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Julia Roberts’ double tragedy

It has been twelve months of tragedy for Julia Roberts. Tinseltown's sweetheart has just lost her mother, only a year since her sister committed suicide.
Julia Roberts

She’s played her fair share of characters beset by tragedy and sorrow. Now Julia Roberts is enduring her own heartache, following the death of her beloved mother, Betty Lou Bredemus.

Betty Lou (80) died of lung cancer five days before the Oscars, and a devastated Julia was, understandably, a no-show at the ceremony. Betty Lou – who had been sick since a tumour was discovered on her lung in 2013 – had been living with Julia (47), son-in-law Danny Moder (46) and grandchildren, twins Hazel and Phinnaeus (10) and Henry (7).

Betty Lou’s death comes only a year after the traumatic death of her youngest daughter and Julia’s half-sister, Nancy Motes. Nancy (37) was found dead from an apparent drug overdose in February last year that was later ruled a suicide.

The actress was visibly grief-stricken as she greeted family and friends not long after her mother’s death.

Julia’s relationship with Nancy had been strained for years, but the rift between them grew wider after Nancy told a newspaper that Julia used to tease her about her weight. In the days before her death, the former production assistant for TV show Glee expressed her anger towards her superstar sister in a series of tweets.

“America’s sweetheart is a b****,” she wrote in one. In her suicide note, Nancy left her possessions to her fiancé, adding, “My mother and so-called siblings get nothing except the memory that they drove me into the deepest depression I’ve ever been in.”

Betty Lou and Julia did not attend Nancy’s public memorial service, instead opting to go to a private ceremony in their hometown of Smyrna, Georgia. Julia gave a eulogy which some sources described as “harsh” and “bizarre”. But other attendees said her words were “heartfelt and moving”.

Julia’s sister Nancy said her life as “Julia’s fat little sister” led to her feeling “judged” and “intimidated”.

Julia has kept quiet about the impact her sister’s suicide had on her, other than to tell a reporter shortly after Nancy’s death, “There aren’t words to explain what any of us have been through. It’s hour by hour some days. You don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone, but there are so many tragic, painful, inexplicable things in the world.”

The August: Osage County star became closer than ever to her mother after Nancy’s death. “They’re clinging to each other like they’re shipwrecked,” a source said at the time. Julia’s happy household is a far cry from the one she grew up in, after her mother married her stepfather Michael Motes. Betty Lou’s previous marriage to Walter Grady Roberts resulted in three children – Julia, Lisa (49) and Eric (58), who is also an actor and the father of American Horror Story actress Emma Roberts – but the couple divorced when Julia was five.

Eight months later, Betty Lou married Michael, 11 years her junior, and they went on to have Nancy together. When they split after 11 years, Betty Lou cited cruelty as the grounds for divorce, calling the marriage the “biggest mistake I ever made”.

Julia has never spoken about her stepfather, but sources close to the family told biographer James Spada that she feared and despised him. “He alternately ignored, pushed around and denigrated his two stepdaughters,” James wrote.

Julia with her mother at a political fundraiser last year.

Her older brother Eric, who moved out soon after their wedding, gave an interview in 1998 in which he described his stepfather as a “freak” and said, “I was horrified when I thought about what my poor sisters were going to have to endure.” Michael (69), a retired antiques dealer, now lives with his male partner and is a volunteer minister at his local church.

He is apparently writing a memoir about his life. That’s one book Julia, who is dealing with her grief while filming her latest movie, The Secret in Their Eyes, isn’t likely to want to read.

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