Rock Hudson became the first well-known public figure to die of AIDS-related causes 30 years ago on October 2, 1985. His gaunt appearance shocked fans that summer when he reunited with former co-star Doris Day to promote a TV series on pets that she was launching. Less than a week later, Hudson, 59, collapsed in Paris while desperately trying to get medical treatment. The world soon learned his secret -- that he was gravely ill with the deadly disease and also gay.
The future superstar cuddles with his Aunt Evelyn in 1927. He was born Roy Harold Scherer Jr. on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois, north of Chicago. His father deserted the family in the early '30s, and the boy became known as Roy Fitzgerald when his stepfather adopted him. After a stint in the Navy in World War II, the young man headed to California with dreams of becoming an actor. But first he needed a movie star name -- his agent came up with Rock Hudson.
Shortly before becoming a major star, Hudson made a less than convincing Native American in "Taza, Son of Cochise" (1954), donning a black wig and wearing dark makeup. The brazen miscasting in this Western was typical of many of his early mediocre movies, which relied heavily on his strapping 6-foot-4 physique. Shirtless photos of Hudson dominated fan magazines in the early '50s -- so much so that he became known as "the Baron of Beefcake."
"Magnificent Obsession" (1954) offered Hudson a star-making part opposite Jane Wyman after more than 20 films while under contract to Universal Pictures. He played a reckless playboy whose selfish ways contribute to the death of Wyman's husband and then to her blindness before he eventually redeems himself as a surgeon who heals her. Female moviegoers swooned at the new matinee idol in this improbable romantic melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk.
The actor married his agent's secretary, Phyllis Gates, in 1955. Gates had moved in with the star a year earlier. "For Rock, living with Phyllis helped to normalize his reputation in Hollywood. People would say behind his back, with a wink, 'Did you hear -- Rock Hudson's got a lady living with him,'" according to "Rock Hudson: His Story," an authorized biography by Sara Davidson published after his death. The marriage lasted less than three years.
Hudson scored his only Oscar nomination as Bick Benedict in the 1956 epic "Giant," with Elizabeth Taylor as his wife and James Dean, right, as his rival. He played a stubborn cattle rancher battling change in oil-rich Texas in the George Stevens film based on Edna Ferber's novel. Taylor, a good friend, later became a passionate AIDS activist. A year after "Giant," Hudson topped the list of box-office stars in America. He continued to appear in the Top 10 through 1964.
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A split screen, a shared party line and a little sexual innuendo in "Pillow Talk" (1959) helped establish one of the screen's great romantic teams -- Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The actor initially was reluctant to tackle a comedy role, especially opposite the more experienced Day. But the fellow Midwesterners clicked -- they teasingly dubbed each other "Eunice" and "Ernie." The stars reteamed for "Lover Come Back" (1961) and "Send Me No Flowers" (1964).
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"Seconds" (1966) proved to be a radical departure from the romantic comedies Hudson was churning out. In the film, a middle-aged banker undergoes plastic surgery and gets "reborn" looking like Rock Hudson. The star had great hopes the arty sci-fi film by director John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate") would establish him as a serious actor. But the audience at the Cannes Film Festival booed "Seconds," and its box-office failure seriously harmed his career.
"Ice Station Zebra" (1968) helped slow the decline of Hudson's movie career. He played the Navy commander of a nuclear submarine headed to the North Pole to rescue an endangered scientific weather station. Slammed by critics, the Cold War-era adventure flick nevertheless was reportedly one of the star's favorites. And reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes also apparently was fond of "Ice Station Zebra." Ernest Borgnine, far left, co-starred as a Russian defector!
With his movie career waning by the '70s, the actor turned to television, teaming with Susan Saint James in "McMillan & Wife," a comedy mystery series about a police commissioner and his wife in the vein of "The Thin Man." Accustomed to the more leisurely pace of shooting in films, Hudson disliked doing episodic TV, but the popular series ran from 1971 to 1977. He later tried another series, "The Devlin Connection," but it was quickly canceled in 1982.
Hudson's haggard appearance as a guest star on the nighttime soap "Dynasty" in 1984 fueled rumors about his health. After the revelation he had AIDS, the tabloids had a field day with sensational coverage suggesting he had put Linda Evans at risk in scenes in which they kissed. The public knew little then about the spread of HIV. Ex-lover Marc Christian would receive a multimillion-dollar settlement from the late actor's estate, alleging Hudson had endangered him.