The Heartbreaking True Story About Ashley Judd

The following article contains references to child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide.

Once a prominent figure in 1990s Hollywood, actor Ashley Judd has at times had an uphill battle. She was born in 1968 into a family of performers, as the daughter of country music legend Naomi Judd and half-sister of Wynonna Judd, but singing just wasn't for her. Instead, Judd found success on the silver screen, known for her performances in "Kiss the Girls," "Heat," and "Double Jeopardy," and starred alongside some of the biggest names in the business. In the decades since her height of fame, Judd has undergone a stunning transformation, had a resurgence in her career, and opened up to the public about the struggles she faced in her life.

Judd's early years were far from ideal, and she's suffered insurmountable trauma and loss throughout her life. While her fame brought drama and unwanted criticism, she was primarily a victim of her circumstances and the difficulties she faced began when she was just a child. Despite her hardships, Judd has used her platform to raise awareness around the issues she dealt with personally. 

From child abuse to her encounter with Harvey Weinstein, as well as familial drama and grief, here is the heartbreaking true story about Ashley Judd.

She was abused as a child

In 2011, Ashley Judd released her memoir, "All That Is Bitter and Sweet," in which she detailed her traumatic upbringing. While her mother and sister embarked on their country music careers together, Judd was left home alone and was forced to fend for herself. She was also molested when she was 7 years old, and when she came forward about the abuse, was faced with disbelief from family members. Judd detailed how her mother's relationships deeply impacted her, as Naomi Judd was inappropriate and overtly sexual in front of her children. In her book, Judd wrote, "I now know this situation is called covert sexual abuse."

The "Heat" actor also wrote about her mom trying to turn her against her father after they divorced. Speaking on Today with Meredith Vieira, Judd explained, "First of all, my mother loves and adores me and my dad absolutely loves and adores me; they did then, and they do now. ... The kinds of things that happened to me are very typical and standard and indicative of a family system that doesn't work very well."

The things Judd went through as a child were things no person should have to endure, and they had a lasting impact on her for years. However, speaking on the podcast "Healing with David Kessler," she remarked, "I can't necessarily go back and have a happy childhood, but I can create for myself a very happy today."

Ashley and Wynonna Judd have had several feuds

Naomi and Wynonna Judd were brought close by their shared love of country music and worked together under the stage name The Judds. However, Wynonna's relationship with Ashley Judd was a little more complicated, and they've had their fair share of feuds. For example, when Wynonna got married in 2012, she neglected to invite her sister although they were living together at the time.

In 2013, Wynonna's daughter Grace Pauline Kelley asked her aunt Ashley for help, claiming that she wasn't treated well at home. A source told RadarOnline, "After Grace described her mother's nasty name-calling, put-downs, and substance abuse, a judge agreed to give Ashley temporary cus­tody." Later that year, a tracking device was found in Ashley's car when Grace took it to an auto repair shop, and it was traced back to a private investigator who was reportedly working for Wynonna at the time. An insider explained, "[Wynonna] says that Ashley has 'stolen' her daughter, and Wynonna is spying on Grace because she wants her back home."

After Naomi Judd's death in 2022, rumors circled that Wynonna and Ashley were in another feud — this time, fighting over their mother's will. Speaking with People, Wynonna settled the gossip, saying, "Fighting over what? I have such a great life. Ashley has a great life. Why would we be fighting over the will?" Given the sisters' volatile relationship, no one would've been surprised if they were quarreling yet again.

Her relationship with Dario Franchitti ended in divorce

In 1999, Ashley Judd met Scottish motor-racing driver Dario Franchitti at a mutual friend's wedding. They hit it off and dated for a couple of years, tying the knot in Scotland in 2001. Judd and Franchitti seemed like the perfect couple and were supportive of each other's accomplishments, with the "Someone Like You" actor attending several of her husband's races. But despite their seemingly perfect relationship, the couple announced in January 2013 that they were splitting up.

They released a statement that read, "We have mutually decided to end our marriage. We'll always be family and continue to cherish our relationship based on the special love, integrity, and respect we have always enjoyed" (via People). Little was known publicly about what sparked this decision, but it seemed like they might have put splitting up on hold in October 2013, when Franchitti was in a near-fatal accident that ended his racing career. He fractured his spine and ankle and suffered a concussion when his car went flying and crashed into fencing on the last leg of a race. Judd rushed to be with him at the hospital and many speculated that they would perhaps stay together, but Franchitti ended up remarrying in 2015.

In 2014, Judd spoke with Us Weekly about her relationship with him, saying, "He'll always be my loved one ... We're family, and this is what family looks like." She became a godmother to Franchitti's child in 2019.

She checked into rehab for behavioral addictions

It wasn't until Ashley Judd visited her sister Wynonna at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center, where she was receiving treatment for compulsive eating disorder, that Judd realized she needed help, too. During family week at the center in Texas, counselors approached the "Bug" star and extended an invitation to stay. In a 2006 interview with Glamour, Judd explained what she received help for during her 47-day stay. "Codependence in my relationships; depression; blaming, raging, numbing, denying and minimizing my feelings. But because my addictions were behavioral, not chemical, I wouldn't have known to seek treatment. At Shades of Hope, my behaviors were treated like addictions."

There had been several traumas in Judd's life already, and as she said in the interview, "I was clinically depressed at the age of 8." In her memoir, Judd wrote about the extent of her depression throughout adolescence, saying she began playing with her mother's gun as a teenager and holding it to her own head. Throughout her time at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center, the actor learned to cope with many of her childhood grievances while at the treatment center and dug up repressed memories of her sexual abuse.

Judd explained that the most profound lesson she learned during this time was, "In order to stay healthy, I have to feel all my feelings instead of numbing myself to them — and actually, when I allow myself to do that, they pass more quickly."

She's a survivor of sexual assault

Ashley Judd has often been vocal about her past traumas, including the several sexual assaults she has survived. During Tina Brown's 10th annual Women in the World Summit in 2019, the "High Crimes" star spoke in favor of abortion rights. "I'm a three-time rape survivor. And one of the times I was raped, there was conception, and I'm very thankful I was able to access safe and legal abortion. Because ... I would have had to co-parent with a rapist," she explained (via E! News).

While speaking on the "Healing with David Kessler" podcast, Judd spoke about forgiving her rapist. "We ended up in rocking chairs sitting by a creek together, and I said, 'I'm very interested in hearing the story you've carried all these years.' And we had a restorative justice conversation about that."

There were other instances Judd has spoken about in her memoir, including being raped at 15 years old while working as a model in Japan, and another instance where her upstairs neighbor forced himself on her. The fact that she endured sexual assault this many times would give her plenty of reason to seclude herself, but she has instead used her platform to speak out about the ordeals and raised awareness around the topic.

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).

Ashley Judd was a victim of Harvey Weinstein

After the #MeToo movement exploded in 2017, Ashley Judd came forward to The New York Times about her experience with Harvey Weinstein. She detailed that 20 years prior, the film producer invited her for a breakfast meeting at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. She soon realized it was a front, because when Judd was sent up to his room, he wore only a robe and requested a massage from the actor.

She declined to massage him, to watch him shower, and refused to let him massage her. "I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask. It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining," Judd recalled. The "Twisted" actor managed to excuse herself, but was concerned about what it would mean for her career.

A couple of months after Judd came forward with her story, Peter Jackson revealed that he had blacklisted her after receiving intel from Miramax that she was difficult to work with, and she lost a potential role in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Jackson told The Guardian, "At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us. But in hindsight, I realize that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing. I now suspect we were fed false information ... "

She almost lost her leg in a catastrophic accident

While in Congo for a research project in February 2021, Ashley Judd suffered a horrific accident that nearly killed her. Speaking in an Instagram Live, she said, "There was a fallen tree on the path which I didn't see and I had a very powerful stride going and I just fell over this tree. As I was breaking my leg, I knew it was being broken" (via The Hollywood Reporter). She described the next two days as "harrowing," saying she spent five hours on the forest floor with her broken leg, biting a stick due to the pain.

Because there were no ambulances, Judd was transported to the hospital in South Africa via motorbike, and she had to hold her broken tibia in place during the entirety of the grueling six-hour journey. On the "Sex, Body, and Soul" podcast with Kate Roberts, the "Divergent" actor described the "catastrophic accident." She said, "When I got to South Africa, my leg didn't have a pulse, and I was hemorrhaging, and if I had been medevaced to Europe, I would have bled to death."

A month after her accident, Judd shared an update on her recovery in an Instagram post. She thanked the people who helped her and described the difficult healing process. Part of the caption read, "To all who have gone before me and walk beside me with physical therapy, I had no idea. Thank you."

Ashley Judd dealt with online harassment

Like many women, especially famous women, Ashley Judd has been the subject of misogynistic online harassment. In 2015, she tweeted support of her team, the Kentucky Wildcats, during March Madness. She quickly became the target of abusive language, and it led her to pen an article for Mic. "I routinely cope with tweets that sexualize, objectify, insult, degrade and even physically threaten me," Judd wrote. She added, "But this particular tsunami of gender-based violence and misogyny flooding my Twitter feed was overwhelming."

In 2016, the actor gave a TED Talk about the online abuse women receive, drawing from her own experiences to demonstrate just how harmful the harassment can be. She opened the talk with some of the comments she's seen online about herself: "I wish Ashley Judd would die a horrible death. She is the absolute worst. Ashley Judd, you're the reason women shouldn't vote. ... Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends." The cold open was impactful and made room for Judd to delve into the ramifications of the online harassment of women.

Judd is far from the first or last female celebrity to receive hateful, violent, and sexist messages online. However, it pushed her to advocate for those who don't have the ability or platform to speak up for themselves as easily, and she's become a modern feminist icon in doing so.

Her political career never took off

Despite being born in California, Ashley Judd has a deep devotion to the state of Kentucky, as her family moved to Ashland when she was young. Today, she's an established activist and humanitarian, and the actor has time and again stood up for what she believes in. In 2013, it was her passion for making a difference that led her to consider a run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

As a liberal candidate, Judd intended to oppose Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. While she may have made a compelling case for herself, she ultimately didn't receive the Democratic backing she needed. The "Big Stone Gap" actor was deemed too liberal and inexperienced for the position in Kentucky, and her celebrity status was seen as a potential Achilles' heel.

In March 2013, Judd announced that she was dropping out of consideration on Twitter, stating, "After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities and energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate" (via USA Today). Although her political aspirations are as of yet unfulfilled, we're sure Judd will continue to make a difference in her humanitarian efforts.

Her support dog died in 2017

Ashley Judd is a known animal lover and, during an interview with "Nightline" in 2012, she insisted that her two dogs and five cats be present because "it just adds to quality of life." One of her dogs at the time was Shug, a cocker spaniel-poodle mix, who served as her "psychological support" animal. Judd brought Shug with her everywhere, from film festivals to set, as she says her pup helped her cope with depression.

Sadly, Shug died in 2017 at the ripe old age of 17. In 2019, Judd told Christian Post an anecdote about how her pup saved a man's life. The actor explained that she had been at the airport when Shug suddenly ran across the terminal toward a man who had been writing in his notebook. He later revealed that he was writing his suicide note when Shug ran up to him and reminded him of his worth. 

"Today, he's in recovery and still sends me texts, updating me on his health," Judd said. She added, "Dogs practice presence. They love us exactly as we are. Sometimes, that's all we need; just sitting with someone and letting our empathy flow is the greatest helpfulness."

Ashley Judd's mother died by suicide

On April 30, 2022, country music icon Naomi Judd died by suicide, leaving behind both of her daughters and her husband. Speaking with "Good Morning America" the following month, Ashley Judd said that she had been elected by her family to speak on her mother's death. "I'm tasked with an exceedingly difficult task in disclosing the manner of the way my mother chose not to continue to live," she said (via YouTube). Judd explained that a "firearm" was used and made it clear that the only reason she and her family offered up this information was so they could be in control of the narrative. The actor then revealed that she had been the one to discover her mother after she had died, stating, "I have both grief and trauma from discovering her."

After some time had passed, Judd spoke about her late mother on "Healing with David Kessler": "I look back on my childhood and I realize I grew up with a mom who had an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness." She added, "[I] can, today, understand that she was absolutely doing the best that she could, and if she could have done it differently, she would have." Since Naomi's death, Judd has been open about her grief and how she's learned to cope with the loss.

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