Actress and activist Ashley Judd penned an op-ed, titled “The Right to Keep Private Pain Private,” on Aug. 31 in The New York Times explaining how the legal aftermath following the suicide of her mother, country star Naomi Judd, made Ashley feel like a suspect, and forced her to call for change to help other families impacted by a loved one’s death.
Naomi Judd’s death at her home in Tennessee on April 30, just one day before she and daughter Wynonna Judd were set to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, drew intense national media attention as to the cause of her death.
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Ashley recalled her personal trauma of finding her mother in the home, saying “discovering and then holding her laboring body haunts my nights.”
“Naomi lost a long battle against an unrelenting foe that in the end was too powerful to be defeated. I could not help her,” she continued. “I can, however, do something about how she is remembered. And now that I know from bitter experience the pain inflicted on families that have had a loved one die by suicide, I intend to make the subsequent invasion of privacy — the deceased person’s privacy and the family’s privacy — a personal as well as a legal cause.”
Ashley also recounted undergoing a series of four interviews with law enforcement officials on the day her mother died, noting that the police “were simply following terrible, outdated interview procedures and methods of interacting with family members who are in shock or trauma and that the individuals in my mother’s bedroom that harrowing day were not bad or wrong. I assume they did as they were taught. It is now well known that law enforcement personnel should be trained in how to respond to and investigate cases involving trauma, but the men who were present left us feeling stripped of any sensitive boundary, interrogated and, in my case, as if I was a possible suspect in my mother’s suicide.”
On Aug. 12, a petition was filed on behalf of the Judd family, including Naomi’s husband Larry Stickland, as well as Naomi’s daughters Ashley and Wynonna, to seal the death investigation report.
“This profoundly intimate personal and medical information does not belong in the press, on the internet or anywhere except in our memories,” Ashley wrote in the op-ed.
The activist also expressed “deep compassion” for the late Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant, writing, “We feel deep compassion for Vanessa Bryant and all families that have had to endure the anguish of a leaked or legal public release of the most intimate, raw details surrounding a death. The raw details are used only to feed a craven gossip economy, and as we cannot count on basic human decency, we need laws that will compel that restraint.”
Bryant was recently awarded $16 million following a trial that centered on leaked photos of the plane crash that took the life of the NBA legend in January 2020.
After the op-ed was published on Aug. 31, Ashley’s sister and country music star Wynonna Judd shared the op-ed on social media, stating, “My sister has written an op-Ed for the @nytimes. WELL DONE, @ashley_judd. I STAND BESIDE YOU AND WITH YOU IN THIS.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for free, confidential support 24/7.