Jennifer Hudson's tragic past, and how it has shaped her today

Emmy Griffiths

Jennifer Hudson is currently gracing our screens every Saturday night as a judge on The Voice, and fans of the show have already fallen in love with her. But what many viewers of the hit Saturday night TV show may not know is that behind Jennifer's apparently effortless rise to fame is a tragic back story. Jennifer's first break came onAmerican Idol, where she came in seventh place in 2004. She then went on to win an Oscar for her role as Effy in Dreamgirls in 2006.

However, just two years later, the star's mother, brother and nephew were tragically murdered. The 35-year-old's mum Darnell Donnerson, 57, and brother Jason, 29, were shot and killed at Darnell's home in October 2008, while Jennifer's seven-year-old nephew Julian King was reported missing. He was found dead of gunshot wounds three days later, and Jennifer's sister Julia's estranged husband William Balfour was charged with three counts of first-degree murder among other charges. He is currently serving three life sentences without parole.


Jennifer spoke about helping other children through Julian's memory

Jennifer opened up about their deaths after William's conviction in 2012, revealing that she had decided to forgive her brother-in-law for his actions. Speaking to Oprah on Oprah's Next Chapter, she said: "I feel like for the most part it's not his fault. It's how he was brought up. We tried to offer love, but you were so far gone, that you couldn't even see that. A lot of things came out, that we didn't even know about, from his upbringing, which is like he never had a chance. Had you had the love my mother gave us, or the background that some have, then you would've stood a chance."


William Balfour is serving three life sentences

She continued to open up about the shock of hearing the news. "There were so many shocks involved in it," she admitted. "Like, who do I grieve for first? Or, who do I start with? It's bits and pieces. It's too much. You're confused. Your emotions are confused… I haven't been to the grave site since we buried them but now I want to go because I feel like okay, we’ve accomplished things. We've done this. We got justice for you. I can't come here empty-handed. I came back with justice being served so now I feel like I deserve to be able to see them."


Julia and Jennifer have set up a foundation in their son and nephew's memory

Following the tragedy, Jennifer and her sister Julia created The Julian D. King Gift Foundation which aims to provide stability, support and positive experiences for children in honour of Julian. The charity also hosts an annual 'Hatch Day' in tribute to Jennifer's nephew. On the charity's site, Jennifer writes: "He always wanted to hatch things. He got it from a cartoon. It was something I wanted, a hatch day. He would say, ‘Today is my hatch day.’ This is our way of giving our hatch day and being able to help other kids through his memory."