Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Navy 1
Birth:
17 Nov 1925 1
Winnetka, Illinois, USA 1
Death:
02 Oct 1985 1
Beverly Hills, CA 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. 2
Also known as:
Roy Fitzgerald, Rock Hudson 2
Birth:
17 Nov 1925 2
Winnetka, Illinois, USA 2
Male 2
Death:
02 Oct 1985 2
Beverly Hills, CA 2
Cause: AIDS-related complications 2
Burial:
Burial Date: Cremated 2
Burial Place: ashes scattered at sea 2
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Birth:
Mother: Katherine Wood 2
Father: Roy Harold Scherer Sr 2
Marriage:
Phyllis Gates 2
1955 2
Divorce Date: 1958 2
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World War II 1

Branch:
Navy 1
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Occupation:
Actor 2
Race or Ethnicity:
English, Irish, German, Swiss 2
Employment:
Employer: United States Navy 2
Position: aircraft mechanic 2
Place: Philippines 2
Start Date: 1943 2
End Date: 1946 2
Education:
Institution: New Trier High School 2
Place: Winnetka, IL 2
From: 1939 2
To: 1943 2

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Stories

Rock Hudson, Screen Idol, Dies at 59

 

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.

ROCK HUDSON'S SECRET by Roger Ebert October 22, 2010

 

If Rock Hudson had collapsed in Los Angeles instead of in a Paris hospital, he would have died with all of his secrets still intact.

Knowing he had only weeks or months to live, Hudson and his friends planned a scenario in which he would be taken to a condo in Palm Desert, where a hospice-like environment would be created. Male nurses, sworn to secrecy, would care for him, and when he died the cause of death would be given out as a heart attack or cirrhosis of the liver.

There would have been no mention of AIDS, no revelation that Hudson was gay, none of the personal details that are now the subject of two new books and countless magazine and TV articles.That's the opinion of Sara Davidson, whose authorized biography, Rock Hudson: His Story (William Morrow & Co. Inc., $16.95), is based on interviews with Hudson during the last 27 days of his life, and revelations by his closest friends.

"A lot of people said it was so brave of Rock to admit that he had AIDS," Davidson told me. "But actually he wanted it to be hushed up. He thought of AIDS as the plague. It made him feel unclean, and he felt it would destroy the image he had carefully built up over 35 years. If he had collapsed in L.A., he would have been taken to a place like Cedars-Sinai, a hospital used to hushing up the details of movie stars' illnesses. The news would never have leaked out, just as it hasn't in the case of several other AIDS deaths of famous people.

"But he collapsed in Paris, and the officials at the American Hospital were enraged. They didn't accept AIDS cases in the hospital, and they said either he would have to announce it, or they would. When the statement was drafted, Rock"s publicist and his secretary read it to him, and all he said was, "Go ahead, it"s been hidden long enough." He was shocked at the response to the announcement: The cover of Newsweek, the 28,000 letters of support from fans, the sudden interest in AIDS research and fund-raising. I think the response gave him a lot of comfort in his last days."

In her book, Davidson creates a portrait of a man who was homosexual all of his life, yet successfully created a screen image as a romantic lead, and kept his private life secret. "He had a gentleman"s agreement with the press," she said. "They didn"t ask the obvious questions. As a result, he developed a sort of love-hate thing with the press, based on a certain contempt. When the announcement about AIDS was approved, he said, "Throw it to the dogs."

Although Davidson"s book reveals hundreds of details that Hudson preferred to keep secret over the years, it cannot, she said, answer the question of how Hudson was infected with AIDS.

"He had the disease for a long time before it was diagnosed," she said during a recent Chicago visit. "Perhaps as long as three to five years. He may have been one of the earlier cases. When he learned that he had it, he said, "Why me? I don't know anyone who has AIDS." It was thought that perhaps Marc Christian, his last lover, was the source, but Christian tested negative. Rock wrote anonymous letters to his last three sex partners, telling them they might have been exposed, but he may have had AIDS long before meeting them. There just wasn't any obvious source of AIDS around him."

In your book, I said, you write about a trip Hudson made to San Francisco, where he and a friend went sight-seeing in some of the wilder gay leather bars. Is it possible that he engaged in sexual practices common in those bars, and got AIDS that way?

"I"m not at liberty to say," she said, somewhat surprisingly.

Were there restrictions placed on what you could or couldn"t say in the book?

"Ninety-nine percent of my original manuscript is still in the book. The parts that were taken out deal primarily with Marc Christian, who is involved in legal action. Actually, I found out a lot more about Rock Hudson's sex life than I wanted to put in the book. I know what he liked, and how, and with whom, but I didn't think it was in good taste to go into all the graphic details.

"Even so, I've been attacked for going too far. Liz Smith and Marilyn Beck were on 'Good Morning America' and they said, "With friends like Sara Davidson, who needs enemies?" But the book is the result of my conversations with Rock and his closest friends, and I believe it tells the truth."

Did Hudson engage in some of the more bizarre gay sexual practices?

"No. He wasn"t into S & M, for example. He was basically a very romantic man. He was like a woman; he'd run and tell his friends when he'd found someone new that he was in love with. He always believed there was one single right person for him, Mr. Right, and he was always looking for that person, and always finding him."

And one day, a Mr. Right gave him AIDS.

"Not necessarily. One of the possibilities is that he got it through a blood transfusion in 1981, when he was in Cedars-Sinai for open-heart surgery. The hospital is right in the middle of West Hollywood, a largely gay community, and little was known in those days about the dangers of AIDS from blood transfusions. It"s as likely a theory as any."

How much time did you really spend with Hudson? How much of the book is really his own story?

"I spent the last 27 days of his life visiting his home every day. He wanted to tell his story and he told all of his friends to cooperate with me. He had his good days and his bad days. Some days he"d be feeling well enough to come downstairs, ask for food, visit with friends. His mind would be perfectly lucid. In fact, his mind was always alert and clear. The people who say he was out of his mind at the end weren"t there to make that kind of judgment. But obviously I knew I wouldn't have nearly as much time with him as I wanted, and so before I even agreed to write the book I spent time with Mark Miller, his secretary, trying to find out what was known, and who knew it, and if they would talk. I was satisfied.

"One surprising thing was that there were so few good articles written by other people about Rock. He was not a good interview. I hired a researcher to look through clippings, and our conclusion was that in 35 years he never gave a good interview to anyone, except once for an oral history project at Southern Methodist, where for some reason he opened up and talked for hours to a professor, maybe because he thought it was for posterity. In most interviews he was wooden and impersonal. And yet in person he was so lively and likable. It was said that the only way to really get him to open up was to spend hours drinking with him."

Was he an alcoholic?

"In the last 10 or 15 years of his life, he drank a lot. It wasn't easy, going from the No. 1 box office star in the world to No. 2, No. 6, and then dropping off the list altogether. The irony is that he just started to hit his stride as an actor in the 1960s, when handsome leading men like himself were on the way out. He looked at the new stars like Dustin Hoffman and called them the "Little Uglies." He hated them because they didn't have perfect faces. Rock Hudson never took a bad picture."

"His career was absolutely of first importance for him. He placed it ahead of everything. When he read the script and saw the kiss, he agonized over it, but finally he decided to go ahead. I say in the book that he gargled with every known mouthwash. Actually, if you look at the kiss, he didn't open his lips and it was sort of a chaste peck on the cheek."

But even at that point in his illness, he was still taking his career that seriously?

"He had so much denial. After he was no longer a top box office star, he never developed other avenues -- like producing, developing his own projects, things like that. He wanted to act right up until his dying breath. He appeared on those "Dynasty" episodes where he looked so thin and gaunt, and he would look at them, and say he looked like he did in his younger days. When he went to do that TV program ("Doris Day's Best Friends") with Doris Day, his life was literally hanging by a thread. He hadn't had real nourishment in two months. She was so bouncy and full of pep, so vivacious, and there was Rock, the same age, and he was in such obvious pain you could hear the bones creak. And yet they still had their old chemistry, and it was really moving, the way he touched her cheek and snuggled with her."

So many people seemed to know Rock Hudson was gay, and yet it was a secret. How about his mother? Did she know?

Davidson grinned. "There's a great story about that. His mother was a devoted bridge player. One day down in Newport Beach, she was playing bridge, and one of her partners had something on her mind, and finally blurted out, 'I heard that Rock was gay!" His mother answered, "I know. And the hardest thing is, I can't remember his boyfriends' names. Three no trump.' "

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