Naomi Judd was a phenomenal singer whose music topped the charts and earned her awards. She was also a doting mother, forming the "The Judd" singing band with her daughter. However, before the story of the enormous successes, she had a bad deal with men— inside her marriage.
Naomi Judd forever remains the iconic singer who brought glory to country music following her 1983 creation of a family band, "The Judd." It included her and Wynonna, the singer's firstborn daughter.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the duo dominated the music charts. The women were set to receive the highest honors in the CMA following their induction into the Hall of Fame decades later.
Naomi Judd at the 2011 Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, NV. | Source: Getty Images
Unfortunately, Naomi did not make it because she committed suicide a day before the event. This was a heavy blow to the music industry and devastating to her surviving daughters, Wynonna and Ashley.
The women attended the event and accepted the honor in place of their mother. Later on, they revealed via a tweet that their mother died after suffering from mental illness.
Although the sisters failed to specify the cause of death or time, they mentioned that they were "shattered" and "navigating profound grief."
Naomi Judd during "Varney & Co" at Fox News Channel Studios on December 8, 2017 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
For a long time, Wynonna, the eldest of the duo, dealt with depression, like her mother. Thankfully, she came out of it. One of the reasons Wynonna's mental health declined was because her mother denied her the truth until she was 30.
Naomi's daughters were born to two different dads; even though Ashley knew this, her older sister did not. So who Wynonna thought was her dad was a stepdad.
Mother and daughter tried to patch things up and maintain a close relationship with her offspring despite the secrecy. The mother-daughter connection was not the only relationship she shared; Naomi had a good marriage after years of being "ripped out and stomped on by men."
NAOMI'S HIGH SCHOOL ROMANCE THAT LED TO PREGNANCY AND MARRIAGE
Naomi Judd during 29th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images
As a teenager, Naomi was involved in a romance with a fellow schoolmate, Charles Jordan, who played football. Their relationship led to pregnancy, but he abandoned her, so she married another classmate, Michael Ciminella, in 1964.
Wynonna was born in 1964, and she took up the Ciminella name. The young mother's rush into marriage bought her a happy home that lasted for a short time.
The couple moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles in 1968, when they welcomed their first child, and four years later, they divorced.
Mother and daughter C/W duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd singing in concert. | Source: Getty Images
This made Naomi a single mother to two kids. However, the family pushed through the trial times and eventually became a strong force in the music industry when "The Judd" was formed.
Wynonna believed that Ciminella was her dad throughout this time until the 1990s. Ciminella, a retired businessman who founded the "Ashland Aluminum Co," died in Kentucky. Before his demise, he revealed in a 1995 interview that he was not the biological father of Wynonna.
When she realized the truth, the younger singer was heartbroken. While recounting the experience, she confessed that:
"I had a choice. I had to decide whether I was better or bitter."
Naomi Judd poses for a portrait in 2005 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
Wynonna's birth father had a son with another woman, and he died in 2000. She explained that she wanted a reunion before his demise. The lie was a bitter pill for the younger singer, and even though it was impossible to change the past, she admitted to being deeply hurt. In her words:
"You know, I go from heaven to hell in an instant, and it's just part of breathing."
NAOMI'S HARD LIFE AS A SINGLE MOM
Singer Naomi Judd visits Hallmark's "Home & Family" at Universal Studios Hollywood on March 30, 2018 in Universal City, California. | Source: Getty Images
Naomi was 22 years old when her marriage ended with Ciminella, and She had two kids to cater to in a new city: she was new to Los Angeles and had only been away from Kentucky twice.
Life was unbelievably hard for a while, they lived on food stamps in a small home, and the mother-of-two struggled to nurture her kids. She worked several jobs. First as a receptionist and later as a secretary in the same company. Then she worked as a nurse and waitress.
In her memoir, "River of Time," the mother of two wrote: "Most of our lives, it was just the three of us. After school, we did homework and laundry… I'd buy groceries with food stamps, go back to our one-bedroom apartment, get them fed and put to bed, and then go to work as a cocktail waitress until two in the morning. Four hours later, I started all over again."
Ashley Judd, Naomi Judd and Wynonna Judd during APLA 6th Commitment to Life Concert Benefit at Universal Amphitheater in Universal City, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images
NAOMI'S 32-YEAR MARRIAGE
Naomi found success at age 35. Before then, she had gone through numerous travails and used her music to relay her struggles. According to her:
"I'd been through fires, earthquakes, been slam-dunked, my heart ripped out and stomped on by men. By the time I got into country music, I feel like what I did was just communicate."
After Naomi became a successful singer, everything else in her life began to fall in line, including her love life. She had been alone for a long time, filling her mind with her children's needs, and did not quite bother to fall in love.
However, it was impossible to ignore the instant connection when she met Larry Strickland. Once they knew each other deeply, their similarities in upbringing and careers sealed their fate.
Born in Raleigh, NC, Strickland began his career as a gospel singer. He performed with the "J.D Sumner and the Stamps Quartet." He met Naomi in 1979, but it was not until after ten years that they decided to get married.
Years after a happy marriage, she said: "We come from common background. Larry and I are both from a family of six, very blue-collar. He worked in the tobacco fields every summer. My daddy had his own gas station and taught me the hard work ethic. Larry is the most humble person I've ever met."
The pair married in 1989 at Christ Church in Nashville, and Naomi's daughters served as bridesmaids. Following their wedding, they lived a perfectly harmonious life.
During their 25th anniversary celebration, the singer maintained that they followed a "normal" routine. In her words:
"We might go to Red Lobster. I'm tired of Cracker Barrel. We are so normal. Right now, he's out on a Bush Hog [mower] on the farm and the big excitement is he found a rattler last week. That's how we live."
Ashley Judd, Wynonna Judd and Wynonna's Son Elijah Kelley | Source: Getty Images
Strickland had supported his wife in her career and personal struggle. Naomi was open about her battle with depression and anxiety throughout her life.
In interviews, the singer spoke about it and even detailed her journey in her 2016 memoir, "River of Time." Before the book was released, her husband shared a message to those looking out for their relatives with mental health issues. He said:
"Get ready to walk that path with them, because they're gonna need, they're gonna need you every minute."
Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd at the 2022 CMT Music Awards at Nashville Municipal Auditorium on April 11, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. | Source: Getty Images
The duo had been together for thirty-two years and would have celebrated another anniversary in May 2022 if Naomi had not taken her own life.
Despite the sad ending, these two showed many how to love, hope and trust with their strong relationship, and they remain one of the industry's power couples.
INSIDE NAOMI'S YEARS-LONG MENTAL ILLNESS
Naomi Judd, mother of mother-daughter C/W duo, making tea in bed, suffering from chronic hepatitis.in condo Nashville. | Source: Getty Images
At a much older age, Naomi was a fulfilled woman with a loving husband and caring kids who had given her grandkids. However, what she suffered as a younger woman affected her life.
After "The Judd" tour ended in 2012 (mother and daughter reunited for an occasional time), Naomi began to feel empty, making it easier to relive her past struggles, including sexual abuse.
Naomi Judd and husband Larry Strickland pose for a portrait in 2005 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
During the first stage of her mental health problems, she felt weighed down, affecting her physical health. Soon, an elevator was installed to help her with movement in her home. Naomi admitted that:
"It's so beyond making sense but I thought, 'Surely my family will know that I was in so much pain and I thought they would have wanted me to end that pain [through suicide]."
Mother-daughter singing duo the Judds embrace after winning Best Country Single at the 1987 American Music Awards. | Source: Getty Images
Again, she shockingly expressed that her depression nearly drove her to suicide, but her family rescued her. She added:
"I didn't get off my couch for two years. I was so depressed that I couldn't move …"
Pictured from left is Wynonna Judd and Naomi Judd in a gallery shot for the Country Music Awards, 1986. | Source: Getty Images
A year before that, Naomi admitted to People Magazine that despite the support from her loved ones, nobody understands depression until it hits them.
According to her: "Nobody can understand it unless you've been there. Think of your very worst day of your whole life – someone passed away, you lost your job, you found out you were being betrayed, that your child had a rare disease – you can take all of those at once and put them together and that's what depression feels like"
Naomi Judd and her daughter Ashely and Wynonna. | Source: Getty Images
Eventually, a strict routine involving medications alongside her family's support was strong enough to keep her away from negative thoughts. But she confessed that there was a possibility of slipping right back into it. She said:
"I'm still recovering myself. I'm still trying desperately trying to help myself. There's never going to be a pill for it all. I read up on all the scientific literature, I go to courses."
She continued: "I try so hard to stay up on everything that I possibly can to get rid of this horrible curse. Those thoughts of suicide don't come anymore. But I'm vulnerable. I know I can backslide."
Naomi Judd and Wynonna Judd during ACM Presents: Girls' Night Out: Superstar Women of Country concert held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 4, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Source: Getty Images
Throughout the experience, Naomi was vocal, maintaining in an interview that she was "dangerously depressed" and that It's a disease. It has nothing to do with our character."
Sadly, this disease drove her to her death. Like her daughters, Strickland mentioned that the news created a "heartbreaking time" for the family, as he asked for privacy to mourn.
Naomi's death was also shocking news to her family and fans, who have been steadfast in their support for her. However, out of sight is never out of mind for her loved ones and fans, as the singer will forever be in their hearts.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.