Blessed with a rare combination of beauty, brains, and talent, Ashley Judd spent the 1990s gaining critical acclaim, industry respect, and a broad fan base that made her one of the most in-demand actresses of the latter half of the decade.
The daughter of country-music superstar Naomi Judd and the younger half sister of singer Wynnona Judd, Judd was born in Los Angeles, on April 19, 1968. A single parent, her mother supported Judd and her sister by taking odd jobs in California and Kentucky. The actress spent her first 13 years shuttling between the two states and attended 12 different schools, often living in poverty in remote areas of Kentucky. With no external sources of entertainment, Judd read books and amused herself by pretending to be various characters while her sister and mother whiled away the time singing. Their singing paid off; after Naomi and Wynonna Judd became country-music sensations, the family was finally able to leave their financial hardship in the past. Judd went on to attend the University of Kentucky, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1990 with a degree in French.
At her sister's encouragement, Judd, blessed with an outgoing, forthright nature, was able to secure an agent on her first try and, in 1987, won a part on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. She went on to do more TV, landing a recurring role as Swoosie Kurtz's daughter on Sisters in 1991 (she stayed with the show until 1994). The following year, she made her film debut with a small part in Kuffs (1992). She was originally meant to have a larger part, but rejected it when she learned of a nude scene. Her mother, Naomi Judd, has also publicly objected to many of Ashley's movies for the fact that they contain either sex or violence.
The actress' first major film role was in the hit independent drama Ruby in Paradise (1993). She garnered considerable acclaim for her subtle, realistic portrayal of a spoiled Tennessee heiress who runs away to sell tourist trinkets in a ramshackle resort, winning an Independent Spirit Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. After filming Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, only to have her scenes end up on the cutting room floor, Judd next found acclaim with her turn in the 1995 film Smoke, in which she played the pregnant, drug-addicted daughter of Harvey Keitel and Stockard Channing. The same year, she appeared in the much-lauded Heat, then went on to star with Mira Sorvino in the 1996 made-for-TV Marilyn Monroe biopic, Norma Jean and Marilyn.
Following a substantial role as Matthew McConaughey's wife in Joel Schumacher's adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill in 1996, and a lead in the crime flop A Normal Life (also 1996), Judd starred in the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls. The film received mixed reviews but did decent business at the box office, further increasing Judd's glowing star wattage. She landed another lead role the following year, in the well-received drama Simon Birch and, in 1999, could be seen starring in Bruce Beresford's Double Jeopardy as an ex-convict planning revenge on those who framed her for a crime she did not commit. Despite it making 'mega bucks' at the Box Office most attention and praise was given to Tommy Lee. However it did make her a well known face amongst movie buffs.
Judd switched gears in 2000, starring as a friend and mentor to a pregnant 17-year-old (Natalie Portman) in Where the Heart Is, and has continued to have her pay packet rise from there on.
Having previously dated Robert De Niro and Matthew McConaughey Ashley oublicly announced her engagement to racer Dario Franchitti in April 2000.