Jennifer Hudson at crossroads after tragedy

Singer-actress' close-knit family hit by triple homicide

NEW YORK – Just a month ago, a bubbly Jennifer Hudson -- who had been striking gold with just about everything she touched -- was running down the list of all the projects that she expected would soon dominate her life.

Already an Oscar-winning actress, the 25-year-old was about to release her first album, which would become an instant best-seller, and a new movie, "The Secret Life of Bees." But the entertainer saw so much more in her future.

"I am planning on touring," she said, rattling off a list of her upcoming priorities. "There's more films and more music and stuff like that. ... I want to start a fashion line as well, start writing music."

There were also plans of a big wedding to new fiance David Otunga.

"It's gonna be a production," she gushed. "I have so many visions for it right now -- I get to put that together."

But on Monday, Hudson's priority was to identify the body of a child that turned out to be her 7-year-old nephew Julian -- the third victim in a killing spree that claimed her mother and brother. She had identified their bodies a couple of days before.

Her Hollywood goals now seem a world away, and after suffering such a devastating blow, it's unclear when -- if ever -- she will reclaim them.

"This is really something no one can really deal with, and you never fully recover from something like this," said Harvey Mason, who has written and produced songs for Hudson and considers her a friend. "But she's a very strong person, and she's got a great heart, and I'm just sad something like this has had to enter into her life."

Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, were killed in the family's home in a homicide police have described as domestic in nature. Her sister Julia's 7-year-old son, Julian, was declared missing, along with a white truck taken from the scene.

On Monday, after a weekend of pleas from both Julia and Jennifer Hudson -- who had offered $100,000 Sunday for information leading to the boy's safe return -- police found the truck and the body of a 7-year-old child inside who they later said was Julian.

Police have been questioning William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julia Hudson who is in custody. Balfour is not the boy's father and has not been charged in the slayings.

Although Hudson has spoken out from her MySpace.com page, thanking fans for their support, she has been in seclusion in Chicago. All public events that she had scheduled over the next week or so have been canceled, and a planned video shoot for her new single "If It Isn't Love," which was to take place starting Monday in Los Angeles, was also abandoned.

The triple homicide came as Hudson's career continued on the white-hot streak that began with her Oscar-winning role in the movie "Dreamgirls." The singer had first come to prominence as a big-voiced finalist on "American Idol" in 2005, but floundered in her career.

Without a record deal and only no-name producers to work with, she even began to wonder if a music career was ever going to happen for her.

"After 'Idol,' I didn't have a manager, I didn't have an agent, none of that," she said. "I just had random producers."

That all changed when she was cast in the movie adaptation of the classic Broadway musical. The movie's stars included Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Beyonce and Eddie Murphy -- but it was Hudson who stole scene after scene, and landed an Academy Award in 2007 for best supporting actress for the portrayal of the troubled singer Effie.

After that, Hudson also appeared in summer hit "Sex and the City," and has a supporting role in the movie "The Secret Life of Bees," in theaters now. Meanwhile, she was at work on her self-titled album, which debuted at No. 2 on the charts earlier this month and has spawned the hit single, "Spotlight."

In addition to those achievements, she also was selected to sing the national anthem before Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August. She called the experience "the most overwhelming and meaningful thing to date that I've done." When asked if she was registered to vote, she laughed and said: "I'm registered, definitely -- my mom would have it no other way!"

Hudson was particularly close to her family, and members were usually on hand during the major milestones in her career, including her Oscar win.

"They came out for a lot of awards, things like that. The family was a very close knit family, as far as I can tell, all very sweet and supportive," said Mason, who recalled meeting her family and how proud Jennifer was to introduce them to people. "Jennifer's family seemed to be a big part of her support structure."

Mason has yet to speak with Hudson, but said he had extended his support and prayers, along with a host of other celebrity friends and supporters.

The songwriter and producer, who worked with Hudson on the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack and also her new album, said he'd never encountered a situation where a celebrity had endured such a tragedy, so he couldn't imagine how it might affect her career.

Hudson said last month that she didn't have a specific movie project in the works, and talks of a tour were preliminary -- no dates have been set. A representative for her label, Arista Records, said it was too early to talk about how the tragedy might affect the promotion of her CD. The label released this statement of support: "On behalf of the RCA Music Group and Arista Records, we send our deepest sympathies and condolences to Jennifer and her family during this difficult time."

"I think it could affect her career. It's going to take some time for her to get back on the road, back in promotion," said Mason. "She's definitely not going to feel like doing too much phone interviews, radio interviews. I just think it's going to take her a minute to recover, but as I said, she's a very strong person, and she's very talented. It's hard for me to guess how it would impact her in the long haul."
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