Rock Hudson
Name at BirthRoy Harold Scherer, Jr.
BornNovember 17, 1925
BirthplaceWinnetka, Illinois, U.S.A.
DiedOctober 2, 1985
Place of deathBeverly Hills, California, U.S.
SpousePhyllis Gates 1955 - 1958

Rock Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., November 17, 1925 - October 2, 1985), was an American film and television actor. Though widely known as a leading man in the 1950s and 1960s (often starring in romantic comedies opposite Doris Day), Hudson is also recognized for dramatic roles in films such as Giant and Magnificent Obsession. In later years, Hudson found success in television, starring in the popular mystery series McMillan & Wife and landing a recurring role on the prime time soap opera Dynasty.

Hudson was voted "Star of the Year", "Favorite Leading Man", and similar titles by numerous movie magazines. The 6 ft. 4 in. (1.93 m) tall actor was one of the most popular and well-known movie stars of the time. He completed nearly 70 motion pictures and starred in several television productions during a career that spanned over four decades.

Hudson died in 1985 and was the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness.[1]

Early life

Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., in Winnetka, Illinois, the only child of Katherine Wood (of English and Irish descent), a telephone operator, and Roy Harold Scherer, Sr., (of German and Swiss descent) an auto mechanic who abandoned the family during the depths of the Great Depression. His mother remarried and his stepfather Wallace "Wally" Fitzgerald adopted him, changing his last name to Fitzgerald. Hudson's years at New Trier High School were unremarkable. He sang in the school's glee club and was remembered as a shy boy who delivered newspapers, ran errands and worked as a golf caddy.

After graduating from high school, he served in the Philippines as an aircraft mechanic for the United States Navy during World War II.[2] In 1946, Hudson moved to the Los Angeles area to pursue an acting career and applied to the University of Southern California's dramatics program, but he was rejected owing to poor grades.

Hudson worked for a time as a truck driver, longing to be an actor but with no success in breaking into the movies. After sending talent scout Henry Willson his picture, Willson took Hudson on as a client in 1947. Willson's first task was to change his name to "Rock Hudson". Hudson later admitted he hated the name.[3]


Early career

Hudson made his debut with a small part in the 1948 Warner Bros.' Fighter Squadron. Hudson needed no fewer than 38 takes before successfully delivering his only line in the film.[4]

Hudson was further coached in acting, singing, dancing, fencing, and horseback riding at Universal International, and he began to be featured in film magazines where he was promoted, possibly on the basis of his good looks. Success and recognition came in 1954 with Magnificent Obsession in which Hudson plays a bad boy who is redeemed opposite the popular star Jane Wyman.[2] The film received rave reviews, with Modern Screen Magazine citing Hudson as the most popular actor of the year. Hudson's popularity soared with George Stevens]' Giant, based on Edna Ferber's novel and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Hudson and Dean both were nominated for Oscars in the Best Actor category. In the 1950s Hudson made nine films with acclaimed director and father-figure Douglas Sirk, Sirk's own favorite being The Tarnished Angels (1958).

Following Richard Brooks' notable Something of Value (1957) was a moving performance in Charles Vidor's box office failure A Farewell to Arms, based on Ernest Hemingway's novel and the final film produced by David O. Selznick and co-starring Selznick's wife Jennifer Jones. In order to make A Farewell to Arms, he had reportedly turned down Marlon Brando's role in Sayonara, William Holden's role in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Charlton Heston's role in Ben-Hur. Those films went on to become hugely successful and critically acclaimed, while A Farewell to Arms proved to be one of the biggest flops in cinema history.

Hudson sailed through the 1960s on a wave of romantic comedies. He portrayed humorous characters in Pillow Talk, the first of three profitable co-starring performances with Doris Day. This was followed by Lover Come Back, Come September, Send Me No Flowers, Man's Favorite Sport?, The Spiral Road, and Strange Bedfellows. Along with Cary Grant, Hudson was regarded as one of the best-dressed male stars in Hollywood, and received "Top 10 Stars of the Year" a record eight times from 1957 to 1964. He worked outside his usual range on the science-fiction thriller Seconds (1966). The film flopped but it later gained cult status, and Hudson's performance is often regarded as one of his best.[5][6] He also tried his hand in the action genre with Tobruk (1967), the lead in 1968's spy thriller Ice Station Zebra, a role which he had actively sought and remained his personal favorite, and westerns with The Undefeated (1969) opposite John Wayne.

Later career

Hudson's popularity on the big screen diminished after the 1960s. He starred in a number of made-for-TV movies and series. His most successful TV series was McMillan & Wife opposite Susan Saint James which ran from 1971 to 1977. In it, Hudson played police commissioner Stewart "Mac" McMillan with Saint James as his wife Sally. Their on-screen chemistry helped make the show a hit. Hudson took a risk and surprised many by making a successful foray into live theater late in his career, the most acclaimed of his efforts being I Do! I Do! with Carol Burnett in 1974.

In the early 1980s, following years of heavy drinking and smoking, Hudson began having health problems which resulted in a heart attack in November 1981. Emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery sidelined Hudson and his new TV show The Devlin Connection for a year; the show was canceled in December 1982 not long after it first aired. Hudson recovered from the heart surgery but continued to smoke. He nevertheless continued to work with appearances in several TV movies. He was in ill health while filming the action-drama film The Ambassador in Israel during the winter months of 1983-84 with Robert Mitchum. The two stars reportedly did not get along with each other, with Mitchum himself having a serious drinking problem.[7] During 1984, while filming the TV drama The Vegas Strip Wars, Hudson's health grew worse, prompting different rumors that he was suffering from liver cancer, among other ailments, because of his increasingly gaunt face and build.

From December 1984 to April 1985, Hudson landed a recurring role on the ABC prime time soap opera Dynasty as Daniel Reece, the love interest for Krystle Carrington (played by Linda Evans) and biological father of the character Sammy Jo Carrington (Heather Locklear). While he had long been known to have difficulty memorizing lines, which resulted in his use of cue cards, on Dynasty it was Hudson's speech itself that began to deteriorate. Hudson was originally slated to appear for the duration of the show's 5th season, however, because of his progressing ill health, his character was abruptly written out of the show and died off-screen.

Personal life

While Hudson's career was developing, he and his agent Henry Willson kept his personal life out of the headlines. In 1955, Confidential magazine threatened to publish an exposé about Hudson's secret homosexual life. Willson forestalled this by disclosing information about two of his other clients.[8] According to some colleagues, Hudson's homosexuality was well known in Hollywood throughout his career;[9] former costars Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Saint James claimed they knew of his homosexual activity, as did both Doris Day and Carol Burnett.

Soon after the Confidential incident, Hudson married Willson's secretary Phyllis Gates. Gates later wrote that she dated Hudson for several months, lived with him for two months before his surprise marriage proposal, and married Hudson out of love and not, as it was later purported, to prevent an exposé of Hudson's sexual orientation.[10] Press coverage of the wedding quoted Hudson as saying, "When I count my blessings, my marriage tops the list." Gates filed for divorce after three years in April 1958, charging mental cruelty. Hudson did not contest the divorce, and Gates received alimony of US $250 a week for 10 years.[11] After her death from lung cancer in January 2006, some informants reportedly stated that she was actually a lesbian who married Hudson for his money, knowing from the beginning of their relationship that he was gay.[12] She never remarried.[13]

According to the 1986 biography Rock Hudson: His Story by Hudson and Sara Davidson, Hudson was good friends with American novelist Armistead Maupin, and Hudson's lovers included: Jack Coates (born 1944); Hollywood publicist Tom Clark (1933–1995), who also later published a memoir about Hudson, Rock Hudson: Friend of Mine; and Marc Christian, who later won a suit against the Hudson estate.

An urban legend states that Hudson married Jim Nabors in the 1970s. In fact the two were never more than friends. According to Hudson, the legend originated with a group of "middle-aged homosexuals who live in Huntington Beach" who sent out joke invitations for their annual get-together. One year, the group invited its members to witness "the marriage of Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors", at which Hudson would take the surname of Nabors' most famous character, Gomer Pyle, becoming "Rock Pyle". The "joke" was evidently already in the mainstream by the very early '70s. In the October 1972 edition of MAD magazine (issue No. 154), an article entitled "When Watching Television, You Can Be Sure Of Seeing ..." (page 18), a Rona Barrett type gossip columnist states, "...and there isn't a grain of truth to the vicious rumor that movie and TV star Rock Heman and singer Jim Nelly were secretly married! Rock and Jim are just good buddies! I repeat, they are not married! They are not even going steady! This is Rona Boring reporting from Hollywood!" Those who failed to get the joke spread the rumor. As a result, Nabors and Hudson never spoke to each other again.[14]

Illness and death

Unbeknownst to the public, Hudson had been diagnosed with HIV on June 5, 1984. During most of 1984 and 1985, Hudson kept his illness a secret while continuing to work and at the same time travel to France and other countries seeking a cure, or at least treatment to slow the progress of the disease.

In July 1985, Hudson joined his old friend Doris Day for a press conference announcing the launch of her new TV cable show Doris Day's Best Friends. His gaunt appearance was so shocking that the reunion was broadcast repeatedly over national news shows that night and for days to come. Media outlets speculated on Hudson's health.[15] After collapsing at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on July 21, Hudson's publicist, Dale Olson, released a statement claiming that Hudson had inoperable liver cancer. Olson denied reports that Hudson had AIDS and would only say that he was undergoing tests for "everything" at the American Hospital of Paris.[16]

On July 25, 1985, Hudson's publicist confirmed that Hudson did in fact have AIDS and had been diagnosed a year earlier.[17] In another press release a month later, Hudson speculated he might have contracted HIV through transfused blood from an infected donor during the multiple blood transfusions he received during his heart bypass procedure in November 1981. He flew back to Los Angeles on July 30. Hudson was so weak that he was removed by stretcher from the Air France Boeing 747 he had chartered and upon which he and his medical attendants were the only passengers.[18] He was flown by helicopter to UCLA Medical Center,[19] where he spent nearly a month undergoing further treatment.[20] He was released from the hospital in August 1985 and returned to his home, "The Castle", in Beverly Hills.

On October 2, 1985, Hudson died in his sleep from AIDS-related complications at his home in Beverly Hills.[21] Hudson requested that no funeral be held. His body was cremated hours after his death.[22]

The disclosure of Hudson's HIV status provoked widespread public discussion of his homosexuality. In its August 15, 1985 issue, People (magazine) published a story that discussed his disease in the context of his sexuality. The largely sympathetic article featured comments from famous show business colleagues such as Angie Dickinson, Robert Stack, and Mamie Van Doren, who claimed they knew about Hudson's homosexuality and expressed their support for him.[9] At that time People had a circulation of more than 2.8 million,[23] and, as a result of this and other stories, theories about Hudson's homosexuality became fully public.

Hudson's revelation had an immediate impact on visibility of AIDS, and on funding of medical research related to the disease. Among activists who were seeking to de-stigmatize AIDS and its victims, Hudson's revelation of his own infection with the disease was viewed as an event that could transform the public's perception of AIDS. Shortly after Hudson's press release disclosing his infection, William M. Hoffman, the author of As Is, a play about AIDS that appeared on Broadway in 1985, stated: "If Rock Hudson can have it, nice people can have it. It's just a disease, not a moral affliction."[9] At the same time, Joan Rivers was quoted as saying: "Two years ago, when I hosted a benefit for AIDS, I couldn't get one major star to turn out. ... Rock's admission is a horrendous way to bring AIDS to the attention of the American public, but by doing so, Rock, in his life, has helped millions in the process. What Rock has done takes true courage."[9] Morgan Fairchild said that "Rock Hudson's death gave AIDS a face".[24] In a telegram Hudson sent to a September 1985 Hollywood AIDS benefit, Commitment to Life, which he was too ill to attend in person, Hudson said: "I am not happy that I am sick. 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."[2]

Shortly after his death, People reported: "Since Hudson made his announcement, more than $1.8 million in private contributions (more than double the amount collected in 1984) has been raised to support AIDS research and to care for AIDS victims (5,523 reported in 1985 alone). A few days after Hudson died, Congress set aside $221 million to develop a cure for AIDS."[25] Organizers of the Hollywood AIDS benefit, Commitment to Life, reported after Hudson's announcement he was suffering from the disease, it was necessary to move the event to a larger venue to accommodate the increased attendance.[26]

However, Hudson's revelation did not immediately dispel the stigma of AIDS. Although then-president Ronald Reagan and his wife First Lady Nancy Reagan were friends of Hudson, Reagan, who was viewed by some as indifferent to the disease and its sufferers, made no public statement concerning Hudson's condition.[27] At the same time, privately, Reagan called Hudson in his Paris hospital room where he was being treated in July 1985, and Nancy Reagan telephoned French President François Mitterrand to ensure that Hudson would receive the best possible care.[9] Reagan's first public mention of the disease came in response to questions at a September 15, 1985 press conference, nearly two months after Hudson's announcement. In those remarks, Reagan called medical research on AIDS a "top priority". However, when asked, "If you had younger children, would you send them to a school with a child who had AIDS?," Reagan responded equivocally: "Glad I'm not faced with that problem today. ... I can understand both sides of it."[27] Several days later, Reagan sent a telegram to the Commitment to Life AIDS benefit, in which he reiterated his position that his administration would make stopping the spread of AIDS a top priority.[26] Nevertheless, Reagan did not publicly address AIDS at length for another two years.[28]

After Hudson revealed his diagnosis, a controversy arose concerning Hudson's participation in a scene in the television drama Dynasty in which he shared a kiss with actress Linda Evans in one episode. When filming the scene Hudson was aware that he had AIDS, but did not inform her. Some felt that he should have disclosed his condition to her beforehand.[29] At the time, it was known that the virus was present in low quantities in saliva and tears, but there had been no reported cases of transmission by kissing.[30] Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had warned against exchanging saliva with members of groups perceived to be at high risk for AIDS.[25] According to comments given in August 1985 by Ed Asner, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, Hudson's revelation caused incipient "panic" within the film and television industry. Asner said that he was aware of scripts being rewritten to eliminate kissing scenes.[31] Later in the same year, the Guild issued rules requiring that actors be notified in advance of any "open-mouth" kissing scenes, and providing that they could refuse to participate in such scenes without penalty.[32] Linda Evans herself appears not to have been angry at Hudson: she asked to introduce the segment of the 1985 Commitment to Life benefit that was dedicated to Hudson.[26]


For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Rock Hudson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6116 Hollywood Blvd.[33]

Following his death, Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in the film Giant, purchased a bronze plaque for Hudson on the West Hollywood Memorial Walk.[34]

In 2002, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[35]


Following Hudson's death, Marc Christian, Hudson's former lover, sued his estate on grounds of "intentional infliction of emotional distress".[36] Christian claimed Hudson continued having sex with him until February 1985, more than eight months after Hudson knew he had HIV. Although he repeatedly tested negative for HIV, Christian claimed that he suffered from "severe emotional distress" after learning that Hudson had died of AIDS from a newscast. Christian also sued Hudson's personal secretary, Mark Miller, for $10 million because Miller allegedly lied to him about Hudson's illness. In 1989, a jury awarded Christian $21.75 million in damages which was later reduced to $5.5 million. Christian died of "pulmonary problems" caused by years of heavy smoking in June 2009.[37]

In the book Rock Hudson, Friend of Mine by his live-in Hollywood publicist Tom Clark, Clark said he would go to his grave believing Hudson acquired HIV from blood transfusions during his emergency quintuple bypass open heart surgery in 1981. Clark's book characterized Christian as "a criminal, a thief, an unclean person, a blackmailer, a psychotic, an extortionist, a forger, a perjurer, a liar, a whore, an arsonist and a squatter." Christian then sued Clark. Christian was living in the guest house after Clark, who had left in 1983, had returned to Hudson's home in 1985 to take care of him at assistant Mark Miller's request.[38]

In 2010, Robert Park Mills, the attorney who represented the Hudson estate against Christian in court, released a book entitled Between Rock and a Hard Place-In Defense of Rock Hudson. In the book, Mills discusses details of the trial and also questions Christian's allegations against Hudson.[39]

In popular culture

Hudson has been the subject of three plays: Hollywood Valhalla by Aidan Harney, starring Patrick Byrnes as Rock and Stewart Roche as his personal trainer, Toby, which was staged at Bewley's Cafe Theatre, Dublin, Ireland, in 2011; "For Roy", by Nambi E. Kelley, starring Richard Henzel as Roy and Hannah Gomez as Caregiver, which was staged at American Theater Company in Chicago in 2010 and Rock, by Tim Fountain, starring Michael Xavier as Rock and Bette Bourne as his agent Henry Willson, which was staged at London's Oval House Theater in 2008.


  1. Overview for Rock Hudson. Retrieved on 2012-12-04.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Berger, Joseph, "Rock Hudson, Screen Idol, Dies at 59", The New York Times, Oct. 3, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-12.
  3. Berger, Joseph (October 3, 1985). Rock Hudson, Screen Idol, Dies at 59. Retrieved on December 25, 2012.
  4. The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler, Carroll & Graf, 2005, pp. 163-164 ISBN 0-7867-1607-X
  5. YouTube – Rock Hudson in Seconds
  6. Apollo Movie Guide's Review of Seconds
  7. Server, Lee Baby, I Don't Care (2001)
  8. Willson provided information about Rory Calhoun's years in prison and the arrest of Tab Hunter at a party in 1950. See: Hofler, Robert. The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005, p. 248–250; Oppenheimer, Jerry and Vitek, Jack. Idol Rock Hudson: The True Story of an American Film Hero. New York: Villard Books, 1986, p. 55.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Yarbrough, Jeff. "Rock Hudson: On Camera and Off, The Tragic News That He Is the Most Famous Victim of An Infamous Disease, AIDS, Unveils the Hidden Life of a Longtime Hollywood Hero", People Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 7, August 12, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-12.
  10. Phyllis Gates, My Husband, Rock Hudson (1987), written with Bob Thomas
  11. Dennis Mclellan. "Phyllis Gates: Her marriage to Hudson had fan magazines raving", Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-05. 
  12. Robert Hofler. "Outing Mrs. Rock Hudson: the obits after Phyllis Gates died in January omitted some important facts: Those who knew her say she was a lesbian who tried to blackmail her movie star husband", CNET Networks, Inc. Retrieved on December 20, 2007. Archived from the original on December 19, 2007. 
  13. McLellan, Dennis (January 12, 2006). Phyllis Gates, 80; Former Talent Agency Secretary Was Briefly Married to Rock Hudson in '50s. Retrieved on December 25, 2012.
  14. Barbara Mikkelson (August 10, 2007). Good Nabors Policy. Snopes. Retrieved on 2007-09-05.
  15. Martin, James A. (July 11, 1997). Hudson's Day of Revelation. Retrieved on December 25, 2012.
  16. Dunphy, Harry. "Hospital: Hudson liver cancer report is false", The Evening Independent, July 24, 1985, pp. 3–A. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  17. "AIDS diagnosis is confirmed", The Modesto Bee, July 26, 1985, pp. A–3. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  18. Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1987. p. 580. ISBN 0-312-00994-1
  19. "Hudson flown to California for treatment at UCLA", The Milwaukee Journal, July 30, 1985, p. 1. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  20. "Rock Hudson Continues Rest At Calif. Home", The News and Courier, September 9, 1985, pp. 11–A. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  21. "Rock Hudson's death mourned", Eugene Register-Guard, October 3, 1985, p. 1. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  22. "Final bravery of Rock Hudson moves actors", The Sydney Morning Herald, October 4, 1985, p. 10. Retrieved on December 25, 2012. 
  23. Diamond, Edwin. Celebrating Celebrity: The New Gossips. New York Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 19. May 13, 1985.
  24. "BBC NEWS – Entertainment – The show goes on in Aids battle",, November 24, 2003. Retrieved on 2008-07-27. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Rock Hudson: His Name Stood for Hollywood's Golden Age of Wholesome Heroics and Lighthearted Romance—Until He Became the Most Famous Person to Die of Aids", People Magazine, Vol. 24 No. 26, Dec. 23, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-11
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Harmetz, Aljean. "Hollywood Turns Out for AIDS Benefit", The New York Times, Sept. 20, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-11
  27. 27.0 27.1 Boffey, Philip M. "Reagan Defends Financing for AIDS", The New York Times, Sept. 17, 1985. Retrieved 2001-02-11.
  28. Boffey, Philip M. "Reagan Urges Wide AIDS Testing But Does Not Call for Compulsion", The New York Times, June 1, 1987. Retrieved 2011-02-11
  29. Haller, Scot. “Rock Hudson's Startling Admission That He Has AIDS Prompts An Urgent Call for Action — And Some Extreme Reactions”, People Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 13, Sept. 23, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-11.; Should Actors Take AIDS Test Before Filming a Kiss?Jet magazine, Vol. 68, No. 26, Sept. 9, 1985.
  30. Should Actors Take AIDS Test Before Filming a Kiss?Jet magazine, Vol. 68, No. 26, Sept. 9, 1985.
  31. Harmetz, Aljean. "Old and New Hollywood Seen in Attitude to AIDS", The New York Times, Aug. 8, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-11.
  32. Harmetz, Aljean. "A Rule on Kissing Scenes and AIDS", The New York Times, Oct. 31, 1985. Retrieved 2011-02-11.
  33. Hollywood Star Walk: Rock Hudson. Retrieved on December 25, 2012.
  34. Adventures in Grave Hunting by Lisa Burks: Celebrity Memorials. Retrieved on 2012-12-04.
  35. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated (PDF). Retrieved on 2012-12-04.
  36. Willard Manus. "The Cleaning Man Airs Rock Hudson's Dirty Laundry in L.A.", Playbill, 18 December 2000. Retrieved on 2007-09-05. 
  37. Woo, Elaine (December 5, 2009). Marc Christian MacGinnis dies at 56; Rock Hudson's ex-lover. Retrieved on December 25, 2012.
  38. McGraw, Carol. "Rock Hudson Ex-Lover Files Libel Suit", Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1990. 
  39. Parker Mills, Robert (2010). Between Rock and a Hard Place: In Defense of Rock Hudson: From the Ashes of Trial to the Light of Truth. AuthorHouse, X–XI. ISBN 1-456-70039-1. 


  • Clark, Tom; Kleiner, Richard (1990). Rock Hudson, Friend of Mine. New York, NY: Pharos Books. ISBN 0-88687-562-5. 
  • Gates, Phyllis; Thomas, Bob (1987). My Husband, Rock Hudson. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-24071-6. 
  • Hudson, Rock; Davidson, Sara (1986). Rock Hudson: His Story. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-688-06472-8. 
  • Ragland, Shannon P. (2007). The Thin Thirty. Louisville, KY: Set Shot Press. ISBN 0-9791222-1-X. 

External links

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