Jennifer Hudson and her mom in December 2006
10/28/2008 at 11:00 AM EDT
Throughout her life, Jennifer Hudson
leaned on one person more than any other: her mom.
"They were very close, very tight," says Richard Lyons, Hudson's acting coach for her 2006 Oscar-winning role in Dreamgirls.
"Her mom came down to the set and she was just the sweetest person. She was so humble."
Now Hudson, 27, is mourning the death of her mother, Darnell Donerson, who was murdered on Oct. 24.
Hudson's brother Jason was also fatally shot in the crime, which took place in Donerson's home on the South Side of Chicago. Three days later the body of the singer's 7-year-old nephew, Julian King,
was found in an abandoned SUV miles from Donerson's house.
The crimes have stunned those in the community, who recall the soft-spoken Donerson as a positive presence. "She would do anything for anyone," says one neighbor. "She hosted a block party for our whole neighborhood a few months back."
Although her famous daughter encouraged her mom to leave their often-dangerous Englewood neighborhood, Donerson resisted.
"She didn't need to move," says Lyons. "She didn't need a bigger house. She didn't need anyone to buy her a new car. She didn't desire or want those things. She was just supportive and stood by her daughter."
Adds Lyons: "When you see something like that in a mom, which I think is rare in this business, that's what makes it so hard for me to grasp the situation. I saw a woman who wasn't trying to benefit from her daughter's success at all. Her mom was just supportive. This really, really hurts."
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