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Mary Johnson

Staff Writer, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Fragile to Fierce: More than a Decade with Sweet Judy Blue Eyes

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For many of us, Judy Collins — Sweet Judy Blue Eyes — sang the soundtrack of our youth. Her crisp, clear almost ethereal voice spoke to our hopes and fears in the eloquent “Both Sides Now.”

But beyond those crystalline vocals, behind those spellbinding blue eyes, was an unquiet soul. At 14, she attempted suicide. She did drugs with Janis Joplin and says they joked that one of them might not make it. Joplin succumbed and Collins struggled with alcoholism for 23 years before attaining sobriety.

In 1992, she suffered a loss that no mother should bear when her only son, Clark, committed suicide at the age of 33 after a long bout with clinical depression and addiction. He hadn’t used drugs for seven years when he relapsed.

“His suicide has both ruined my life and probably saved my life at the same time because I had to get through it,” she said. “And you get through it, but you don’t get over it.”

Today, Collins lives the life of an athlete. Up at 7 a.m., she exercises, eschews carbohydrates, sugars and grains and strives for balance in all things. It’s hard to believe that next year will mark 50 years since the release of her timeless album, Wildflowers. But at 77, still rocking sky high heel boots and leather, she cuts a striking figure, slim as a willow with billowing silver hair and those eyes — those eyes.

That miracle voice has not suffered with age. If anything, it’s richer and more evocative with a depth that reflects the pain and the power of her life. She still mesmerizes audiences and performs about 100 days a year.

But she lends her voice to another cause these days: breaking down the barriers of helplessness and secrecy to openly discuss the after-effects of suicide. She continues her own healing by reaching out to others with help and support, speaking to hundreds of groups of suicide survivors, mental health organizations and community service groups.

“Everybody has a story. When you hear what they have done and how they are doing, there is a kind of alchemy that happens that heals both people,” she says.

For many of us, Judy Collins will always be the ruby throated sparrow that Stephen Stills wrote about in the iconic, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” But she’s no longer that exquisitely fragile girl. She’s a woman, and she’s earned her voice.

Meet this Grammy-winning legend when she takes the stage at NatCon17, April 3-5, 2017, in Seattle.

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