Magnificent ObsessionHudson burst onto the scene in 1954 in this Douglas Sirk drama as the feckless playboy-cum-brilliant doctor Bob Merrick. His good looks and commanding presence made him an instant audience favorite. By the way, his costar was an up-and-coming actress named Jane Wyman (Falcon Crest), recently divorced from future president Ronald Reagan.

GiantThe 1956 film sealed Hudson’s reputation as a leading man and not just for his good looks. His Academy Award nomination for best actor was one of two for the film (the other went posthumously to James Dean, who’d died in a car accident the previous September), with Giant nabbing an impressive 10 nominations. In the movie, Hudson stars opposite Elizabeth Taylor as a wealthy rancher coming to terms with the shifting racial and social order in America.

Pillow TalkNow, we’re having some fun! Hudson mostly became known for frothy, feisty romantic comedies opposite frequent co-star Doris Day (creating a slew of Do-Rock shippers in the sixties). Their films, including this one about strangers who share a telephone party line, were coy about sex, but nevertheless set Hudson up as a major heartthrob.

McMillan and WifeWith his film career largely over by the 1970s, Hudson moved over to the small screen in this detective series, opposite Susan Saint James. Mac McMillan (Hudson) was the San Francisco police commissioner. Sally McMillan (Saint James) was his spouse/sidekick. Together, they had an awkward May/December love that lasted about 40 episodes over six years.

DynastyHudson’s last role was easily his most controversial. As Daniel Reece, he was the father of Heather Locklear’s character, Sammy Jo Carrington, and the love interest for Linda Grey. His onscreen kiss with Grey became a major TV moment after Hudson revealed that he was quite ill with AIDS, setting off a national conversation about the disease. His character was hastily written out, and he died in 1985, six months after his final episode.