10 Secrets of Rock Hudson's Heartbreaking Final Days
Friday marks the 30th anniversary of actor Rock Hudson's death of AIDS-related causes
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 “career 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’d been with someone diagnosed with AIDS. He didn’t reveal his identity. He said, ‘I want to do the right thing.'”
2. Only a Few of Hudson’s 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. “All he said was, ‘That’s what they want. Go and give it to the dogs.’ ”
3. First Lady Nancy Reagan Commented on Hudson’s 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’s 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. “Air 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 ‘Glad’ 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’s ‘True Love’ 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’s Last Visit to Doris Day’s 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’d get very tired,” she recalls of his last visit. “I’d bring him his lunch and fix him a big platter but he couldn’t eat. I’d say ‘What if I get a fork and feed you’ but he said ‘Doris 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 – 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’s 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,'” 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.