Birthdate: Tuesday, November 17th, 1925
Location: Illinois, USA
Died: Wednesday, October 2nd, 1985
Location: Beverly Hills, California, USA
Cause of death: AIDS
Best known for: All-American leading man whose most successful period was the 1950s and 60s in romantic comedies with Doris Day. His legacy is perhaps a little overshadowed by his high profile death from AIDS at a time when the disease was little understood, but his bravery in being open about his diagnosis helped pave the way for more reasoned discussion of how to tackle the disease. Rock was nominated for an Oscar in 1957 for his part in the previous year's Giant (Yul Brynner won for The King and I). However, he did win four Henrietta Awards at the Golden Globes for Male World Film Favourite between 1959-63 (with a fifth nomination in 1966, losing to Paul Newman), and was voted America's biggest box office star in both 1957 and 1959.
In the 1970s Rock made a very successful transition into television, perhaps one of the most effective of all the attempts by legends of classic Hollywood to extend their careers this way. He'd secured the title role in the detective series McMillan & Wife between 1971-77, starred in the Hugo Award nominated mini-series The Martian Chronicles (1980) and found a second star vehicle in the series The Devlin Connection (1982).
|Rock in The Devlin Connection,|
soon after having a quintuple heart
bypass in 1981, aged 56
On June 5th, 1984, Rock was diagnosed with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), an illness first recorded in 1981 which started out being called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), then 4H (after the four main victim groups of homosexuals, heroin users, haemophiliacs and Haitians), before officially settling on HIV in September 1982. Rock kept his diagnosis a secret for just over a year, and continued to work while travelling to various European countries in search of a cure or delaying treatment.
|In The Vegas Strip War,|
The path to Rock's demise is paved with sexual liaisons with a wealth of homosexual men. The list of rumoured sexual partners seems open-ended, and Rock's homosexuality was almost exposed in 1955 by Confidential magazine, until his agent managed to silence the publication in favour of outing to other, lesser, Hollywood stars on his books. A marriage to Phyllis Gates, Rock's agent's secretary, probably did little to convince those in the know of his true leanings, and indeed the marriage only lasted three years, with Gates citing "mental cruelty" in divorce proceedings uncontested by Rock. The men Rock is said to have had relationships with include author Armistead Maupin (of Tales of the City fame), Jack Coates, Tom Clark, Marc Christian, Lee Garlington and singer Jim Nabors.
|Rock as he appeared in Doris|
Day's Best Friends in July
1985, aged 59
But the denial did not last long. On Thursday, July 25th, it was announced that Rock did indeed have AIDS and that he'd been diagnosed over a year ago. In a press conference held in August 1985, Rock suggested he'd contracted the virus from various blood transfusions he'd had during his heart bypass in November 1981 - the year HIV was first identified.
Rock flew back to Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 30th, 1985, by private chartered jet carrying just him and his entourage and medical staff (incidentally, having to pay the airline $250,000 for the pleasure due to prejudice surrounding AIDS at the time). Too weak to walk himself, he was taken off the Air France flight by stretcher, and flown by helicopter to the UCLA Medical Centre, where he spent several weeks undergoing further treatment. He was released from hospital in late August 1985, to return home to Beverly Hills.
|How the National Enquirer|
reported Rock's AIDS diagnosis
Rock's diagnosis lifted the lid on AIDS and HIV and made it a talking point across the United States and the world. Within weeks of his death, $1.8m had been made in private contributions to AIDS research and treatment - that was more than double the amount raised in 1984. The US Congress set aside $221m to help develop a cure for AIDS, and shortly before his death, Rock himself had donated $225,000 to the cause. HIV specialist Dr Michael Gottlieb called Rock Hudson the "single most influential [AIDS] patient ever".
While all of this good came out of Rock's tragic death, there was still controversy, most memorably over a screen kiss he had with Dynasty co-star Linda Evans, screened in February 1985. At the time of filming Rock knew he had AIDS but did not tell Evans, and some believed he should have disclosed this information to her prior to filming. Although AIDS cannot be contracted through saliva, this wasn't an established fact in 1984, and ripples were sent through the acting industry. The Screen Actors' Guild made it a rule that all actors were informed in advance of any open-mouthed kissing in scripts, and there were stories of some scripts being rewritten to eliminate kissing scenes. Linda Evans herself never showed any anger or disappointment with Rock, however.
|Rock with lover Marc Christian, who|
later sued the actor's estate for
"intentional infliction of emotional
distress". He won $5.5m
Here's an interview with Rock with the British chat show host Terry Wogan from September 1984, three months after his HIV diagnosis. Rock's a little prickly at times, though still charming, but there are moments where his memory is obviously failing him (in reference to 1953's Sea Devils), which he covers up with humour. Asked how he manages to remain anonymous when on his travels, he reveals he simply "walks quickly"...!