Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor became close friends (and drinking buddies) after they starred together in Giant in 1956, but they grew even closer in the final months of Hudson’s life after he was diagnosed with AIDS.
On one memorable Sunday visit, in the summer of 1985, Taylor made a secret visit to UCLA Medical Center with Hudson’s doctor, Michael Gottlieb, the immunologist who identified AIDS as a new disease in 1981.
“I drove her up in my rickety Dodge station wagon,” says Gottlieb, who, along with some of Hudson’s closest friends, shared their memories in this week’s PEOPLE to mark the 30th anniversary of his death later this year.
“We slipped in one of the back freight doors on the shipping dock to avoid being seen,” he recalls. “There was no one else around. We were breaking and entering, going in the back door of the hospital without a pass.”
“Elizabeth was dressed to the nines, totally together,” notes Gottlieb. “She was a little anxious about not having security.”
They rode up to his tenth-floor room in a steel-walled freight elevator. “I heard a loud bang,” he recalls. “I jumped. ‘What was that?’ I asked. Elizabeth laughed and said ‘It’s just my jewels.’ ”
And not just any jewels. “She had hit the wall of the elevator with a large diamond, the Krupp diamond,” he says. “There we were with no security, sneaking in the back door of a hospital.”
“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.”
After Hudson’s death on Oct. 2, 1985, Taylor planned a memorial at his Beverly Hills home with mariachis and margaritas. “She did a beautiful job,” says Wallace Sheft, Hudson’s business manager who later worked with Taylor. “She was very devoted to him.”
Taylor was the first well-known celebrity to become involved with raising awareness about the disease and rallying others to take action. She organized and hosted Commitment to Life, the first AIDS fundraiser, in 1985 and went on to co-found amfAR, one of the first national charities for AIDS research. In 1991, she created The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation with a focus on caring for people living with HIV. To date, it has raised over $17 million funneled to more than 675 organizations worldwide.