ock Hudson, the actor whose handsome looks and flair for comedy made him a romantic idol of the 1950's and 60's, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 59 years old and had been suffering for more than a year from AIDS.
Hudson, whose search for medical treatment in recent months focused worldwide attention on the incurable disease, died peacefully at 9 A.M. in his sleep, according to his spokesman in Los Angeles, Dale Olson.
The actor was the first major public figure to acknowledge openly that he was suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a mysterious and usually fatal illness that primarily afflicts male homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and recipients of contaminated blood transfusions.
Hudson was in Paris in July and collapsed at the Ritz Hotel. He was taken to the American Hospital in Neuilly, a Paris suburb, where it was first said that he had liver cancer. Reports circulated, however, that he had AIDS and had gone to Paris for treatment, and a few days later, a spokesman confirmed them.
Acquaintances often described Hudson as being homosexual but the actor never publicly commented or acknowledged the reports.
An Outpouring of Concern
Hudson was flown back from Paris at the end of July to Los Angeles, where his acknowledgement of his illness prompted an outpouring of concern for him and for other victims of the disease.
For more than a decade, the name Rock Hudson was synonymous with masculine good looks. Blessed with a broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 physique, dark, brooding eyes and a sonorous voice, Hudson was an enormously popular screen presence. In a career that included 62 movies, he twice was voted the nation's top box-office draw.
Yet he did not begin to win broad respect for his skills as an actor until he played an imperious Texas rancher in "Giant" (1956), a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination, and a series of romantic comedies in which he was paired with Doris Day.
Critics Pleasantly Surprised
In the first of those comedies, "Pillow Talk" (1959), Hudson began to poke fun at the hysteria his looks provoked. The catalyst for the plot is a telephone party line where Miss Day overhears Hudson pitching the same corny lines to a variety of cooing girls.
Critics voiced pleasant surprise at his deft performance. Then after "Lover Come Back" (1962), which featured Hudson as a rake who disguises his identity to trick Miss Day, and "Send Me No Flowers" (1964), where he plays a hypochondriac convinced he is dying, the critics deepened their respect for his comedic talent.
More recently, Hudson starred on television in two series, "McMillan & Wife" and "The Devlin Connection," and he had a recurring role on "Dynasty." The production of "The Devlin Connection" was interrupted in 1981 when Hudson underwent heart surgery and five heart bypasses.
Reportedly Reclusive as a Boy
Rock Hudson was named Roy Scherer Jr. when he was born in Winnetka, Ill., on Nov. 17, 1925. During the Depression, his father lost his job as an automobile mechanic and left the family. His mother, a telephone operator, remarried, and the actor, then 8 years old, took the surname of his stepfather, Wallace Fitzgerald. His mother's second marriage ended after nine years.
The reportedly rather reclusive boy took odd jobs to help support the family and tried out for school plays, but could not hold parts because he could not remember lines. That failing dogged him in his early years in Hollywood, where he took 38 repetitions to say correctly the line: "Pretty soon you're going to have to get a bigger blackboard."
In 1944, he joined the Navy and served in the Philippines as an airplane mechanic. After his discharge in 1946, he worked as a piano mover, then moved to Los Angeles to live with his father, who had remarried.
After doing poorly as a vacuum cleaner salesman in his father's appliance store, he took a job as a truck driver. Desirous of lining up work as an actor, he bought a tan gabardine suit and started parking his truck outside a film studio's gates, waiting to be discovered.
Name Changed by Agent
Henry Willson, a talent scout for Selznik Studio, liked photographs the actor had sent him and took him under his wing in 1947. One of the first things he did was change the actor's name from Roy Fitzgerald to Rock Hudson. Years later, the actor confided to an interviewer that he hated the name.
The director Raoul Walsh put Hudson under contract and gave him acting lessons, but a year later sold Hudson's contract to Universal-International Pictures. The studio paid Hudson $125 a week and gave him small roles in 28 pictures.
His career did not really take off until the film "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), where he appeared opposite Jane Wyman as a playboy who causes Miss Wyman's blindness and then becomes a surgeon to cure her.
That role was followed by a few lackluster films, but "Giant," the story of how the growth of oil in Texas unhinged the feudalistic culture of the ranch barons, catapulted him into the ranks of the top stars. The 3-hour-17-minute film, based on a novel by Edna Ferber, was directed by George Stevens and also starred Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.
Other Films Cited
To take advantage of Hudson's popularity, the studio released an earlier film called "Something of Value" (1957), in which Hudson played a white settler in a Kenya torn by the Mau Mau uprisings. He went on to play Lieut. Frederick Henry in "A Farewell to Arms" (1958), based on Ernest Hemingway's novel of World War I.
His other films included "Written on the Wind" (1956), "Twilight for the Gods" (1959), "Come September" (1961), "The Spiral Road" (1962) "Ice Station Zebra" (1968), and "Darlin' Lili" (1969).
In 1955, he married Phyllis Gates, who had been the secretary of his agent, Willson. The marriage ended in divorce three years later.
On Sept. 19 many well-known entertainers joined in a special performance to help raise money to find a cure for AIDS, and although Hudson, who bought $10,000 worth of tickets, was reported too ill to attend, he did send a telegram. It said in part:
"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."
There are no known immediate survivors.