Although she’s known for being a 90s movie star, a philanthropist, and one of the first women to speak out against Harvey Weinstein, it’s safe to say that not many of us are fully aware of all of the insane ins and outs of Ashley Judd’s wild and painful life. This daughter of a country music legend has experienced enough drama to fill several country playlists: fast cars, passionate romances, family feuds, injuries, and Elvis’s entourage? Phew! It’s time to take a deep breath and saddle up for the mind-blowing trajectory of Ashley Judd’s life.
In an uncanny bit of foreshadowing, Ashley Judd was an outsider from the very moment she was born. See, she was born in Los Angeles in 1968. However, both her mother Naomi and half-sister Wynonna, AKA iconic country music duo the Judds, were born in Ashland, Kentucky. This discrepancy marked the beginning of a soul-crushing pattern of exclusion that has lasted for much of Ashley’s life.
Ashley can pinpoint the exact heartbreaking moment she realized she wasn’t part of team Naomi and Wynonna. She was very young and "You’re So Vain" came on the radio. She started singing it with joyous abandon while Naomi and Wynonna laughed and egged her on. Unfortunately, the budding songstress came to a crushing realization…
As Ashley was belting out the kitchen concert of a lifetime, she suddenly realized that her mother and sister weren’t laughing with her, they were laughing at her. Ouch. The crushing incident stuck with her so much that she even mentioned it in her memoir. She claimed, even years later, that it broke her spirit and she never sang again.
Sadly, Ashley’s pain was only just beginning.
You know life is off to a bad start when one of your earliest memories involves your world crumbling to pieces. Ashley would often escape to the backyard to avoid her parents’ constant fights. One time, when she was only three, her father came out and kneeled in front of her with a grave look in his eye. You just know what comes next isn’t going to be good...
Ashley’s father told his little girl that he had come to say goodbye because he was moving out—for good. She describes feeling like there was "a silent hole opening in my young life". The divorce was not only tough on Ashley, though. Naomi was now a single mom who needed to make ends meet asap. At this point, Naomi’s dreams of stardom were still just that—dreams. But everything would soon change for this broken family.
Naomi Judd wasn’t going to let a divorce slow her down one bit—she was only in her early 20s, after all. Her hopes of breaking into showbiz led her to a job as a receptionist at a production company. It was a start, but they weren't out of the woods yet. Judd's mother said the family was "a paycheck away from the streets every night". It didn’t help matters at all when Naomi’s new boyfriend, a wannabe actor, moved in.
It’s normal for children to reject a new man in the house, but what was not normal was how horrifically Naomi’s new beau behaved. Not only was he an addict with a rap sheet, but according to Judd herself, he would also "knock us girls around". Once, he even threw Wynonna up the stairs. Finally, it all became too much for Judd’s mother to bear.
Much to Ashley and Wynonna’s relief, Naomi finally gave her actor boyfriend the ol’ heave-ho. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last they saw of him. One night, he broke into their house and attacked Naomi, and then passed out in a stupor. Bruised, battered, and petrified, Naomi grabbed her girls and raced to the sheriff. If only this was the end of Ashley’s woes.
To escape the lingering anguish caused by her failed relationship, Naomi moved the family back to her native Kentucky. Ashley calls this the beginning of their vagabond years, explaining that her mom was a dreamer who was never satisfied to stay in one place. In fact, between the ages of five and 18, Ashley would attend a whopping 13 schools. She describes this time as being filled with "mayhem and uncertainty"—and it only got worse.
Having a routine helps children feel safe, and let’s just say that Ashley did not grow up with that luxury. Her family bounced around like tumbleweed from LA to Kentucky to California and back again. Ashley often had to fend for herself while her mother left her alone for days at a time. Sometimes Naomi passed her off to relatives or left her at the mercy of complete strangers, which did not go well…
The year 1984 has ominous connotations for many, but for Ashley Judd, it was positively spine-chilling. During the summer of that year, teenaged Judd had to endure it as a family member snuck into her bedroom at every opportunity and took advantage of her. Her childhood had simply been one nightmare after another. It’s hard to believe it could get worse—but sadly, it could. And it did.
While 1984 marked the nadir of Ashley’s suffering (thus far), it was also when Naomi and Wynonna began topping the charts with their first hit single as the Judds. According to their former manager, the two were constantly at each other’s throats. They would make light of it by famously saying they put the "fun" in dysfunction, but Ashley admitted to wondering who exactly was having all the fun...
Speaking of "fun" in the 80s, that was also when Ashley’s mother started dating Elvis’s backup vocalist, Larry Strickland—and boy were they in lust. Their house had extremely thin walls, forcing Judd to live with a "horrific reality". She had to listen to Larry and her mother frequently getting it on at ear-shattering levels. Thankfully, she wouldn’t be at home much longer.
Ashley was her mother’s daughter in at least one way—her insatiable hunger for stardom. After she graduated from the University of Kentucky, it was time to plunge into the real world—alone as usual. The aspiring actress packed up her car and drove to Hollywood where she became a restaurant hostess. Don’t worry, though: This is where the cliche ends.
Ashley’s winning combo of beauty, brains, talent, and name recognition saved her from the depressing fate of many wannabe starlets. She may have started out with a humble two-episode stint on Star Trek: TNG in 1991, but before long she was starring in blockbusters like Heat and a Time to Kill. She was making her mark—in more ways than one.
At the 1998 Oscars, Ashley Judd had an eye-popping wardrobe malfunction during the awards show broadcast. As she strutted onto the stage to present an award, her lack of underwear combined with the sky-high slit in her Richard Tyler gown gave audiences around the world an eyeful with every step. Oops.
If you pull up Ashley Judd’s IMDb page, you might notice that her oeuvre is not as impressive as some of her peers. We can all agree that she had the whole package and was off to an incredible start, so we’re left wondering how and where her career went off the rails. Well, in 2015, answers finally started coming to light. And strangely enough, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson would play a key role in the revelations.
In a move that must have taken a massive amount of courage, Ashley Judd spoke out in 2015 about how "one of the industry’s most famous, admired-slash-reviled bosses" harassed her during the time of Kiss the Girls (1997). Although we now know who she was referring to, at the time, she was one of the first to put a crack in the floodgates regarding the disgraced mogul’s abominable behavior.
Despite her dark past, Ashley was not going to be a victim this time. She bravely recounted how she had rejected a bathrobe-clad Harvey Weinstein’s hotel-room advances in 1997. However, her career paid the price, big time, ever since that fateful evening. This is where Peter Jackson comes in—with receipts.
Peter recounted that in the late 90s, Weinstein dissuaded him from casting Ashley in Lord of the Rings because she was a "nightmare" to work with. This led to Peter removing her from consideration for what could have been the role of a lifetime, likely Arwen or Galadriel. To say Ashley was angry about this revelation would be a massive understatement.
In 2001, when the Weinstein incident was still a painful secret locked deep in Ashley’s psyche, she married the dashing Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti at an exclusive castle in Scotland. At the star-studded, $750,000 shindig, the groom rocked a kilt and Ashley enchanted in a backless Armani gown. All was right with the world…at least for now.
It’s typical for most newlyweds to get questions about the pitter-patter of little feet. When it comes to Ashley Judd, however, her answer to this intrusive question was a resounding "never". In 2006, the opinionated actress said, "It’s unconscionable to breed with the number of children who are starving … in impoverished countries".
That said, there was a dark period in her past when she wasn’t exactly childless by choice.
This passionate humanitarian goes to great lengths to support many causes, including advocating for the reproductive rights of women and girls. At one summit, she shared that she had become pregnant after a non-consensual encounter. She went on to say that if she hadn’t been able to access a lawful abortion, she would have had to co-parent with her attacker because of the paternity rights in Kentucky. Welp.
Even though, from a distance, Ashley Judd appeared to have her life together, by 2006 she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was sad enough that her sister Wynonna was suffering from food addiction. Then, when Ashley was visiting Wynonna at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center, the center’s councilors approached her with an interesting proposition…
In a scene that must have required great diplomacy, the counselors at Shades of Hope approached Ashley saying, "No one ever does an intervention on people like you. You look too good". They explained that Ashley likely needed help because she and Wynonna shared the same family wounds. Needless to say, everyone certainly had their work cut out for them. The floodgates were about to open.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll likely agree that Ashley had a lot to unpack at Shades of Hope. Her 47-day stay could not have been a walk in the park as she worked through her depression, anxiety, and codependency, while also uncovering repressed memories of maltreatment. This is the time when she started writing her powerful 2011 memoir All That is Bitter and Sweet.
Little did she know that she’d soon have much more material to fill those "bitter" sections of the book…
Naomi Judd had her own share of secrets—and she didn’t know that her daughter Ashley knew about one of the whoppers. While still in high school, Naomi became pregnant after a non-consensual encounter. When she told her assailant, he left her on her own. What was the resourceful teenaged Naomi to do?
Naomi quickly found another man and rushed him to the altar: Michael Ciminella. He raised Wynonna as his own, and soon, he and Naomi had another daughter, Ashley. Naomi never told the girls, and Wynona grew up thinking Ciminella was her real father. The eventual revelation was incredibly painful for Wynonna. And to make matters worse, Ashley revealed that she had discovered the truth years earlier, but didn’t consider it her place to speak up.
Of course, all sisters have squabbles, but to not invite your own half-sister to your wedding seems a little harsh—especially when she lives on the same farm as you. Sheesh. Alas, this is exactly what happened when Wynonna married in 2012, and Ashley didn't make the guest list. Ostensibly, Wynonna said her self-esteem would have suffered because Ashley would have been constantly adjusting her dress.
However, it was more likely that she was still smarting from the revelations in Ashley’s memoir that came out the year before.
As Wynonna’s latest marriage was just beginning, Ashley’s was ending. In January 2013, well before Gwyneth popularized "conscious uncoupling," Ashley and her husband Dario announced that they had mutually decided to end their 11-year marriage. The lovey-dovey statement included a promise that they would continue to cherish their relationship "based on the special love, integrity, and respect that we have always enjoyed".
Well, a dramatic accident was about to put this declaration to the test.
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and in Ashley’s case, it took Dario’s terrifying IndyCar crash for her to realize that she still loved him. As soon as she heard about his near-fatal accident, she rushed to comfort him. Although they gave their relationship another try, it was not to be. The love and respect remained, however.
If only we could say the same about Ashley and Wynonna’s relationship.
It’s pretty clear that Ashley and Wynonna Judd's sisterly bond was not as strong as it could be, and the turbulent events of 2013 definitely did not help matters. Imagine how gutted Wynonna would feel when the courts gave younger, childless Ashley temporary custody of her teenage daughter Grace. To add insult to injury, Wynonna’s wild child accused her mother of "pill-popping and boozing". Yikes.
If the wedding snub was bad, then this was a whole new level of drama.
Auto mechanics seldom have good news and the same applies in this sticky situation. To her utter shock, Ashley’s mechanic found a GPS tracker inside her Mini Cooper. Talk about creepy. Even though Ashley had her theories about who did it, she reported the incident to law enforcement. That turned out to be a huge mistake. It just made the entire mess even worse—for both expected and unexpected reasons...
Brace yourself, this bus ride is going to get bumpy, with everyone throwing each other under it. Ashley told law enforcement that she believed Wynonna secretly placed the tracker on her car—and she was right. Law enforcement traced the device back to Wynonna’s private detective. Apparently, the momma bear just wanted to keep tabs on Grace while she was in Ashley’s custody.
To make matters even messier, someone leaked this story to the media. Oh, I'm sure that's going to go great...
We wouldn't even know about the whole tracker incident if someone hadn’t leaked it to the press. Ashley slammed the department for leaking the report, saying, "A very fine career detective has been suspended for a moment of poor judgment for succumbing to media invasiveness [sic]". You can say many things about Ashley Judd, but she’s not afraid to speak up when someone has wronged her. Just you wait…
Even though she’d been put on People magazine’s most beautiful list three times, this was not the type of attention about her appearance she was used to. After a 2012 TV interview, social media went into a frenzy of cruel speculation about Ashley’s puffier-than-normal face—and she fired back at the trolls with an explosive retort.
Instead of ignoring the speculation, Ashley addressed it in an essay. She used her big Harvard words (she earned an MPA there in 2010) to describe just how misogynistic the internet trolls were. She also called out society’s abnormal obsession with women’s bodies, and she pointed out that women frequently shame other women.
Too bad this would not be the last time she had to deal with online hate.
Sometimes it’s even worse when the media hate comes from your kin. In 2013, when Ashley was considering running for the US Senate, her mother told Piers Morgan that "she is not as smart as she acts". Boom. If that’s not bad enough, Ashley was the focus of a political attack ad to discourage her from running. Shortly thereafter she decided to drop out of the race—but she would not let anyone silence her.
In 2020, a video of Ashley supporting Elizabeth Warren went viral for all the wrong reasons—mainly her looks. One person tweeted that Ashley looked like someone who’s allergic to nuts and chocolate but could not resist that Snickers bar. Dang. Even actor Dean Cain waded into the mess. Fear not, though: As always, Ashley had an epic clapback…
Again Ashley fired back with an erudite essay slamming the patriarchy and calling out the "misogynistic savages". In explanation, she said that she had gained some weight and does indeed get Botox to treat chronic migraines. She encouraged women to speak up, saying, "The slings and arrows will come, but your voice and the body from which it comes is beautiful, courageous, powerful, and necessary".
Airports are never fun, but for one traveler, the experience was almost tragic. In a story that sounds like it belongs in the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ashley and her emotional support dog Shug were getting off a flight when her dog bolted toward a lone man who was hunched over writing something. Ashley gathered her dog and made some small talk before walking away thinking that was the end of it. It was not.
A short time later, Ashley and Shug were still in the airport when the man from earlier approached her. He asked if he could show her what he was writing and explained that it was a note about ending his life. He then said that Shug’s presence reminded him of his value. Surprisingly they ended up on the same flight and Ashley convinced the man to seek treatment the very next day. Sadly, savior Shug only had a short time left.
Grab those tissues…Ashley had to face yet another round of heartbreak when her dog Shug passed at the age of 17. Shug had been her constant companion over the years and even appears in many of her press photos. In addition to helping her deal with depression, Ashley said that Shug taught her that sometimes "we simply need someone to be present and love us unconditionally".
Unfortunately, this animal lover’s dedication to other furry friends would soon land her in grave danger.
While trying to protect endangered primates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of her many philanthropic endeavors, Judd endangered her own life in an agonizing 55-hour ordeal. It all started when she was walking through an extremely remote part of the rainforest on a nighttime research mission. Suddenly, disaster struck.
Judd tripped on a fallen tree and went down hard. Her leg shattered, damaging nerves and causing internal bleeding. She lay on the rainforest floor for five hours writhing in agony, waiting for rescuers to find her. "I bit a stick, I screamed, I howled, I convulsed. I never did pass out—I wished that I could". Yet even when her rescuers arrived, Judd's ordeal was far from over.
Judd says she was like a wild animal as one of the Congolese men calmly tried to manipulate her broken bones into a safe position for travel. For the next part of the journey, they had to carry her in a crude hammock over rough terrain to the nearest means of transportation—but she still had a long, painful journey ahead of her before she'd get the treatment she needed.
Judd's caregivers then lifted her out of the hammock and placed her into an ambulance? Wrong! The only mode of transportation available was...a motorcycle. Eek! Don’t worry, the next leg of the journey was only six hours. Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the road was extremely rutted and Judd had to sit backward on the seat leaning against the driver. Another man sat facing her while he tried to hold her leg still.
After the wild motorcycle ride, Judd still had to spend a nerve-racking night in a hut before she could get on a flight to Kinshasa. From there she traveled to South Africa where she would finally arrive in the ICU. By this time, her leg didn’t have a pulse and she was hemorrhaging. She was out of the woods, but still in trouble.
After spending nine days in the hospital in South Africa, pilots Medevaced Judd to Tennessee. She is extremely grateful for the help she received from everyone. "Without my Congolese brothers and sisters, my internal bleeding would have likely killed me, and I would have lost my leg". She also credited her meditation practice with helping to give her "a certain grace" during the agonizing ordeal. However, one big question remained.
Talk about a comeback queen. The notion that she might not walk again terrified Ashley, but she blew the doctors away when, after five months and three weeks of grueling recovery, she took her first unassisted steps...for an hour in the Swiss Alps, no less. She said that her rapid progress was unheard of. We think it’s pretty incredible—but from Ashley Judd, we'd expect no less.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to email@example.com. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: