On July 25, 1985, Rock Hudson, a quintessential tall, dark and handsome Hollywood leading man of the 1950s and 1960s who made more than 60 films during his career, announces through a press release that he is suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). With that announcement, Hudson became the first major celebrity to go public with such a diagnosis. The first cases of AIDS, a condition of the human immune system, were reported in homosexual men in the United States in the early 1980s. At the time of Hudson’s death, AIDS was not fully understood by the medical community and the disease was stigmatized by the general public as a condition affecting only gay men, intravenous drug users and people who received contaminated blood transfusions.
Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois. He rose to fame in the 1950s, starring in such films as Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination,and A Farewell to Arms (1957). Hudson’s good looks and charm were on display in 1959’s Pillow Talk and several other romantic comedies he made with Doris Day in the early 1960s. In the 1970s, Hudson co-starred in the popular TV series McMillan and Wife. In the early 1980s, he began experiencing health problems and underwent heart bypass surgery. His final TV role was a recurring part on Dynasty from 1984 to 1985.
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In July 1985 Hudson was hospitalized while in Paris. Some media reports indicated he was suffering from liver cancer. However, on July 25, Hudson issued a press release stating he had AIDS and was in France for treatment. Hudson, who had a three-year marriage during the 1950s to a woman who had been his agent’s secretary, was believed to be gay, although he never spoke publicly about his sexuality.
Hudson died on October 2, 1985, at age 59 in Beverly Hills, California. His death was credited with bringing attention to an epidemic that went on to kill millions of men, women and children of all backgrounds from around the world. Hudson’s friend and former Giant co-star Elizabeth Taylor became an AIDS activist and rallied the Hollywood community to raise millions for research. In 1993, Tom Hanks received a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in director Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, the first major Hollywood movie to focus on AIDS.
READ MORE: Why Rock Hudson’s Decision to Come Out Marked a Turning Point of the AIDS Epidemic