Encore: Rock Hudson dies of AIDS -- A sad and startled nation said goodbye to the ''Pillow Talk'' star 10 years ago
When Rock Hudson died of AIDS on Oct. 2, 1985, at age 59, the deadly virus finally found a famous face it could publicly call its own.
Hudson was the first celebrity to admit he had AIDS, and his disclosure, in a statement issued to the press on July 25, had caused a media feeding frenzy that shattered an all-American image: The matinee idol — star of 65 movies (Giant, Pillow Talk) and TV’s McMillan and Wife — was not only terminally ill, he was gay.
Hudson’s hetero facade, maintained even though most of Hollywood knew otherwise, had begun to crumble earlier that year. Then, in the summer, he traveled to Paris in search of experimental AIDS drugs, collapsed in his suite at the Ritz, and returned to Los Angeles on a chartered plane. From the tarmac, the gaunt, once-virile star was carried off on a stretcher. On July 24, New York’s Daily News reported that he was suffering from liver cancer. The next day, Hudson and his advisers bravely told the world the truth. PEOPLE called Hudson ”a tragic trailblazer.”
The words proved prophetic. The public greeted the news with compassion rather than condemnation. Tickets to an AIDS Project Los Angeles gala sold out, raising more than $1 million. Hudson, too sick to attend the benefit, sent a telegram, which Burt Lancaster read to the crowd: ”I am not happy that I have AIDS, but if that is helping others I can at least know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth.” President Reagan, who had not publicly mentioned AIDS until a press conference two days earlier, sent a message, read by Burt Reynolds, urging Americans ”to do whatever is in their power to ensure that this pernicious syndrome is halted in its tracks and ultimately cured.”
Less than two weeks later, Hudson died in his sleep at home. Hollywood reacted with an outpouring of love for the fallen star, but it would be another eight years before Tom Hanks portrayed a gay man with AIDS in Philadelphia — the first film about the disease to be released by a major studio. Although the industry has raised millions of dollars for AIDS causes since Hudson’s death, the epitaph written for him by his friend Elizabeth Taylor remains sadly unanswered: ”Please God, he has not died in vain.”
Oct. 2, 1985
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