Hollywood icon Rock Hudson dies of AIDS

Hollywood icon Rock Hudson dies of AIDS

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On October 2, 1985, actor Rock Hudson, 59, becomes the first major U.S. celebrity to die of complications from AIDS. Hudson’s death raised public awareness of the epidemic, which until that time had been ignored by many in the mainstream as a “gay plague.”

Hudson, born Leroy Harold Scherer Jr., on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois, was a Hollywood heartthrob whose career in movies and TV spanned nearly three decades. With leading-man good looks, Hudson starred in numerous dramas and romantic comedies in the 1950s and 60s, including Magnificent Obsession, Giant and Pillow Talk. In the 1970s, he found success on the small screen with such series as McMillan and Wife. To protect his macho image, Hudson’s off-screen life as a gay man was kept secret from the public.

In 1984, while working on the TV show Dynasty, Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS. On July 25, 1985, he publicly acknowledged he had the disease at a hospital in Paris, where he had gone to seek treatment. The news that Hudson, an international icon, had AIDS focused worldwide attention on the disease and helped change public perceptions of it.

The first cases of AIDS were reported in 1981 and the earliest victims were gay men who often faced public hostility and discrimination. As scientists and health care officials called for funding to combat the disease, they were largely ignored by President Ronald Reagan and his administration. Rock Hudson was a friend of Reagan’s and his death was said to have changed the president’s view of the disease. However, Reagan was criticized for not addressing the issue of AIDS in a major public speech until 1987; by that time, more than 20,000 Americans had already died of the disease and it had spread to over 100 countries.

READ MORE: How AIDS Remained an Unspoken—But Deadly—Epidemic

Rock Hudson

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Rock Hudson, original name Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., later Roy Fitzgerald, (born November 17, 1925, Winnetka, Illinois, U.S.—died October 2, 1985, Beverly Hills, California), American actor noted for his good looks and movie roles during the 1950s and ’60s and popular television series in the 1970s. A well-liked actor of modest talent, Hudson was one of the first known Hollywood celebrities to die of AIDS-related complications the extensive publicity surrounding his death drew attention to the disease.

What is Rock Hudson's original name?

Rock Hudson was originally named Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. He was an American actor noted for his good looks and movie roles during the 1950s and ’60s and popular television series in the 1970s.

Which film established Rock Hudson as a star?

Rock Hudson's role as a repentant scoundrel who selflessly dedicates himself to the woman he accidentally blinded in Douglas Sirk’s tearjerker Magnificent Obsession (1954) established him as a star.

What is considered Hudson's best role?

Hudson’s best film role is considered to be that of an earnest, old-fashioned Texas cattle baron in Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. By the end of the 1950s, Hudson had become one of Hollywood’s most popular and profitable male stars.

How did Rock Hudson die?

Rock Hudson died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 59. He was credited with increasing public awareness of the devastating nature of this disease.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Roy Fitzgerald went to Hollywood in 1946 to pursue an acting career. He found work as a truck driver but spent his spare time idling outside of studio gates and sending photographs of himself to various producers. In 1947 talent scout Henry Willson took an interest in him and invented a new name for his protégé: Rock Hudson—Rock for the Rock of Gibraltar and Hudson for the Hudson River. Despite a number of initial setbacks, owing to a complete lack of training as an actor, Hudson signed with Warner Brothers and played his first role in Fighter Squadron (1948). A year later his contract was purchased by Universal Pictures, which provided him with some much-needed acting lessons.

At Universal, Hudson graduated from bit parts to larger roles in a succession of westerns and adventure films, and he completed some 28 films in six years. He played a leading role in Douglas Sirk’s tearjerker Magnificent Obsession (1954) as a repentant scoundrel who selflessly dedicates himself to the woman he accidentally blinded. The film established Hudson as a star, and he went on to play sympathetic protagonists in several more of Sirk’s melodramas and stylized “women’s pictures,” including All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). Hudson’s best film role is considered to be that of an earnest, old-fashioned Texas cattle baron in Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. By the end of the 1950s, Hudson had become one of Hollywood’s most popular and profitable male stars.

During the 1960s Hudson moved away from sentimentality and melodrama to play the series of roles for which he is best known. Paired with Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964), Hudson proved that he had a significant talent for light comedy. He repeated the success of those films in other sex farces, notably director Howard Hawks’s Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964), in which Hudson delivered a performance compared by critics to Cary Grant at his best.

In 1966 Hudson revealed a greater acting range in the underrated avant-garde film Seconds, in which his character undergoes a complete physical transformation and has to cope with an agonizing identity crisis. The film was poorly received, however, and did not result in offers of more challenging roles. After the Cold War thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968), the remainder of Hudson’s screen career was unremarkable. He appeared in several stage productions and starred in the popular television series McMillan and Wife from 1971 to 1975.

Hudson, whose image was unequivocally heterosexual, kept his homosexuality a secret from the general public until shortly before his death from complications resulting from AIDS at age 59. He was credited with increasing public awareness of the devastating nature of this disease.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

The True Story of Rock Hudson: Who Was the Hollywood Icon Featured in Netflix's 'Hollywood'

If you&rsquove ever listened to the soundtrack for &ldquoGrease,&rdquo Rizzo sings the lyric &ldquoEven Rock Hudson lost his heart to Doris Day!&rdquo in the famous song, &ldquoLook at Me, I&rsquom Sandra Dee.&rdquo So who was Rock Hudson? He was bonafide Hollywood star who made his big break earning him an Oscars nomination for the 1956 film, &ldquoGiant&rdquo with James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor

&ldquoRock Hudson, in the 1950s and '60s, was the very embodiment of American masculinity on screen,&rdquo explained Mark Griffin, author of "All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson." &ldquoHe was beloved by millions of moviegoers who watched him literally grow up in front of their eyes.&rdquo

The actor is one of many real-life characters featured in &ldquoHollywood&rdquo on Netflix. How he&rsquos portrayed within the seven-episode series created by &ldquoGlee&rsquos&rdquo Ryan Murphy isn&rsquot 100% accurate. The show merges fact and fantasy, painting a picture of Hollywood&rsquos golden years for contemporary audiences.

In &ldquoHollywood,&rdquo audiences are introduced to Hudson as a fresh-faced kid played by Jake Picking. He arrives in Tinseltown and signs with agent Henry Miller, played by Jim Parsons. Miller is also based on the real person, who, according to Griffin, &ldquohad very shrewdly and carefully and meticulously groomed him [Hudson] to be the resident Adonis at Universal Studios.&rdquo

&ldquoRock Hudson was definitely controlled and exploited by his longtime and very predatory agent Henry Willson,&rdquo Griffin said.

For the series, Picking needed several facial prosthetic pieces to make him look more like Hudson. He also had fake teeth to mirror his character&rsquos dental work. Griffin says Picking really captured Hudson in his portrayal by &ldquocapturing how good-natured he was, but also shy and terribly self-conscious.&rdquo

As for what the series is getting right? It&rsquos true that Wilson changed the future star&rsquos name from Roy Fitzgerald to Rock Hudson, as seen on the show. Hudson was born Roy Scherer, Jr. in Winnetka, Illinois in 1925. After his biological father abandoned the family in 1931, Hudson&rsquos mother divorced him, explained Griffin. Adding in 1935, his mother remarried a marine named Wallace Fitzgerald who adopted him and his name was legally changed to Roy Fitzgerald.

In the 1940s, Hudson was a truck driver with no acting experience. Then he arrived in Los Angeles.

&ldquo[He] was this big strapping guy, but also a gentle giant who was very vulnerable, who had, I think, a damaged self esteem, which was understandable given his very traumatic early years, abandoned by his biological father, abused by his stepfather, loved, but also dominated by his mother,&rdquo Griffin revealed of Hudson&rsquos past.

In &ldquoHollywood,&rdquo the first film Hudson appears in is &ldquoMeg,&rdquo a factitious movie about a real British actress named Peg Entwistle who jumped off the Hollywood sign. In reality, Hudson&rsquos first on screen appearance was a small role in 1948&rsquos &ldquoFighter Squadron.&rdquo

In &ldquoHollywood,&rdquo Hudson is seen on the red carpet at the Oscars for &ldquoMeg&rdquo holding hands with his African American boyfriend, Archie, a fictional character played by Jeremy Pope. In real life, his red carpet experience was &ldquomuch different due to societal pressures in place,&rdquo said Griffin. &ldquoIt was expected that Rock would squire a really beautiful ingenue, like Vera Ellen or Piper Laurie, to a red carpet premiere.&rdquo

Since &ldquoHollywood&rdquo takes place in the 1940s, it doesn&rsquot show Hudson&rsquos later years leading up to his death.

He died in 1985 from AIDS and became the face of the pandemic as one of the first major celebrities to die from the virus. It was the first time the world learned he was gay.

&ldquoHe never publicly stated &lsquoI am gay,&rsquo said Griffin. &ldquoI think the rumors that had circulated for years about Rock Hudson, even his devoted fan base out in middle America could probably finally figure it out. But there was never any direct statement of that in his lifetime.&rdquo

And the Band Played On, a television movie based on journalist Randy Shilts' book of the same name about the discovery and early days of HIV and AIDS, premieres on HBO. The all-star ensemble includes Matthew Modine, Ian McKellen, Lily Tomlin, Richard Gere, Angelica Huston and Alan Alda.

10 Secrets of Rock Hudson's Heartbreaking Final Days

Rock Hudson made his name as one of Hollywood’s most iconic leading men – but his shocking death exactly 30 years ago made a different kind of history.

A charismatic sex symbol known for standout roles in Pillow Talk, Giant and TV’s Dynasty, Hudson died of AIDS-related causes on Oct. 2, 1985, at the age of 59, the first internationally known star to fall victim to a raging epidemic that many people still knew little about.

Hudson was also eventually outed as gay – which close friends knew for decades, but kept hidden from the public. During his years atop the A-list, he had often referred to coming out as �reer suicide.”

PEOPLE’s Liz McNeil spoke with the actor’s loved ones and closest confidantes earlier this year for in-depth interviews and anecdotes about the late star. Read on for some of the most interesting revelations about Hudson’s last days and lasting legacy:

1. Hudson Contacted His Former Partners Following His AIDS Diagnosis

“He had several lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma that established a diagnosis. Little was known about HIV and AIDS then,” Dr. Michael Gottlieb, HIV specialist and Hudson’s doctor, tells PEOPLE. “There wasn’t much we could do. Within a week he prepared several letters to past sexual partners. He wanted them to know they𠆝 been with someone diagnosed with AIDS. He didn’t reveal his identity. He said, ‘I want to do the right thing.&apos”

2. Only a Few of Hudson&rsquos Friends Knew of His Condition

Not surprisingly, a select few of Hudson’s closest companions were aware of his diagnosis. His famous friends, including Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day knew, as well as his business manager and Yanou Collart – the French aide who eventually, with the permission of Hudson, released a statement addressing the rumors of Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis just weeks before his death.

“I read him the statement. He was too weak to make a decision. I was crying,” Collart tells PEOPLE. 𠇊ll he said was, ‘That’s what they want. Go and give it to the dogs.’ ”

3. First Lady Nancy Reagan Commented on Hudson&rsquos Frail Look (Before the Actor Revealed He Had AIDS)

At a White House state dinner, Nancy Reagan told Hudson he looked too thin. He didn’t tell her the real reason.

4. The World Found Out About Hudson&rsquos Secret Diagnosis After His Collapse in France

Despite going to great lengths to hide his secret, Hudson’s fall at the Ritz in France ultimately tipped off the world that the actor was suffering from a raging illness. President Reagan called to check up on the actor after it was learned Hudson had been rushed to a hospital following his sudden collapse in France, where he had gone for undercover treatments of the antiviral HPA-23, then unavailable in the United States.

5. Hudson Rented a 747 to Fly Home from France

The only way to get an emaciated Hudson back to his home in L.A. – he had lost 70 lbs. due to the debilitating disease – was to put him on a nonstop flight, a 747 or DC-10, from France for further treatment.

“He was too frail to change planes,” Collart, who was brought in to deal with the onslaught of press after he collapsed at his hotel, told PEOPLE. 𠇊ir France wanted $250,000 for a 747 to fly him home, an enormous amount,” recalls Hudson’s business manager, Wallace Sheft. “They called me from the tarmac to make sure the funds had been wired before they took off. We finally got him home.”

6. Hudson Was &lsquoGlad&rsquo He Had Gone Public

“He was well aware of the publicity,” Dr. Gottlieb, who is now on the board of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, tells PEOPLE. “He expressed he was glad he had gone public, that it was having an impact.”

7. The Actor&rsquos &lsquoTrue Love&rsquo Revealed Poignant Details of Their Relationship

When they dated from 1962 to 1965, Hudson and now-retired stockbroker Lee Garlington kept their relationship under wraps in public. Garlington would accompany Hudson to red carpet premieres, but with a catch – the pair each had to bring their own dates to avoid any rumors. The undercover treatment worked for the couple.

Despite being separated for over a decade, Garlington decided to call Hudson’s home upon hearing he was sick. “I was told it wasn’t worth it [to visit] because he wouldn’t know who I was,” Garlington told PEOPLE. “When I later read in his biography that he called me his ‘true love,’ I broke down and cried. He said his mother and I were the only people he ever loved. I lost it. I had no idea I meant that much to him.”

8. Hudson&rsquos Last Visit to Doris Day&rsquos Home Left the Actress in Tears

Rumors about the actor’s condition began to spread in July 1985, when he appeared on The Doris Day Show. “He𠆝 get very tired,” she recalls of his last visit. “I𠆝 bring him his lunch and fix him a big platter but he couldn’t eat. I𠆝 say ‘What if I get a fork and feed you’ but he said 𠆍oris I can’t eat.’ ”

Their goodbye broke her heart. “They had a small plane to get him to the airport,” she says. “We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held onto me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.”

9. Elizabeth Taylor Met Hudson at the Hospital &ndash in Secret

In an effort to keep their meeting under wraps, Taylor took a freight elevator with Gottlieb at UCLA Medical Center to visit Hudson. “She was a little nervous about seeing him for the first time because she knew how sick he was,” he notes. “She asked me if it was okay to hug and kiss him. She was worried about his immune system. Not hers.” Afterwards, he says, “Rock was very glad to have seen her.” The two were very close. Taylor called Hudson every night during his stay at a hospital in France, immediately after his fall, recalls Collart.

10. Hudson&rsquos Bequest Led to the Launch of amfAR

“I was really pissed at the airline for charging $250,000 so when I saw Rock, I said ‘We are going to set up the Rock Hudson Memorial Fund for AIDS Research. I think the world wants to know what kind of guy you are and find a way to eliminate this disease,&apos” Sheft tells PEOPLE. “He said ‘Go ahead.’ It was $250,000, the same amount the goddamn airline had changed him.” The donation helped start amfAR, the first national foundation for AIDS research. Elizabeth Taylor served as co-founder before starting her own nonprofit.

Rock Hudson, Years Later: Has Hollywood Made Any Progress Dealing With HIV?

In 1985, the rapid HIV-related decline of Hollywood icon Rock Hudson changed popular opinion about the epidemic. Thirty years later, it’s hard to say whether Hollywood has really changed when it comes to the disease: It’s rarely spoken of, it’s all but impossible to name a working actor or director with HIV and all the red carpet celebs seem to have put away their red ribbons ages ago.

But even still, Rock Hudson had an undeniable effect on the national conversation surrounding HIV.

In the summer of 1985, the world was shaken unexpectedly by the premiere of a TV show that made national headlines. Christian cable network CBN debuted Doris Day’s Best Friends, a family-friendly talk show about celebrities and their pets, and the show’s very first guest was Day’s old friend and co-star, 1950s heartthrob Rock Hudson.

It became immediately clear to viewers that Hudson was in bad decline. At the age of 59, the formerly strapping, 6’5” actor was visibly ill. Although he didn’t say it, he was dying of AIDS, and middle-America suddenly realized their butch movie hero with the sexy baritone voice was a gay man all along.

Let’s back up a few decades. Rock Hudson got discovered in the early ’50s by well-known gay talent agent Henry Willson, a man renowned for cruising gay clubs and, according to Anne Helen Petersen at The Hairpin, for “picking up the most handsome, square-jawed, Captain America-type specimens for uses both personal and professional.”

The men Willson found were given new backstories and new names that didn’t sound all that different from those bestowed upon today’s gay adult film performers: Chad Everett, Rand Saxon, Chance Gentry and Clint Walker, just to name a few. Willson also discovered Troy Donaghue, Tab Hunter and Guy Madison, all of whom were all-American, young, handsome … and totally gay.

Rock Hudson starred in some of the decade’s biggest films, including the two biggest Texas oil dramas of 1956: the campy, wonderful Written on the Wind and the big-budget epic Giant, where he shared the screen with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Later in the decade, he’d reinvent himself as the debonair star of romantic comedies. Women were just crazy about him.

In 1959, Life magazine declared Rock Hudson “Hollywood’s Most Handsome Bachelor,” though even then rumors were circulating about his sexuality. Willson actually sold out Tab Hunter to the tabloids in exchange for keeping Hudson’s secret under wraps.

Shortly after Hudson became the first big-name public figure to admit to having HIV, Life ran a cover story with the headline “Now No One Is Safe.”

In 1985 there were all kinds of terrible ideas being thrown around to “solve” the epidemic, from tattooing HIV-positive people to quarantining everyone with the virus. Hudson’s former Giant co-star Elizabeth Taylor became an active supporter of AIDS charities, channeling time and lots of money into research for a cure.

Hudson died a few months after his appearance on Doris Day’s Best Friends, just shy of his 60th birthday.

That was now over 35 years ago.

A number of celebrities acknowledged their HIV diagnoses after Hudson. Basketball player Magic Johnson and tennis star Arthur Ashe both came out as HIV-positive, though neither of them was gay. Years later, the family of science writer Isaac Asimov would reveal that he too died of AIDS-related kidney failure, but again he was a straight man who got HIV from an infected blood transfusion.

Since the mid-’90s, many people have been able to lead normal, healthy lives with HIV. In 2015, Charlie Sheen revealed his HIV-positive status, as did former child star Danny Pintauro, but it seems they’re anomalies. Most celebrities with HIV may never feel compelled to disclose they have it. That’s their personal business, but it also reinforces the idea that Hollywood can go on as it once did, pretending that HIV doesn’t exist.

Dale Olson, Veteran Hollywood Publicist, Dies at 78

UPDATED: He represented Rock Hudson during the actor’s public battle fighting AIDS in the mid-'80s.

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Dale Olson, the veteran Hollywood entertainment publicist who represented Rock Hudson during the actor&rsquos public battle with AIDS, died Thursday in Burbank after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.

Olson was head of the motion picture division of public relations giant Rogers & Cowan for 18 years before he resigned in August 1985 to establish his own firm. He started his career in Hollywood in 1956 as West Coast editor of Boxoffice magazine and then worked as a reporter and reviewer for Daily Variety, where he helped found the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.

Olson then joined famed indie production company the Mirisch Corp. as publicity director his first assignment was for In the Heat of the Night (1967), which won five Oscars, including best picture. He would head more than 150 movie campaigns, including launching the Rocky, Superman, Rambo and Halloween franchises.

Born Feb. 30, 1934, in Fargo, N.D., Olson represented the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Laurence Olivier, David L. Wolper, Gene Kelly, Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Walter Matthau, James Whitmore, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, Rod Steiger, Doris Roberts, Diana Rigg, Marion Ross, Peter Ustinov, Robert Blake, Diane Ladd, Jean Stapleton, Dyan Cannon and Sally Kirkland and such organizations as the Center Theater Group of the Ahmanson Theatre and the Producers Guild of America.

He served on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences public relations coordinating committee and executive committee for more than 20 years, and he chaired the committee for three years.

Hudson was diagnosed with HIV in June 1984 but told the public he had inoperable liver cancer. It was not until July 25, 1985, while in Paris for treatment, that the handsome leading man announced he was losing a battle with AIDS. He died Oct. 2, 1985, becoming the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness. He was 59.

Olson visited the actor every day throughout his illness, then devoted much of his time to AIDS awareness and fund-raising by becoming an Actors Fund Trustee. The organization works to help entertainment professionals in need.

&ldquoI learned about AIDS through Rock — the devastation of AIDS through Rock — which motivated me to be more active on a hands-on basis with AIDS,&rdquo Olsen told the Actors Fund blog in March 2011.

Just after Hudson&rsquos death, Olson announced he was going to launch the Rock Hudson Foundation for AIDS Relief. But when actress Elizabeth Taylor — a great friend of Hudson&rsquos — decided to start the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Olson threw his support behind her, realizing Taylor ultimately could raise more money.

On July 12, MacLaine presented Olson with the Actors Fund Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the fund.

&ldquoHe was not only an ace publicist but also a true friend to me and to so many in need in our industry,&rdquo the actress said Thursday. &ldquoA great, loyal and generous man. Thank you, Dale.&rdquo

Said actor-singer and Actors Fund chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell: &ldquoThis is great loss for the Actors Fund. Dale was a staunch advocate for this organization, and I&rsquom personally humbled by his commitment and dedication. When the HIV/AIDS crisis devastated the entertainment community, Dale was among the first to speak out for those suffering and in need. His work led to programs and services that bring comfort and relief for thousands of our clients every year across the country. I speak for everyone at the fund when I say he will be sorely missed.&rdquo

As a member of the West Coast Housing Committee for the Palm View Residences in West Los Angeles — which offers affordable housing for entertainment industry professionals living with HIV/AIDS — Olson announced its groundbreaking in 1998, placed numerous articles and opened the building with a gala hosted by Steiger and Bea Arthur.

In November 2004, the Actors Fund dedicated the lobby of its Los Angeles offices to Olson and fellow publicist Eugene Harbin, his spouse of more than 30 years. Harbin survives him.

Services and memorials will be scheduled in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Actors Fund.

His final screen appearance was on Dynasty.

Hudson was one of the most popular film stars of the '50s and '60, appearing in dramas like All That Heaven Allows and Giant, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. He was also famous for his on-screen chemistry with Pillow Talk co-star Doris Day. However, after the 1968 thriller Ice Station Zebra, Hudson's star status began to wane. He moved to theatrical and TV roles.

In 1984, Hudson made his final screen appearance in Dynasty, a long-running soap opera.

According to the authorized biography Rock Hudson, His Story, Hudson had tremendous anxiety over the part for a very specific reason: He had to kiss co-star Linda Evans. At the time, he was not public with his AIDS diagnosis. &PrimeHe was trapped,&Prime his secretary, Mark Miller, said in the book, per AP. &PrimeHe couldn&rsquot ask them to change the script. He felt either you announce you have AIDS or kiss the lady.&Prime While now we know that HIV is not transmitted through saliva, at the time, there was much less known about the transferral.

Ultimately, he went through with the scene. "On the day the kiss with Linda Evans was shot, Rock used every gargle, mouthwash and spray he could get his hands on. He told Mark, &lsquoThe kiss is over with. Thank God.&rsquo He said it was one of the worst days in his life."

Hollywood icon Rock Hudson dies of AIDS - HISTORY

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11 Celebrities Who Died in the Closet

The stories of these closeted notables range from bittersweet to tragic, and some are just plain outrageous.

Looking at these stories through contemporary eyes is a bit unfair. A few generations ago, the concept of gayness was that it was something you did, rather than something your were. Kind of like a behavior you were trying to control, like smoking or nail-biting. Basically, a bad habit. People believed you just needed to buck up and those lavender passions would evaporate. Also, public condemnation and legal punishments were still very severe. Roy Cohn's closet was particularly odious, but what do we make of the sunlit closet of Sally Ride? Did it matter to her that she wasn't out publicly? Read below a few examples of folks who — if you believe accounts of their lives shared only after death — never got around to making the big revelation before the closet was sealed forever.

The mayor of New York City during the devastating early years of the AIDS crisis, Koch was criticized by many for insufficient action to address the epidemic. Activist and playwright Larry Kramer even called him "an evil man" who helped gay men die. Some of his critics also openly called him a closeted gay man. A longtime friend, journalist Charles Kaiser, confirmed after Koch's death in 2013 that the former mayor was indeed gay. But he was not self-hating, Kaiser said, merely from a generation that did not address such matters publicly. Kaiser also said Koch regretted not doing more about AIDS but that he did take many pro-gay actions, including, while a U.S. congressman, introducing the first version of what is now known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Katharine Hepburn (pictured above in Sylvia Scarlett)

The original gender-norm rebel, Hepburn was iconoclastic in her choices of film roles, her choice of men's clothing, and her lovers. Scotty Bowers's 2012 book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars lays raw the sex lives of the bronze, golden, and silver ages of Hollywood. His decades as a procurer for the various colorful sexual personalities in Hollywood and Beverly Hills spell out in stark terms the specifics to which the gay rumors had only just alluded.

Names are named, among them Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cole Porter, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, George Cukor, Anthony Perkins, and Rock Hudson. He claims to have arranged over 150 hook-ups for the Oscar-winning actress and claims that her famed relationship with Spencer Tracy was a sham. Is Bowers to be believed? Cynic, truth-seeker, and homosexual Gore Vidal insisted that Bowers's stories hold up. — Christopher Harrity

Anthony Perkins

The dark and brooding boy next door had a secret, and that secret was that his boyfriend was the sunny and athletic boy next door Tab Hunter. Perkins's appeal was a sincere and vulnerable personality with a face that revealed emotions that lurked beneath the surface. He was an award-winning actor early in his career as well as a recording star with Billboard-charted hits. His fame exploded with the release of Hitchcock's Psycho, and forever after he was typecast as the "disturbed young man."

There are photos of Perkins and Tab Hunter on arranged double dates as they sit next to each other in movie houses with the girls flanking the outside. Everyone looks miserable. Off camera, Perkins suffered great anxiety over his sexual orientation and underwent therapy to help overcome his attraction to other men. He eventually married a woman, photographer Berry Berenson (who was a passenger on the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center September 11, 2001), and fathered two sons, but according to TCM never fully overcame his personal demons and suffered the dismay of learning he was HIV-positive via a story in The National Enquirer. — C.H.

The first American woman in space, Ride had a long-term same-sex relationship, something that didn't become known until she died in 2012 her obituary listed her female partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, as a survivor. Ride, who flew multiple space missions, was married to a man, fellow astronaut Stephen Hawley, when she met O'Shaughnessy the revelation of their divorce coincided with her retirement from NASA. "She was so eager to promote and protect the space agency, she might well have hidden her private life to help preserve its image," speculates biographer Lynn Sherr in the just-published Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space.

Ride also had witnessed her lesbian sister, Bear, being forced out of a job in the clergy due to her sexual orientation, something else that may have kept the astronaut in the closet. Ride and O'Shaughnessy went on to found Sally Ride Science, an organization that encourages girls to pursue scientific careers. Their relationship was an open secret to employees there, known but not discussed, but Ride gave O'Shaughnessy permission to open her closet door posthumously. — T.R.

Władziu Valentino Liberace is perhaps the most dramatic example of denial on the list. Putting the flame in flamboyant, Liberace lived with his lover, assistant, and co-perfomer Scott Thorsen for five years before Thorsen sued him for palimony. After gossip magazines began printing gay-baiting articles about him, he took legal action against both the Daily Mirror in the U.K. and Confidential magazine here in the States, testifying in his libel case that he was not a homosexual and had never participated in homosexual acts.

Liberace died in 1987 of AIDS-related pneumonia, but his personal physician persisted in denying the pianist had AIDS. After an autopsy, Riverside County, Calif., coroner Ray Carrillo finally confirmed that Liberace had indeed died "of opportunistic diseases caused by AIDS." — C.H.

Rock Hudson

The 6-foot-5 actor was the king of the dreamboats. His light comedy romps with Doris Day as well as his more serious films like Giant and Seconds allowed him to also be considered as a serious actor. His television series McMillan & Wife kept him on our screens once a week, and his last performances were on the campy, iconic Dynasty. Rock Hudson tried to play both sides of the closet. He was very out at his legendary pool parties. Folks such as Armistead Maupin have written about their sexual experiences with him. But he also married his agent Henry Wilson's secretary Phyllis Gates.

Gates was revealed to be a lesbian later in The Advocate. The walls of the closet all but evaporated when Hudson began being seriously ill with AIDS. Even then he said it was from blood transfusions. Regardless, Hudson's death from AIDS complications resulted in enormous public awareness of the disease and as Morgan Fairchild said, "Rock Hudson's death gave AIDS a face." — C.H.

Roy Cohn
Roy Cohn is perhaps best known in popular culture as a leading antagonist in Angels in America, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that was later adapted into a popular HBO series, in which Al Pacino portrayed Cohn in all his closeted hypocrisy. During the Red Scare era of American history, Cohn was an attorney who, under the authority of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, led a series of high-profile prosecutions of suspected members of the Communist Party.

A prominent member of the U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution team, Cohn was a major player in the 1951 trial and conviction of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, pulling strings as well as pulling false testimony from Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, in order to secure the guilty verdict. He was also a major player in the Lavender Scare, one who helped convince President Eisenhower to bar gay people from employment with the federal government by promoting fears that they would pass on secrets to Communists abroad.

Cohn would go on to target many public figures suspected of being gay, though there was speculation about his own gayness — and a rumored relationship with his chief consultant G. David Schine — during his lifetime. Eventually, he died of AIDS-related causes at the age of 59. — Daniel Reynolds

Barbara Jordan
When Barbara Jordan died of complications from pneumonia on January 17, 1996, she became the first black woman buried in the Texas State Cemetery — and likely the first lesbian, though her 30-year relationship with partner Nancy Earl wasn’t publicly acknowledged until Jordan’s obituary ran in the Houston Chronicle. A great civil rights leader and progressive politician who grew up in segregated Houston, Jordan was the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives in Texas in her own right (in 1972) and the first African-American in that state’s Senate after Reconstruction.

In 1974 she was introduced to national audiences delivering a landmark speech on TV in favor of impeaching President Nixon, and in 1976 she was shortlisted as a possible running mate for Jimmy Carter. That didn’t pan out, but she did become the first black woman to deliver the Democratic National Convention’s keynote address.

She battled multiple sclerosis and later leukemia, leading her to move out of politics, but Jordan stayed active in progressive causes long after she left elected office, chairing the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform until her death. President Bill Clinton told KUT radio, for the documentary Rediscovering Barbara Jordan, that he wanted to nominate Jordan for the United States Supreme Court, but by the time he could do so her health was too poor for her to be able to accept the post. — Diane Anderson-Minshall

Raymond Burr

In the 1950s and 1960s, American TV audiences enthusiastically welcomed Raymond Burr into their homes, first as ace defense attorney Perry Mason, who never lost a case, then as detective Robert Ironside. These heroic characters stand in stark contrast to Burr's most famous film role, as the sinister Lars Thorwald in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Would mid-century viewers have so readily accepted Burr as a hero if they knew he was gay? Most likely not. Burr took an unusual approach to covering up this fact — while other gay actors would go on studio-arranged dates with women, Burr (or perhaps a publicist) made up dead wives out of the whole cloth.

He claimed he had been married to a Scottish actress who was killed in the same 1943 plane crash that took the life of movie star Leslie Howard. A second dead wife and a dead son later became part of his story, but like the first wife, they never existed. In reality, Burr was married once, briefly, to an aspiring actress, and they were divorced. Despite his prevarications, he appears to have been a likable man, and he had a happy long-term relationship with Robert Benevides, an actor who became his business manager as well as his life partner. They met early in the run of Perry Mason and remained together until Burr's death in 1993. — T.R.

Ramon Novarro

Novarro, a rival to Rudolph Valentino as the top heartthrob of silent films, is remembered today, sadly, mostly for his brutal murder in 1968. Two brothers, one of them an occasional hustler, were convicted of the crime, about which many apocryphal tales have spread read more about that here. But Novarro was also a capable actor and a major star of the silents who transitioned successfully into sound films. After his stardom waned in the mid-1930s, he kept on working in supporting roles, and he even did TV guest shots into the '60s.

He had several same-sex relationships one of the most important ones was with journalist and publicist Herbert Howe in the 1920s. Studios occasionally concocted a straight "romance" for Novarro but most of the time attributed his bachelorhood to his devout Catholic faith — he did try at one point to enter a monastery — and his devotion to his parents, brothers, and sisters. He made many hit films, but the most notable and enduring one is the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. That movie may soon attract new audiences, as musician Stewart Copeland — the Police drummer turned film, television, and theater composer — has overseen a digital restoration of it and composed a new score for accompaniment.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, joined by Copeland, will perform the score when the film is shown Tuesday in the Windy City. Read a feature about the project and more about Novarro here. — T.R.

J. Edgar Hoover
Was J. Edgar Hoover a tyrant because he was a repressed, closeted gay man or was he simply a horrible person? That’s the question writers and directors have asked since the powerful FBI director died in 1972. Everyone from Ethel Merman to the Mattachine Society’s Harry Hay has been quoted as saying Hoover was gay, even if he didn’t himself acknowledge or accept it.

While many have speculated on Hoover participating in gay sex parties and limo trysts with young men, there is little disagreement that he had a long, tumultuous, passionate relationship with his deputy at the FBI, Clyde Tolson. They traveled everywhere together, held hands, and both helped cement the FBI’s status as a frightening bureaucracy that cracked down on minorities, including gays and lesbians. In Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, written by Academy Award-winning out screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Edgar (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) lays a big one on Tolson (Armie Hammer), and there’s no doubt their real relationship crossed first base. — Neal Broverman

All that heaven wouldn't allow

Rock Hudson kept his heart locked in the closet for most of his life, including hiding his sexuality behind a sham marriage to unwitting Phyllis Gates that his agent arranged in 1955, per Biography. But he could no longer hide after he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984. People magazine writes that the actor couldn't hide his grief, bursting into tears and asking a friend, "Why me?"

After three months, Hudson underwent an experimental treatment in Paris that showed promising results within four weeks. But he refused further treatment. In the coming months, his hope and health faded. As he deteriorated, his friends pleaded with him to return to the States. But he feared his secret being exposed. Once Hudson collapsed and was rushed to an AIDS clinic, there was nowhere to run. As Freddie Mercury would do several years later, Hudson shared his diagnosis with the public, shedding much-needed light on a stigmatized illness.

Upon his return to America, Rock Hudson was greeted by 30,000 letters of encouragement. Elizabeth Taylor launched a fundraiser in his honor. Whether he actually knew how loved he was at the time is a matter of debate. The Washington Post quotes producer Ross Hunter as saying "that 95 percent of the time Hudson wasn't lucid." However, Hudson's close friend, TV producer Stockton Briggle claimed the opposite. In 1985, the 59-year-old star became the first major celebrity to be extinguished by AIDS.

Rock Hudson couldn't be with his true love

Rock Hudson passed away at the age of 59 on October 2, 1985. He was able to live out the remainder of his life surrounded by close friends. While Hudson was fortunate to have a support system at the end of his life, he never was able to have true love. His career and public life wouldn't permit it. According to People, Before his death, Hudson revealed to biographer Sara Davidson that stockbroker Lee Garlington was his real "true love." The two dated in the mid-60s but had to keep their relationship a secret or it would have meant career suicide for both of them. This involved taking secret trips together away from the press's prying eyes and attending Hollywood events together with women as their official dates. But Hudson's career in the public eye wouldn't allow them to stay together for the long haul.

Now in his 80s, during an interview with People, Garlington expressed his regret that they couldn't have been together in today's more accepting world. "I wish he had been born thirty or forty years later," Garlington said. "He'd be more relaxed and at ease and it would have been a happier life. He'd also be elated by how much has changed."

Watch the video: Rock Hudson dies of AIDS at 59. Watch original 1985 WABC news coverage (June 2022).


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