Twelve years ago, the AIDS-ravaged actor awakened his ''Pillow Talk'' costar Doris Day and the world to the epidemic

It had been four years since the first reports of AIDS, yet it took a dying movie star to awaken the world to the epidemic. On July 15, 1985, Doris Day was holding a press conference in Carmel, Calif., to announce her return to TV. It was also to be a reunion between Day and Rock Hudson (Send Me No Flowers, Lover Come Back), close friend, and the first guest scheduled for the cable talk show Doris Day’s Best Friends.

When Hudson finally appeared, nearly an hour late, ”everyone was speechless,” recalls Jeanne Wolf, then a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. At 59, the once virile movie star was now frail and ashen. Day herself was momentarily shaken.

No one at the event confronted Hudson about the severity of his condition. But for days after, the Day-Hudson reunion dominated newscasts, as did speculation about the actor’s health (among the rumors: liver cancer and the flu).

Meanwhile, Hudson was pressured to disclose his illness by the French hospital to which he had returned for treatment. On July 25, the day after a San Francisco Chronicler story reported that Hudson was gay, the hospital ended the rumors. After consulting with the star, a spokesperson announced, ”Rock Hudson has acquired immune defiency syndrome.” Hudson died Oct. 2.

The statement provoked some industry hysteria — Charlton Heston, for one, opined that ”a member of a high-risk group has an obligation to refuse to do a kissing scene.” But most of the consequences were positive: Hudson’s disclosure (and $250,000 donation) helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research in September 1985, to be chaired by Hudson’s pal Elizabeth Taylor. As National Institutes of Health funding for AIDS research doubled, the red ribbon, a symbol of solidarity, soon sprouted on stars’ lapels.

Most of all, Hudson’s plight brought long overdue attention to AIDS sufferers. ”After Rock’s announcement, I reported on an AIDS-support-group meeting,” says Wolf. ”A man said that a few days ago, he was just another person with AIDS whom nobody cared about. Now, he said, ‘I have Rock Hudson’s disease, and everything has changed.”’

July 15, 1985

Prime-Time TV is awash in soap, as Dynasty outmaneuvers Dallas for the No. 1 spot, with Falcon Crest, Knots Landing, and Hotel not far behind. Camp vamp Joan Collins will go on to crank out trash novels, later resurfacing on Fox’s current nighttime soap Pacific Palisades. The Steven Spielberg produced hit Back to the Future features Michael J. Fox in his first major film role. Fox, the thee-season star of TV’s Family Ties, will do two other Future sequels and 19 other films before returning to the tube for ABC’s Spin City. Tom Clancy’s techno-thriller The Hunt for Red October is the summer’s must-read. A 1990 movie version, starring Alec Baldwin, will launch Clancy’s film franchise. And in the real world, Veep George Bush becomes the substitute leader of the free world when Ronald Reagan undergoes intestinal surgery. After three hours, the presidential polyp is safely removed.