Rock Hudson: The Incredible Life and Heartbreaking Last Days of a Movie Icon
Hudson was born in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1925 and moved to California in 1946 to pursue an acting career. Throughout the '50s and '60s, Hudson starred in box office hits like Giant and Pillow Talk and proved himself to be Hollywood's dream leading man – charming, talented, handsome and, yes, dimpled.
"Rock was the biggest movie star in the world, and it was career suicide to reveal you were gay," his onetime boyfriend Lee GarlingTon tells PEOPLE. (Hudson secretly dated Garlington from 1962 to 1965.) Here, Hudson lounges in his home in North Hollywood, California.
Hudson swings from a ladder alongside fellow heartthrobs Tony Curtis and Robert Wagner in a shoot for Life Magazine. "He was one of the most handsome men I have met in my life,” says Yanou Collart, his former French publicist. (Collart would later handle the press frenzy when Hudson collapsed in his Paris apartment in 1985 toward the end of his battle with AIDS.)
The actor stars in Giant with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in Marfa, Texas. According to his former business manager Wallace Sheft, Hudson "once drank margaritas for God knows how many hours with Elizabeth one night during the shoot. The next morning they were both blurry-eyed and couldn't say one line. The director [George Stevens] told them it was a fantastic performance."
Taylor visits Rock Hudson on the set of Something of Value with her son. At the time, Hudson was married to Phyllis Gates, his wife from 1955 to 1958. "He told me it was set up by his agent," says Garlington. "She was a lesbian."
"He called me 'Eunice,'" says his longtime friend Doris Day, pictured here with Hudson on the set of 1959's Pillow Talk. "He'd holler, 'Eunice, I'll be over in a minute with a doughnut.' We had a marvelous time."
“When you met him, the sexuality was unbelievable. Just to be in his company – there is an aura about some people when they come into a room, and he had that aura,” says casting agent Esther Shapiro, who later cast Hudson in Dynasty. Here, Hudson poses flirtatiously with friend Marilyn Monroe at the 1962 Golden Globes.
Hudson enjoys a drink with Garlington at a bar in New Orleans. "Nobody in his right mind came out in those days," Garlington, now 77, tells PEOPLE. "We all pretended to be straight. When Rock and I went to a premiere together, we each had our own date."
At a White House State dinner, friend Nancy Reagan told Hudson that he looked too thin. He didn't tell her the reason why. Hudson hadn't yet received a diagnosis, but his health had already started to deteriorate. That June, immunologist Dr. Michael Gottlieb received a call from a patient who wanted to avoid publicity. When Hudson came in for treatment, "he had several lesions of Kaposi sarcoma that established a diagnosis," Gottlieb tells PEOPLE. "There wasn't much we could do. Within a week he prepared several letters to past sexual partners ... He said, 'I wanted to do the right thing.'"
As his health wanes, he performs his final role as Daniel on Dynasty alongside Linda Evans. They shared a kiss that became controversial once Hudson's AIDS diagnosis was revealed. Hudson kept his illness secret from all but a few friends. "I didn't know he was sick until I read it in the papers," Garlington tells PEOPLE.
Rumors about his condition begin to spread on July 15, 1985, when Hudson appears on The Doris Day Show looking gaunt and frail. "When I first met him, I never could have imagined he would be the pivotal person in the history of AIDS epidemic, the single most influential patient ever," Day tells PEOPLE. Hudson dies at home on October 2, 1985.