In 2018, Diane Ladd was diagnosed with pneumonia and told she had six months to live. Her daughter, actress Laura Dern, “went bananas crying, saying, ‘You can’t die! I don’t have any brothers or sisters — Mother, you’re all I have!’ ” Diane, 84, exclusively recalls to Closer. “But I proved the doctors wrong — I didn’t die. I fooled them!”

Before Diane’s miraculous recovery, however, “Laura and I started taking walks and talking and tape-recording our conversations, which got funny, wonderful, angry and deep,” she reveals. “Now we’re doing a book together that will be out a year from Mother’s Day called Honey, Baby, Mine. It’s named after a song my father sang to me and I sang to Laura.”

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That’s only one of several new projects Diane has been working on. She also co-stars in the movie The Last Full Measure (now streaming and on DVD and Blu-ray), as the mother of a fallen Vietnam soldier. “It’s one of the best films I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of,” says Diane, who’s also acted in such classics as Chinatown and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. “It’s the kind of film that helps you release the pain in your own life and inspires you to fight for the truth.”

Clearly, Diane isn’t slowing down anytime soon. “Not as long as God lets me breathe and walk,” she says. “I will never retire until the curtain goes down on this play.”

Born Rose Diane Ladner in Meridian, Mississippi, she was raised by her veterinarian father and housewife mother and always had drama in her blood. “My cousin was the great writer Tennessee Williams,” she explains. “I was doing a play in New Orleans when I was 16, and John Carradine saw me and sent me a train ticket to come out and audition [for a production of Tobacco Road in San Francisco]. It was between me and another girl, and I got it!”

She went on to earn Oscar nominations for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore as well as two films she did with Laura: Rambling Rose and Wild at Heart. But out of all her achievements, “I am most proud of my daughter,” says Diane of Laura, 53, whose father is also an Oscar-nominated actor, Bruce Dern, 83. “God gave her a great gift, and she worked very hard to perfect it.”

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When Laura won an Oscar for Marriage Story earlier this year, she thanked her folks. “Some say never meet your heroes. I say if you’re really blessed, you get them as your parents. I share this with my acting heroes, my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. You got game. I love you.”

Diane also recently did a video with her daughter in which she taught her grandkids how to make chicken and dumplings. “Laura and I wore our mask and gloves,” she notes. “Everybody loved it because it’s comfort food.”

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Her recipe for a long and happy life is just as comforting. “You have to allow your heart to smile,” Diane says. “Be careful how you judge people because you don’t want to be judged so harshly, and you don’t know what the next person has been through. So be gracious and kind, and forgive yourself and others.”

And no matter what, Diane never stops moving forward. “I’ve kicked some dirt and had a few hats on my head — I have degrees in nutrition and psychology, and I’m an ordained minister,” she says. “Don’t accept your age — accept your mind and soul and what you’ve got to do. Don’t fall into a pattern because someone else is doing it that way. Keep on truckin’!”

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