While her famous mother and sister have written autobiographies of their own, film star Ashley Judd’s memoir tells a different story — one filled with early-life horrors of being neglected, then emotionally and sexually abused.
Judd’s just-released “All That Is Bitter and Sweet” includes stories from the “Kiss the Girls” star’s painful childhood, including being left alone while mom Naomi and sister Wynonna sought fame and fortune as the singing team The Judds. The memoir includes eye-opening accounts of Judd’s being molested as a young girl and family members not believing her story. The 42-year-old Judd also writes that mom Naomi tried to turn her daughter against her dad, Michael Ciminella, following their divorce. Her mother’s volatile relationships with men were traumatizing for Judd, as she was witness to inappropriate sexual behavior and even saw her mom pull a gun on one man.
Appearing live with Meredith Vieira on TODAY Tuesday, Judd said that the goal of her book was to explain the humanitarian work she does for numerous charitable organizations around the globe, but believes she needed to divulge her own backstory in the process. And in her family story, she and her mother have come to an understanding.
“First of all, my mother loves and adores me and my dad absolutely loves and adores me; they did then, and they do now,” Judd told Vieira. “We came from a dysfunctional family system that didn't work very well. So 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.”
In her book, Judd recalls being in middle school when her mom started dating her current husband, Larry Strickland, and writes about the ways that relationship affected her.
“Mom and pop were wildly sexually inappropriate in front of my sister and me ... a horrific reality for me was that when pop was around I would have to listen to a lot of loud sex in a house with thin walls... I now know this situation is called covert sexual abuse,” she writes.
While Judd’s written revelations have raised eyebrows, Naomi Judd issued a statement to TODAY saying, “I love my daughter. I hope her book does well.” Judd told Vieira she appreciates the words of support, even though some stories in the book don't shine a positive light on her mother.
“I’m very grateful for my mother’s exquisitely gracious attitude toward my right to share my narrative,” she said. “You know, the book is very honest [but] it’s not necessarily accurate, because everyone in my family has their own perspective and their own experiences. But it’s very true for me.”
Judd’s 2006 stay at Shades of Hope recovery center in Texas, where she sought help to beat depression, was a catalyst for writing the book and coming to terms with her childhood. Despite stepping out of her famous family members’ shadow and becoming a star in her own right, Judd told Vieira she “was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
“I just didn’t know quite what was wrong with me,” she said. “I looked really good on the outside [but] I had a lot of anxiety and insomnia, and I realized eventually that I was really powerless over my childhood, and the coping strategies that I developed had made my adult life unmanageable.”
In therapy, Judd uncovered repressed memories of being sexually abused by a family member (she doesn’t name the person in the book), and also circumstances that led her to consider suicide before she was even in her teens. Judd writes about playing with her mother’s gun as a child — loading the bullets into the chamber and holding it to her head.
“.... I took to playing with mom’s gun, trying to decide if it would be worth it to shoot myself ...” she wrote. “There were many days after school ... I would expertly check the chamber, load bullets, give it a spin and with a jerk of my wrist click the chamber into place, cock the trigger and then hold then gun to my right temple. To me, the way my family lived was already killing me.”
In addition, Judd writes about being raped while she was a 15-year-old model working in Japan. “There was a creepy Frenchman who hung out at the bar ... He offered me a ride home ... I was so young and confused that I had no idea that what followed was rape.”
And that wasn’t the only painful sexual experience she had while modeling. “An adult male model who lived above me ... attempted to force me to perform oral sex on him, and I was able to persuade him to stop...” she writes.
But Judd told Vieira that she got over the emotional upheaval, and made peace with the past.
“You know, it’s too late to go back and have a happy childhood, but by the grace of God and you know, a pretty simple program of recovery and fellowship, life is good today,” she said.
As far as the headline-making revelations in the book, Judd admits she’s “really powerless over what the media does with it.” But she hopes readers understand the place she was coming from in telling her story — which was hearing the horror stories of women in impoverished countries around the globe as part of the process of her humanitarian work.
“I began visiting brothels and slums and forcibly displaced persons’ camps, and I wanted to share with the world the stories that, however improbably, were entrusted to me. I didn’t know where to put it, like I didn’t have a place in my brain or in my heart, so I started putting it on the page.
“I was really encouraged by people I trust to include some of my own story, because why I love [humanitarian] work really baffled people, and so I eventually got willing to put it in there.”