On this day in 1985, Rock Hudson became the first notable mainstream celebrity to announce that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. Though the medical community knew little about the virus at the time, Hudson’s announcement has since been credited as a turning point in the fight against HIV/AIDS for providing a familiar and famous face to highlight the severity of an epidemic.
The quintessential Hollywood hunk starred in over 60 films during his career, but was most noted for his role in Giant (1956), his award-winning role opposite Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959), and right before his death, a recurring role on gay staple Dynasty (1985).
Hudson had been diagnosed with HIV more than a year before going public with his status, which came via press release after the actor was hospitalized with “liver cancer” in Paris. We know now that Hudson was in Paris seeking treatment from an early medication that was, at the time, not available in the US. He died in Beverly Hills three months later.
Though he never spoke publicly about his sexual orientation, friends and former co-stars Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Saint James, and Carol Burnett all claimed to have known about his “secret homosexual life.” His death inspired Taylor to become one of the first (and certainly not the last) celebrity AIDS activists.
Arguably one of Hudson’s most famous ex-lovers, Marc Christian MacGinnis, made headlines in 1991 by receiving a $10 million settlement from the late star’s estate after convincing a jury that Hudson had knowingly exposed him to AIDS. Until the day he died in 2009, at the age of 56, MacGinnis remained HIV-negative.
During hearings, MacGinnis claimed he suffered “severe emotional distress” after being exposed to the virus, and told People several years later that his purpose was “not to sleaze Rock. It was to say that if you have AIDS, you ought to tell your partner, whether you’re a movie star or a postman.”
More recently, his crusade to inherit money from a male lover during a time when same-sex marriage was not recognized has offered precedent in the fight for LGBT equality.