Ashley Judd reveals mother Naomi Judd's cause of death

Staff reporters

Ashley Judd revealed that her mother, Naomi Judd, died by suicide on April 30, she told Diane Sawyer in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" that aired Thursday.

"The size of the loss is the size of the love," noted Sawyer, early in her pre-taped conversation with Judd. Judd referred to her mother's mental condition prior to her "choosing to not continue to live" as related to a "catastrophe going on inside of her."

"Sister and Pop deputized me in certain ways to speak on behalf of the family at this early time before details about the 30th of April become public ("a part of the gossip economy") and are out of our control — whether it's the autopsy or the exact manner of her death. That is the impetus for this, otherwise, it's way too soon."

Ashley Judd said mother Naomi “used a firearm.”

“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,” she said.

"My mother knew that she was seen and she was heard in her anguish. And that she was walked home," stated a distraught Judd.

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Ashley Judd is revealing mother Naomi Judd's cause of death on April 30.

On the day of Naomi Judd's death, Ashley Judd said she was there visiting with her mother. 

“Mom said to me, ‘Will you stay with me?’ And I said, ‘Of course I will,’” Judd said. Sometime later, Judd went outside to bring in a friend of her mother’s who had arrived. “I went upstairs to let her know that the friend was there and I discovered her.”

Wynonna Judd also shared via a note Ashley read on air that she would "need some time to process (her mother's death)." She added that she was not yet ready to publicly speak about what happened and that she "just (couldn't) believe she's gone."

The sisters previously said they "lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness."

"We are shattered," they said in a tweet on May 1. "We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory."

Suicides accounted for more than half of the 45,222 U.S. gun deaths in 2020 – 24,292, according to analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

One day after her death as The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Wynonna Judd addressed the passing of her mother. 

During The Judds' May 1 Country Music Hall of Fame induction, Wynonna Judd said her mother died at 2:20 p.m. on April 30, and that she kissed her mother "on the forehead and walked away." She also stated that the last act she and her sister Ashley and unnamed other family members did together was praying the Bible's 23rd Psalm. 

Ashley Judd, left, cries, as she speaks as sister Wynonna Judd, watches during the Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

'My heart is broken':Wynonna Judd tearfully honors Naomi Judd at Country Music Hall of Fame induction

Ashley and Wynonna's statement:What it said about their mother Naomi Judd's death, and what it did not

"It's a strange dynamic to be this broken and this blessed … But though my heart is broken, I will continue to sing," she said.

In 2016, Naomi opened up about her battle with depression, telling "GMA" in an interview that she had been diagnosed with severe depression and had spent time in psychiatric hospitals. She said she was confronting lingering issues from her childhood as part of her therapy, including being molested by a relative when she was 3. 

In her book, "River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged With Hope," Naomi Judd wrote about experiencing the "boulder-like weight of my severe treatment-resistant depression and terrifying panic attacks."

“She was very isolated in many ways because of the disease,” Ashley Judd said of her mother in Thursday's "GMA" interview. “And yet there were a lot of people who showed up for her over the years, not just me."

She continued: “When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important and — to be clear, and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” she added. “It’s very real — and it’s enough to — it lies. It’s savage.”

The Judds achieved 14 No. 1 hits over three decades, splitting as a performing act in 1991 after doctors diagnosed Naomi Judd with hepatitis. Between 1984 and 1991 alone, the Judds had 20 Top Ten hits, and tallied five Grammys, nine CMA Awards, and seven ACM Awards.

Since arriving in Music City in 1979, Naomi Judd — and her family — were foundational staples of country music's continued pop evolution through the 1980s and beyond.

Ashley Judd, in her own words:Honor my mother, Naomi Judd, and her legacy by making motherhood safe and healthy

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. 

Contributing: Marcus K. Dowling, The Nashville Tennessean; Melissa Ruggieri, Ryan Miller, USA TODAY; Steven Petrow, columnist