*** you not.'" 

Naomi Judd's daughters paid tribute to her after her death

While still reeling from her mother's death one day earlier, Wynonna Judd attended The Judds' Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "Her family has asked that we continue with The Judds' official Hall of Fame induction on Sunday," the organization's CEO said in a statement to ET. "We will do so, with heavy hearts and weighted minds. Naomi and daughter Wynonna's music will endure."

Naomi Judd's absence cast a somber mood over the event, per AP, and her two daughters were tearful when they took to the stage to pay tribute to the beloved icon whose voice and words touched the hearts of so many. "My mama loved you so much ... and I'm sorry that she couldn't hang on until today," said Ashley Judd. As for Wynonna, even through her pain, she managed to make a wisecrack about her mom's extroverted, larger-than-life personality. "I didn't prepare anything tonight because I knew mom would probably talk the most," she said, adding, "It's a very strange dynamic, to be this broken and this blessed."

In addition to leaving her mark on the music world, Naomi will be remembered for her mental health advocacy and how hard she worked to erase the stigma around depression. In a 2017 essay for NBC News, she pointed out just how common mental illness is. "And there's power in numbers: it means that there are other people," she wrote. "You're not alone."

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

If you or someone you know is struggling 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.