Throwback Thursday: 30 Years Ago, Rock Hudson Revealed He Had AIDS
The acting legend's final words to Hollywood were read at an AIDS fundraiser by Burt Lancaster: "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."
This story first appeared in the Aug. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
A bed-ridden Rock Hudson's last words to Hollywood came via a message Burt Lancaster delivered at AIDS Project Los Angeles' Sept. 19, 1985, Commitment to Life fundraiser held at downtown's Westin Bonaventure. The 2,500-person dinner had been scheduled for the smaller Century Plaza Hotel, but the revelation that Hudson, 59, had AIDS and would be a part of the event transformed it into a charity blockbuster. "I am not happy that I am sick; I am not happy that I have AIDS," said Lancaster, reading Hudson's words to a dead-silent crowd. "But if that is helping others, I can, at least, know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth."
Within two weeks, Hudson was dead. And it was his death that brought AIDS out of the shadows for the general public with the revelation that a major Hollywood star was gay and had the disease. In a front-page story, THR noted that Hudson, who'd briefly been married in the 1950s to Phyllis Gates, his agent's secretary, "played his most demanding and public role during the last two and half months of his life." The 6-foot-4 Hudson had started out with bit parts in the late '40s (Jack Larson, who co-starred in Hudson's first film, 1948's Fighter Squadron, remembers the 22-year-old as "nervous, perspiring, very polite and extraordinarily handsome"). A series of romantic comedies with Doris Day, including 1959's Pillow Talk, made him box-office gold. By the '80s, he was on Aaron Spelling's ratings bulldozer Dynasty.
When first diagnosed in 1984, Hudson was able to keep his illness secret, but his appearance, then trips to Paris for treatments with the antiviral HPA-23, not available in the U.S., led to rumors. As the media began to focus on the story, his publicist, Dale Olson, confirmed the AIDS diagnosis on July 25, 1985. Hudson's last flight back to L.A. was on a stretcher inside a chartered Boeing 747. He had a month of treatment at UCLA, went home in late August and died Oct. 2. "The thing about Rock is, he was adorable," says friend Angie Dickinson, who attended the 1985 APLA dinner. "Whether gay or not isn't important. He was warm and tender and adorable."