Hollywood was rife with secrets and scandals in the 20th century.
Countless celebrities hid their romantic preferences, vices, and social taboos. One of the ones we never expected was the secret, fatal diagnosis that star Rock Hudson hid from his much younger lover.
Rock Hudson was one of the most admired actors of his time. Before he was a star on the silver screen, the actor was a child born to Illinois parents Roy Harold Scherer and Katherine Wood.
Unfortunately, before he was ten, his parents separated, and Hudson was living with his mother. His mother soon remarried, and the future star gained Wallace Fitzgerald as a stepfather.
Things only deteriorated as his stepfather grew abusive, mocking the young man for pursuing acting and forcing him to take his last name.
This, paired with his frequently forgetting lines in school productions, prevented Hudson from pursuing acting at a younger age, despite his interest in the field.
After graduating high school, he worked for the post office and then joined the WWII war effort as an airplane mechanic. After the war ended and Hudson returned home, he worked as a truck driver. In his spare time, he passed out his headshot and information at studio lots.
Henry Willson, a talent scout, and his soon-to-be agent spotted him and changed his name from Roy Harold Scherer, Jr, had his teeth capped, and helped him take lessons in riding, fencing, singing, and most importantly, acting.
In 1948, Hudson’s appearance and size helped him land a role in “Fighter Squadron” at the young age of 23. Eight years later, the star received his first award nomination for his work in “Giant.”
His career began to soar as he racked up numerous film roles. In 1955, however, Confidential magazine threatened to expose Hudson’s sexuality, a secret he had kept throughout his career.
In reaction, Hudson married Phyllis Gates, his agent’s secretary.
Many saw the marriage as a stunt to curb the many homosexuality rumors going around at the time. Gates and Hudson maintained their marriage was one of love, but the two divorced only three years later.
In filing for divorce, Gates claimed that she was undergoing mental cruelty. Hudson did not dispute the divorce and even paid alimony to his former wife for over 10 years. Gates never married again.
Even with all of the effort to hide his sexual preferences, various Hollywood celebrities disclosed that they knew of the actor’s secret–most notably, friends such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
From 1962 to 1965, Hudson engaged in a secret relationship with Lee Garlington, who has since openly spoken about his love affair. In talking about how he would sneak out from Hudson’s home at night, Garlington revealed:
“I’d sneak out at 6 am in my Chevy Nova and coast down the street without turning on the engine so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. We thought we were being so clever.”
Further, Garlington never fully understood the impact he had on his former partner until the star’s biography was released, in which Hudson referred to Garlington as his “true love.”
Hudson had ended their affair when a fan broke into his home in order to find evidence of the star’s sexuality. Shaken, Hudson called off the relationship.
Rumors abounded about the star having relationships with other men in his life, including his agent. One of his most famous was with young actor Marc Christian.
When the two stars collided, Christian was a 28-year-old actor who had gained fame for his roles in films such as 1988’s “Deadly Addiction.”
Hudson was twice the age of the younger actor. They met in 1982 at a political fundraiser, and they soon began spending much of their time together. By 1983, the actor’s lawyer–Harold Rhoden–claimed that the actor expressed how in love with his new partner he was.
About a year in, they began to live with each other in Hudson’s home in Beverly Hills. They were both more blissfully happy than ever when Hudson began to experience unfamiliar symptoms of some kind.
In 1984, Hudson attended a party at Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s home. While there, many commented on how ill the actor looked. Hudson brushed them off, claiming he was recovering from the flu.
A few weeks after the dinner party, he began experiencing worse symptoms: weight loss, body sores, and extreme sweating bouts. Soon after, he was diagnosed with AIDS.
This was when little was known about the disease, and many parts of the public stigmatized those who suffered from it. Connected in ignorant ways with homosexuality, AIDS was not something that Hudson wanted to acknowledge publicly.
Hudson immediately got to work trying to help find a cure for the disease, but Hudson never accomplished this goal. However, his funding helped greatly in the effort.
While he worked to try to treat his illness, Hudson kept his own partner in the dark about his disease.
Eventually, the star came forward to the public about his AIDS diagnosis. He never directly told Christian of his illness, who only learned about it from Hudson through his public statements.
The jury, after listening to his case, awarded Christian 21.7 million dollars, but the amount was later cut down to 5.5 million dollars.
Rock Hudson must have been a really lovely person for everyone to want to protect him, especially Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day, who both seemed to have a great deal of affection for him!