When Naomi Judd, the Grammy-winning country music singer, died last month, her daughter Ashley Judd said that she had lost her mother to the “disease of mental illness.” On Thursday, Ms. Judd was more candid, saying in a television interview that her mother had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at her home in Tennessee, and encouraging people who are distressed to seek help.
Ms. Judd, an actress, told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” that she was speaking out about her mother’s death because her family wanted to share the information before it became “public without our control.”
“We’re aware that although grieving the loss of a wife and a mother, we are, in an uncanny way, a public family,” Ms. Judd said. “So that’s really the impetus for this timing. Otherwise, it’s obviously way too soon. So that’s important for us to say up front.”
Naomi Judd and her other daughter, Wynonna Judd, dominated the country music charts in the 1980s as the mother-daughter duo the Judds. Naomi Judd, 76, died on April 30, a day before the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In the interview on Thursday, Ashley Judd said she was visiting her mother at her home outside Nashville when she died. Ms. Judd said she went outside to greet a friend of her mother’s who had stopped by, and when she went upstairs to tell her mother that the friend had arrived, she found her mother dead.
“Mother used a firearm,” Ms. Judd said. “That’s the piece of information that 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.”
Suicides have historically accounted for a majority of gun deaths in the United States.
In 2020, 53 percent of suicides involved firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gun deaths reached the highest number ever recorded in the United States in 2020, when more than 24,000 people died by gun-related suicide and more than 19,350 people died by gun-related homicide.
Ms. Judd said that she had suffered “grief and trauma” since her mother’s death, and that it was important to distinguish her mother from her mental illness.
“Mom was a brilliant conversationalist, she was a star, she was an underrated songwriter,” Ms. Judd said. “And she was someone who suffered from mental illness, you know, 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.”
Naomi Judd was born in Ashland, a coal-mining town in northeastern Kentucky, and lived in California before moving to Nashville in 1979, as a single mother with two daughters.
Ms. Judd supported her family by working as a nurse while pursuing a music career with Wynonna. Their break came in 1983, when Ms. Judd cared for a patient who turned out to be the daughter of an executive at RCA Records. A record deal, nine Country Music Association Awards, five Grammys and 14 No. 1 hits followed.
Ashley Judd said in the interview that her mother was most alive when she was performing.
“She was very isolated in many ways because of the disease,” Ms. Judd said. “And yet there were a lot of people who showed up for her over the years, not just me.”
Ms. Judd encouraged people in distress to seek help and cited resources, including the national suicide hotline and the National Alliance for Mental Illness, a mental health organization that also has a hotline.
“And so I want to be very careful when we talk about this today,” Ms. Judd said, “that for anyone who is having those ideas or those impulses, you know, to talk to someone, to share, to be open, to be vulnerable.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, in the United States call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Go here for resources outside the United States.