Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Film star Rock Hudson publicly acknowledged he had AIDS, an announcement that led to increased public awareness about the then-mysterious disease, about being HIV-positive or having AIDS, and about homosexuality in general. AIDS would no longer be a silent epidemic.

Summary of Event

Rock Hudson was considered a remarkably able, dedicated, and gifted actor. Many actors assume roles completely counter to their personalities offscreen or offstage, but Hudson had difficulty doing that. He was versatile, and he could perform both comic and dramatic roles. In addition to film, he adapted well to acting in television dramas and to the stage. [kw]Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS (July 25, 1985) [kw]Hudson Announces He Has AIDS, Actor (July 25, 1985) [kw]AIDS, Actor Hudson Announces He Has (July 25, 1985) HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];and Rock Hudson[Hudson] [c]HIV-AIDS;July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS[1640] [c]Health and medicine;July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS[1640] [c]Arts;July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS[1640] Hudson, Rock Clark, Tom Christian, Marc Bussell, Letantia

Hudson also was an intensely private person, and had been closeted about his sexuality throughout his career. By rushing into a marriage of convenience in 1955 with his agent’s secretary, Phyllis Gates, he quashed rumors, which were probably untrue, that he was having an affair with fellow actor Jim Nabors. His union with Gates lasted slightly more than two years. Hudson and Gates separated and then were divorced in August, 1958.

A heartthrob whose pictures adorned the bedroom walls of many, Hudson was often seen in public with women, and rumors regarding his imminent matrimonial plans circulated for years. Hudson had no intention of remarrying, and he remained noncommittal when reporters fired personal questions at him during interviews.

In 1968, Tom Clark moved into Hudson’s house in Beverly Hills and became his lover. Marc Christian became Hudson’s lover as well, toward the end of Hudson’s life, and Christian remained with him until Hudson’s death. After his death, Christian filed a suit against Hudson’s estate and was initially awarded $14 million in damages, having alleged that Hudson had had sex with him when he knew he was suffering from AIDS. The Hudson estate contested the jury award and finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Christian.

Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., in Winnetka, Illinois, on November 17, 1925. His parents separated when he was four years old and eventually divorced. His mother married Wallace Fitzgerald in 1932, after which Hudson changed his last name to Fitzgerald, the name he used until he went to Hollywood seeking an acting career. His agent, Henry Willson, insisted that he change his name to something more arresting than Roy Fitzgerald. Ultimately Roy Fitzgerald became Roc Hudson. Then, at Hudson’s insistence, he changed his name, again, to Rock Hudson.

An early indication that Hudson was suffering from AIDS was his rapid weight loss, which he first attributed to anemia. He shed some fifty pounds unwillingly. Also, a large, persistent pimple appeared on his neck. Finally, his dermatologist, Letantia Bussell, performed a needle biopsy on the pimple. On June 2, 1984, she informed Hudson that the pimple was a manifestation of Kaposi’s sarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma[Kaposis sarcoma] a rare cancer and a complication of AIDS.

Three days later, on June 5, Hudson had the pimple excised by a plastic surgeon. The surgeon performed further biopsies on the specimen and on a nearby lymph node. These biopsies, along with Hudson’s rapid weight loss, confirmed Bussell’s initial diagnosis. Hudson was initially in a state of denial, and he insisted on telling those who asked that he was suffering from anemia. Knowing that AIDS was universally construed as an affliction associated with gays only, Hudson declined to reveal publicly that he had AIDS. The only people with whom he shared his diagnosis were close friends Mark Miller and George Nader, whom he swore to secrecy. He did not share the diagnosis with Marc Christian, who was living with him at the time.

In the fall of 1984, Hudson was to begin filming six episodes of the television drama Dynasty, a show to which he had agreed to act in during a trip to France in August. Esther Shapiro, co-creator and executive producer of Dynasty, talked with Hudson at the Deauville Film Festival in France and urged him to make this commitment. He accepted her offer, thinking that it would take his mind off his physical problems. During his visit to France, he had participated in experimental treatments being conducted in Paris with HPA-23, HPA-23, antiviral drug[HPA 23] a new antiviral drug that offered some hope of eliminating or, at minimum, suppressing HIV-AIDS.

Dominique Dormont, Dormont, Dominique a leading expert in experimental HIV-AIDS treatments, working at the famed Pasteur Institute, Pasteur Institute, and HIV-AIDS research began Hudson on a treatment of HPA-23. In the fourth week of treatment, extensive tests showed no trace of the AIDS virus in Hudson’s blood, but Dormont warned that the virus had merely been suppressed, not eliminated. Dormont told Hudson how important it was to continue treatment, but Hudson said that the filming of Dynasty would prevent him from returning before February. It turned out that he did not see Dormont again until July, after he collapsed in Paris. By then it was too late to resume the HPA-23 treatment.

By late October, 1984, after the filming of the Dynasty episodes had begun, Hudson had lost another ten pounds, suggesting that the HPA-23 treatment was losing its effect. His friends urged him to bow out of his acting commitment, but he was determined to stay with the show. His early performances in Dynasty were so strong that the producers exercised their option to film four episodes beyond the six to which they had been committed.

Episode six of the series involved a scene in which Hudson was to kiss actor Linda Evans. Evans, Linda Hudson had reservations about the kissing scene but he also knew that refusing to perform might have forced him to reveal his condition. He went through with the scene and was later severely criticized for putting Evans at risk. At this early point in the AIDS crisis, little was known about the virus and how it was transmitted. People feared casual contact with those who were HIV-positive or with those who had been suffering from the disease. Hudson, however, reduced the risk of passing the virus to Evans by kissing Evans with his lips wiped clear of saliva and tightly pursed.

On July 15, 1985, Hudson flew to Carmel, California, to appear on Doris Day’s Day, Doris new show called Doris Day’s Best Friends. He was in such dire physical condition that Day offered to release him from his commitment, but Hudson insisted on proceeding with the show. Day, realizing that Hudson was near death, was devastated. Hudson, his health deteriorating, flew to Paris on July 21 to seek additional treatment. A liver scan revealed that his liver was badly compromised and word circulated that he was suffering from liver cancer. On July 25, a French publicist, Yanou Collart, held a press conference sanctioned by Hudson and his friend Mark Miller to announce that the actor had AIDS. Hudson had become the first high-profile American to acknowledge he had the disease.

So quiet had Hudson been about his condition that when the media released the news, even those closest to him—Clark, Elizabeth Taylor, Martha Raye, Carol Burnett—had not been informed and were learning about it for the first time. With this story came news that Hudson was gay. As late as the end of May, 1985, he had categorically denied to Christian that he had AIDS or cancer.

Following his collapse in Paris and after finding out the futility of further treatment with HPA-23, Hudson knew that he was dying, but he wanted to die at home. Severely weakened, he chartered an aircraft for $250,000 and, on July 30, 1985, returned to Los Angeles and was taken by helicopter to the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. He remained hospitalized until August 25, the day that Clark and other friends insisted he be permitted to return to his home in nearby Beverly Hills. At his home, he had a private nurse, household staff, and friends. Many friends visited him during his last month of life. He died quietly on the morning of October 2 after having coffee with Clark, who had supported Hudson by staying with him for more than one month.

Significance

Media coverage Media;and AIDS epidemic[AIDS epidemic] of Rock Hudson’s illness and death, like the media coverage of his life, was extensive. Because he was the first well-known celebrity to die of AIDS, public interest in the disease grew, and with that interest came information about the realities of the virus and how it is passed between people, about being HIV-positive, and the disease itself. HIV is transmitted in three ways: through the exchange of body fluids, usually during unprotected sex; by means of blood transfusions; or by sharing hypodermic needles used to inject substances into the blood stream. Information had been reaching the public through the media that neither HIV, nor AIDS, was communicable through casual contact.

After Hudson’s “coming out,” many people began to reassess their views about homosexuality. Some categorically condemned Hudson for his sexual orientation but others developed a more charitable attitude, realizing that he had made a notable contribution to popular culture through his acting and that his homosexuality, although it ran counter to the convictions of many Americans, was a private matter.

Following his death, many of Hudson’s friends in the film industry called for increased AIDS research and assistance for those who had the disease. Prominent supporters included Hudson’s close friends Taylor, Burnett, and Raye. The studios, although still wanting discretion from actors, began asserting less pressure on gay and lesbian actors to appear heterosexual outside their work by dating or marrying members of the opposite gender. HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];and Rock Hudson[Hudson]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, Tom, with Dick Kleiner. Rock Hudson, Friend of Mine. New York: Pharos Books, 1990.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gates, Phyllis, and Bob Thomas. My Husband, Rock Hudson: The Real Story of Rock Hudson’s Marriage to Phyllis Gates. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hudson, Rock, and Sara Davidson. Rock Hudson: His Story. New York: William Morrow, 1986.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oppenheimer, Jerry, and Jack Vitek. Idol Rock Hudson: The True Story of an American Film Hero. New York: Villard, 1986.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, John. Five for Hollywood. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol, 1991.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Royce, Brenda Scott. Rock Hudson: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.

1930’s-1960’s: Hollywood Bans “Sexual Perversion” in Films

June 5 and July 3, 1981: Reports of Rare Diseases Mark Beginning of AIDS Epidemic

July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS

Spring, 1984: AIDS Virus Is Discovered

September, 1986: AZT Treats People with AIDS

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

June 27, 1988: Report of the Presidential AIDS Commission

December 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day

1989: Act Up Paris Is Founded

June 25, 1993: Clinton Appoints First AIDS Czar

Categories: History Content