The Gentle Giant: Rock Hudson Through the Years

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A charming leading man during the 1950s and 1960s, a celebrated heartthrob of the Hollywood Golden Age, Rock Hudson had a career spanned more than four decades, with nearly 70 films and several television productions in total. After making his acting debut in 1948 and later becoming a leading man in B adventure films, Hudson earned his stardom for the 1954 film Magnificent Obsession, co-starring Jane Wyman and directed by Sirk. His popularity soared even higher after starring in the George Stevens’ film Giant, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor. Hudson’s career took a turn to romantic comedy in 1959 with Pillow Talk, co-starring Doris Day, which was a massive hit and one of Hudson’s most popular films. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the motion picture industry. Hudson’s co-star in Giant, Elizabeth Taylor, also purchased a bronze plaque on the West Hollywood Memorial Walk for him following his death.

1967. Rock Hudson wearing Sterling & Hunt’s double breasted suit in a photo for GQ magazine. Photo by John Bryson.

Hudson’s personal life was kept out of the tabloids by the actor himself and Henry Willson, his agent for 19 years. However, it was said that Hudson’s homosexuality was well known in Hollywood, with claims from his colleagues such as Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett. On June 5, 1984, Hudson received the news of his being HIV positive, although he kept it in secret and continued his work while traveling to France and other countries seeking treatment. On July 25, 1985, Hudson’s diagnosis was revealed, making him the first American celebrity to openly admit having AIDS. At the Hollywood AIDS benefit, Commitment to Life hold on September 1985, due to his being too ill to attend, Hudson sent a telegram, “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.” He passed away in his sleep on the morning of October 2, 1985 at age 59, the first celebrity to die of AIDS.

In a 2015 interview with People, Doris Day, Hudson’s co-star in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, explained her friend’s state in July 1985, just before he went public with his diagnosis. “I hardly knew him,” Day recalled. “He was very sick. But I just brushed that off and I came out and put my arms around him and said ‘Am I glad to see you.’” Their last meeting was when Hudson boarded a small plane to get to the airport. “We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held onto me,” said Day. “I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.”

Below are the photos capturing the heartthrob of the Golden Age:

1940s. Rock Hudson in the early years. Photo by LGI Stock.

1940s-1950s. Rock Hudson lying sideways on the diving board of the pool at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

1950.

1950. Rock Hudson at the Finlandia Baths, Hollywood, California.

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