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Judd grew up in a family of successful performance artists as the daughter of country music singer Naomi Judd and the sister of Wynonna Judd. While she is best known for an ongoing acting career spanning more than two decades, she has increasingly become involved in global humanitarian efforts and political activism. Judd has played lead roles in films including Ruby in Paradise, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, Where the Heart Is, and High Crimes.
She is married to racing driver Dario Franchitti.
Ashley was born as Ashley Tyler Ciminella in Granada Hills, California. She is the daughter of Naomi Judd, a country music singer and motivational speaker, and Michael C. Ciminella, a marketing analyst for the horseracing industry. Ashley's elder half-sister, Wynonna, also is a country music singer. Her paternal grandfather was of Sicilian descent, and her paternal grandmother was a descendant of Mayflower pilgrim William Brewster. At the time of her birth, her mother was unemployed and did not become well known as a singer until the early 1980s. Judd's parents divorced in 1972, and in 1973 her mother took her back to her native Kentucky, where Judd spent the majority of her childhood. She also lived in Marin County, California, for two years during grade school.
She appeared on an April 8, 2011 episode of the NBC television show, Who Do You Think You Are? where she learned that an ancestor that served in the American Civil War lost his leg at the Battle of Saltville I, Virginia, and not at Andersonville prison, as she previously believed.
Judd attended 13 schools before college, including the Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky, Paul G. Blazer High School in Ashland Kentucky and Franklin High School in Tennessee. She briefly tried modeling in Japan during a school break. An alumna of the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Kentucky, she majored in French and minored in anthropology, art history, theater and women's studies. She spent a semester studying in France as part of her major, a move that mirrored her role as Reed in the television series Sisters. She graduated from the UK Honors Program and was nominated to Phi Beta Kappa, but did not graduate with her class. Forgoing her commitment to join the Peace Corps, after college she drove to Hollywood, where she studied with well-respected acting teacher, Robert Carnegie, at Playhouse West. During this time, she worked as a hostess at The Ivy restaurant and lived in a Malibu rental house, which burned down during the great Malibu fires of fall 1993. On May 9, 2007, it was announced Judd had completed her bachelor's degree in French from the University of Kentucky. In a May 2007 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Judd explained she had completed her degree requirements in 1990 with 27 more hours taken than the required 120 hours, but had mistakenly thought she was one class short. She only needed to "sign a piece of paper" in order to graduate. DeGeneres then surprised Judd by presenting her with her diploma, which Ellen had acquired from the university. Judd subsequently earned a Master in Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2010.
Judd appeared as Ensign Robin Lefler, a Starfleet officer, in two 1991 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Darmok" and "The Game". From 1991 to 1994, she had a recurring role as Reed, the daughter of Alex (Swoosie Kurtz), on the NBC drama Sisters. She made her feature film debut with a small role in 1992's Kuffs. In 1993 Judd fought for and was cast in her first starring role playing the title character in Victor Nuñez's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Winning, Ruby in Paradise. On her way to the audition, she was so nervous about getting a role that she felt defined her life, she nearly wrecked her car."From the first three sentences, I knew it was written for me," she told the San Jose Mercury News. She received rave reviews playing Ruby Lee Gissing, a young woman trying to make a new life for herself, and it was this performance that would launch her career as an actress. Nunez told author James L. Dickerson that the resonance of the character was Judd's creation: "The resonance, those moments, was not contrived. It was just a matter of creating the scene and trusting that it was worth telling.
Oliver Stone, who had seen her in Nuñez's film, cast Judd in Natural Born Killers, but her scenes were later cut from the version of the film released theatrically. The following year she gained further critical acclaim for her role as Harvey Keitel's estranged daughter in Wayne Wang's Smoke and also as Val Kilmer's wife in Michael Mann's Heat. That same year she also played the role of Callie in Philip Ridley's dark, adult fairy tale, The Passion of Darkly Noon.
By the end of the 1990s, Judd had managed to achieve significant fame and success as a leading actress, after leading roles in several thrillers that performed well at the box office, including Kiss the Girls in 1997 and 1999's Double Jeopardy.
In June 2000, Judd flew to Austin, Texas to begin work on "Where the Heart Is," a film adapted from the novel of the same name by Billie Letts. Judd's co-star was Natalie Portman, the hottest up-and-coming actress at that time. When Judd spoke her emotionally painful lines about the abuse of her children, Portman became so engrossed that she almost lost her place in the script. It prompted Portman to tell a Nashville reporter that it was the best acting she'd seen up close. Critics agreed that it was Judd's best performance since "Ruby in Paradise."
Several of her early 2000s films, including 2001's Someone Like You and 2002's High Crimes, received only mixed reviews and moderate box office success; although, she did receive positive recognition, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, for her performance in the 2004 biography of Cole Porter, De-Lovely, opposite Kevin Kline.
Judd is currently the magazine advertising "face" of American Beauty, an Estée Lauder cosmetic brand sold exclusively at Kohl's department stores, and H. Stern jewelers. In June 2007, Goody's Family Clothing announced they were going to be releasing three fashion clothing lines with Judd in the Fall to be called – "AJ", "Love Ashley" and "Ashley Judd." Regarding the clothing line, Judd said, "I'm thrilled to be involved in a clothing line that provides simple, lovely solutions for women's wardrobes. I've always loved items that you can throw on easily and know that you'll feel and look good. This line does just that, while keeping with the best of current styles and trends."
On April 5, 2011, Judd released her memoir All That is Bitter and Sweet where she talks about her trials and tribulations from adolescence to adulthood.Judd has also run into controversy after comments she made about Hip Hop being a "rape culture". Judd asserts that she was just basing her comments on observation and was not trying to offend anyone within the Hip Hop community.
She will star in the new TV drama Missing on ABC, starting March 15, 2012.
In December 1999, Judd became engaged to Scottish racing driver Dario Franchitti, who was at the time driving in Champ Car World Series (he has since raced in IndyCar and NASCAR). The two were married at Skibo Castle, near Dornoch, Scotland, on December 12, 2001. She and her husband divide their time between a home in Scotland and their farm outside Franklin, Tennessee, USA. The couple has no children.
Although Judd is best known for regularly attending University of Kentucky basketball games (frequently sitting in the student section), she has also attended several Kentucky football games. Last year, Judd was a guest columnist for a local Kentucky newspaper, writing about the NCAA championships. She is frequently sought out for celebrity camera shots during televised games. Judd posed for a poster wearing only a ice hockey jersey for fund raising purposes for the University of Kentucky's hockey team. She is also an avid practitioner of yoga, cooking, and gardening.
In February 2006, Judd entered a program at Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas and stayed for 47 days. She was there because of personal issues, including depression, insomnia and codependency.
A disagreement between Judd and Indy race car driver Milka Duno took place during the 2007 Indy Racing League season. After the final race of the 2007 season, the actress stated to the assembled news media, "I know this is not very sportsmanlike, but they've got to get the 23 car (Duno) off the track. It's very dangerous. I'm tired of holding my tongue. She shouldn't be out there. When a car is 10 miles (an hour) off the pace, it's not appropriate to be racing. People's lives are at stake."
Judd was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky on May 9, 2009. In July 2009, Judd enrolled at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA) program. On May 27, 2010, Judd received her degree.
Ashley Judd's philanthropic contributions have centered around becoming a global ambassador for YouthAIDS, a prevention program under the Population Services International. She has been a member of their Board of Directors since 2004, also. Judd has travelled with YouthAIDS to places affected by illness and poverty such as Cambodia, Kenya, Rwanda, and many others.
Inspired by her travels, which allowed her to witness the life of the poor and uneducated, she has since become an advocate for preventing poverty and promoting awareness internationally. She has donated her time and met with political and religious leaders, heads of states, diplomats, and leaders on behalf of the deprived to convey the message to those who have the power to bring about political and social change.
Judd has also donated her time and resources towards filming three award-winning documentaries for YouthAIDS which aired internationally on the Discovery Channel, in National Geographic, and on VH1. She personally advocates for a balanced and integrated approach to empower human rights and global health, and to prevent social atrocities.
In 2011, Judd joined the Leadership Council of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).
Other organizations Judd have been involved with include the Women for Women International, and Equality Now, along with other non-governmental organizations which center around bringing attention to social, educational, health, economic, cultural, and financial funding of the unfortunate.
Judd has supported the following charities and foundations; Children's Medical Research Institute, Creative Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Eracism Foundation, Five & Alive, Jeans for Genes, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Listen Campaign, Malaria No More, Population Services International, SixDegrees.org, YouthAIDS, Women for Women International and Equality Now.
In 2008, Judd supported Barack Obama's presidential campaign. In 2009, she appeared in a one-minute video advertisement for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, in which Judd condemned Alaska governor Sarah Palin for supporting aerial wolf hunting. In response, Palin stated the reason these wolves are killed is to protect the caribou population in Alaska, and she called the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund an "extreme fringe group". In 2010, Judd signed the Animal Legal Defense Fund's petition to urge Governor Steve Beshear to protect Kentucky's homeless animals through tough enforcement of the state's Humane Shelter Law.
Judd is active in humanitarian and political causes. She was appointed Global Ambassador for YouthAIDS, an education and prevention program of the international NGO Population Services International (PSI), promoting AIDS prevention and treatment, and speaks and demonstrates at pro-choice events. Judd was honored November 10 as the recipient of the fourth annual USA TODAY Hollywood Hero, awarded for her work with PSI. Judd received the award at a private award gala on the evening of November 10, 2009 at The Montage Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills. Guests enjoyed special celebrity tributes to Ashley Judd, dinner, a silent auction and an exciting live auction, with all proceeds to benefit PSI. On October 29, 2006, Judd appeared at a "Women for Ford" event for Democratic Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. She has also campaigned extensively locally and nationally for a variety of Democratic candidates, including President Barack Obama in critical swing states.
On September 8, 2010, CNN interviewed Judd about her second humanitarian mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Judd traveled with the Enough Project, a project to end genocide and crimes against humanity. In the interview, Judd discussed her efforts to raise awareness about how conflict minerals fuel sexual violence in Congo. During her trip, Judd visited hospitals for victims of sexual violence, camps for displaced persons, mines, and civil society organizations. On September 30, 2010, CNN.com published an Op-ed titled "Ashley Judd: Electronics fuel unspeakable violence" by Ashley Judd and the Enough Project's co-founder John Prendergast regarding the continued violence in Congo. Her Op-ed discusses the recent provision in the Dodd-Frank Reform bill that requires companies to prove where their minerals originated. On November 26, 2010, The Huffington Post published an Op-ed by Ashley Judd titled "Costs of Convenience". The Op-ed is excerpted from Ashley Judd's trip diary from her trip to eastern Congo. Judd describes the link between her cell phone, laptop, MP3 player, and e-reader and the continued rape and sexual violence in Congo. Judd also explains the immediate need for electronics companies to commit to tracing, auditing, and certifying the minerals in their products to guarantee a clean supply chain.