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Ashley Judd discloses mother Naomi’s manner of death in TV interview

Naomi Judd performs at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville on June 13, 2009. (Josh Anderson/AP)
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Actress Ashley Judd made a tearful appearance on “Good Morning America” Thursday, where she disclosed that her mother Naomi died by suicide.

The Grammy-winning country music star, who soared to the top of the charts in the late 1980s and early 1990s with her daughter Wynonna as half of the Judds, died near Nashville on April 30. She was 76.

At the time, her daughters released a statement saying, “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness” but did not note the cause or manner of death.

Judd told Diane Sawyer on Thursday that it was “obviously way too soon” to be speaking about Naomi but that her father and sister “deputized” her to “speak on behalf of the family” before details of her mother’s death emerged in the tabloids and media “without our control.” “That’s really the impetus for this timing,” she said, later adding, “We don’t want it to be part of the gossip economy.”

“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and 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,” Judd said. “The regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart, and the lie the disease told her was so convincing.” She described that “lie” as, “You’re not enough. You’re not worthy.”

Naomi Judd was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on May 1 as part of the Judds. “My mama loved you so much, and she appreciated your love for her, and I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today,” Ashley said from the stage. “Your esteem for her and your regard for her really penetrated her heart, and it was your affection for her that did keep her going in these last years.”

On “Good Morning America,” she said that Naomi “suffered from mental illness. She had a lot of trouble getting off the sofa.” But she lit up when describing her mother’s trips into town to the Cheesecake Factory “where all the staff knew and loved her … and she always had $100 bills stuffed in her bra, and she was passing them out to the janitorial staff. Just an unfailingly kind, sensitive woman.” Judd told Sawyer that her mother died by self-inflicted gunshot wound, and said that she hoped sharing details of Naomi’s death would help raise awareness for those who know people that might be suffering.

“I really accepted the love my mother was capable of giving me. I knew she was fragile, so when I walked around the back of their house and came in the kitchen door, and she said, ‘There’s my darling. There’s my baby,’ and she lit up, I savored those moments. And every time we hugged and she drank me in, I was very present for those tactile experiences. Because I knew there would come a time when she would be gone.”

Ashley also read a letter written by Wynonna. “I need to take some time to process and I need this time to myself. I’m not ready yet to speak publicly about what happened so I know you understand why I’m not there today,” it read, in part. “We will do this piece differently, and I’m grateful we’re connected as we walk together through this storm. I just can’t believe she’s gone. I’m here. This will take time. I love you, dear sister; I’m proud of you and I’m here whenever you need me.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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