She’s famous for her megawatt smile, but Julia Roberts looked anything but cheerful when she was spotted on May 13 — appearing frail, her face etched with worry — leaving an urgent care facility in Los Angeles, clinging tightly to her husband, Danny Moder, as she gingerly made her way back to their car. “She looked disoriented and stressed,” says one eyewitness. “It was as though she’d just received some upsetting news and was struggling to cope with it.”
The scene repeated itself 10 days later, when Julia, 49, paid a second visit to the medical center. Now questions are lingering about whether something is seriously wrong with her health — and insiders are hoping that it’s not related to the superstar’s longtime smoking habit, a spectre that looms larger given the death of Julia’s mother, Betty Lou Bredemus, from lung cancer.
“It’s a terrible thing, especially if you’re a smoker, for a close relative to die of that horrible disease,” says an insider. “Julia was already smoking in her early twenties — she even confessed to blowing through two packs a day — and anyone in her position might be worried about unwantedly following in their loved one’s footsteps.”
HAUNTED BY THE PAST
Though Julia has never spoken publicly about her mother’s death, “the memory of what she endured is probably never far from her mind,” the insider says. Betty was 78 when a tumor was found in her lung during a routine MRI scan; afterward, she moved into Julia’s Malibu mansion — joining Danny, 48, and their three children, twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, 12, and Henry, 9 — and battled the disease for two years before she died in her daughter’s home in 2015. “Losing her mom took a huge toll,” adds the insider. “Julia had many sleepless nights, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t wish she could pick up the phone and call her mom. Julia misses her so much.”
Even more tragically, Betty wasn’t the only family member to be felled by cancer — Julia’s father, Walter Grady Roberts, succumbed to throat cancer at age 44, when Julia was only 10. “I would think that might raise some concerns on Julia’s part that she may have a genetic risk of developing the disease,” the insider says. “And with her smoking history, the odds could be even greater.”
SHE’S GOTTA “HABIT”
Over the years, Julia has made no effort to hide to her love of tobacco. She frequently puffed away and rolled her own cigarettes during interviews, and once cavalierly admitted, “I do it to keep my weight down.” Apparently, lighting up was also Julia’s way of coping with stress. When she began dating Danny, a cameraman, after they met on the set of 2000’s The Mexican, she was in relationship with actor Benjamin Bratt and Danny was married! As she agonized over her forbidden romance, Julia was reportedly “smoking like a chimney” and had lost 10 pounds.
After she and Danny married in 2002, Julia, who was desperate to get pregnant, cleaned up her act, quitting smoking and starting a regimen that included strength training, cardio and yoga. “Julia had tried to quit many times, but it wasn’t easy,” the insider adds. “It was a relief when she was finally able to get a handle on it — and the importance of her healthy new lifestyle became clearer when her mom got the cancer diagnosis. That had to have been a pretty scary wake-up to Julia that she had made the right decision years before.”
Her mother’s death came hard on the heels of another tragedy — the suicide of Julia’s half-sister, former production assistant Nancy Motes, by a drug overdose in 2014. In a suicide note to her fiancé, Nancy, 37, wrote that her Oscar-winning sibling was so cruel that she “drove me into the deepest depression I’ve ever been in.” At Nancy’s memorial service, “Julia looked absolutely grief-stricken, and no wonder,” says the insider. “It’s horrible enough having a sibling commit suicide, but for them to essentially blame you for pushing them over the edge would be an unbearable burden.”
Now, the possibility that Julia is battling a health crisis may have pushed her to a new low emotionally — and that clearly seems to have affected her appearance, as well. “Julia just looks worn out these days,” claims the source. “It wouldn’t be surprising at all if she’s not sleeping or eating well because of all the stress. It’s also interesting to note that Julia — one of the biggest superstars in Hollywood — doesn’t appear to have any major movies lined up that would entail her going off somewhere and shooting for months. It could be that she’s just not up to that kind of schedule anymore — and maybe she needs that time to address any issues.”
No matter what, Julia and Danny will keep up a brave front for the children. “She probably sat the kids down and told them that Mom has something to deal with that’s going to affect the family, but that they all need to be strong,” the source adds. “Danny, who’s been her rock, will be there for her every step of the way. They’re determined to make it through any challenge together.”