New documents discovered in the Reagan Presidential Library offer yet another glimpse into just how far the Reagans went to distance themselves from the AIDS epidemic as it swept across the country in the 1980s.
When Hudson’s publicist, Dale Olson, sent a life-or-death telegram on July 24, 1985 to the White House begging the First Lady to help get his client transferred to a French military hospital where he could be seen by Dr. Dominique Dormant, she flat out denied the request.
At the time, Dr. Dormant, who had treated Hudson before, was working on an early experimental drug believed to help bolster the immune systems of people living with AIDS.
The telegram read:
Doctor Dominique Dormant, specialist treating Rock Hudson in Paris, reports only one hospital in the world can offer necessary medical treatment to save life of Rock Hudson or at least alleviate his illness. This hospital is Ministere du la Defence Centre d’Researches du Service de Sante des Armees Percy Hospital in the city of Clamart. Commanding general of Percy Hospital has turned down Rock Hudson as a patient because he is not French. Doctor Dormant in Paris believes a request from the White House or a high American official would change his mind. Can you help by having someone call the commanding general’s office at the Percy Hospital at the above number.
But Mrs. Reagan, who had known Hudson since the 1950s, said no, claiming “it” (a.k.a. AIDS) was not something she wanted to “get into” and instead suggesting Hudson try contacting the U.S. Embassy in France.
Mark Weinberg, Reagan’s deputy press secretary at the time, tells BuzzFeed that the First Lady’s decision had nothing to do with homophobia or the Reagan Administration’s AIDS policy (or lack thereof). Instead, he says the first family’s view towards Hudson’s predicament was: “Well, we’re so sorry, but were about treating everybody the same.”
“They were both very sorry for Rock’s condition and felt for him and all the people,” Weinberg says. “But it just wasn’t something that the White House felt that they could do something different for him than they would do for anybody else.”
AIDS activist Peter Staley calls the Reagans’ excuse “strange,” since they often pulled favors for their friends while in power.
“I’m sure if it had been Bob Hope in that hospital with some rare, incurable cancer, Air Force One would have been dispatched to help save him,” Staley speculated.
“There’s no getting around the fact that they left Rock Hudson out to dry,” he continued. “As soon as he had that frightening homosexual disease, he became as unwanted and ignored as the rest of us.”
Reagan, now 93 years old, does not grant interviews of any kind, but a spokesperson for the former First Lady told Buzzfeed that “she simply does not recall the incident.”