An American film and television actor and a romantic leading man in the 1950s and 1960s.
Though widely known as a leading man in the 1950s & 60s (often starring in romantic comedies opposite Doris Day), Hudson is also recognized for dramatic roles in films such as Giant and Magnificent Obsession.
In later years, Hudson found success in television, starring in the popular mystery series McMillan & Wife and landing a recurring role on the prime time soap opera Dynasty.
Hudson was voted "Star of the Year", "Favorite Leading Man", and similar titles by numerous movie magazines. The 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) tall actor was one of the most popular and well-known movie stars of the time.
He completed nearly 70 motion pictures and starred in several television productions during a career that spanned over four decades.
Hudson died in 1985, being the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness.
Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., in Winnetka, Illinois, the only child of Katherine Wood (of English and Irish descent), a telephone operator, and Roy Harold Scherer, Sr., (of German and Swiss descent) an auto mechanic who abandoned the family during the depths of the Great Depression.
His mother remarried and his stepfather Wallace "Wally" Fitzgerald adopted him, changing his last name to Fitzgerald. Hudson's years at New Trier High School were unremarkable. He sang in the school's glee club and was remembered as a shy boy who delivered newspapers, ran errands and worked as a golf caddy.
After graduating from high school, he served in the Philippines as an aircraft mechanic for the United States Navy during World War II.
In 1946, Hudson moved to the Los Angeles area to pursue an acting career and applied to the University of Southern California's dramatics program, but he was rejected owing to poor grades.
Hudson worked for a time as a truck driver, longing to be an actor but with no success in breaking into the movies. A fortunate meeting with Hollywood talent scout Henry Willson in 1948 got Hudson his start in the business.
Hudson made his debut with a small part in the 1948 Warner Bros.' Fighter Squadron. Hudson needed no fewer than 38 takes before successfully delivering his only line in the film.
Hudson was further coached in acting, singing, dancing, fencing, and horseback riding at Universal International, and he began to be featured in film magazines where he was promoted, possibly on the basis of his good looks. Success and recognition came in 1954 with Magnificent Obsession in which Hudson plays a bad boy who is redeemed opposite the popular star Jane Wyman.
The film received rave reviews, with Modern Screen Magazine citing Hudson as the most popular actor of the year. Hudson's popularity soared with George Stevens' Giant, based on Edna Ferber's novel and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Hudson and Dean both were nominated for Oscars in the Best Actor category. In the 1950s Hudson made nine films with acclaimed director and father-figure Douglas Sirk, Sirk's own favorite being The Tarnished Angels (1958).
Following Richard Brooks' notable Something of Value (1957) was a moving performance in Charles Vidor's box office failure A Farewell to Arms, based on Ernest Hemingway's novel. In order to make A Farewell to Arms, he had reportedly turned down Marlon Brando's role in Sayonara, William Holden's role in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Charlton Heston's role in Ben-Hur.
Those films went on to become hugely successful and critically acclaimed, while A Farewell to Arms proved to be one of the biggest flops in cinema history.
Hudson sailed through the 1960s on a wave of romantic comedies. He portrayed humorous characters in Pillow Talk, the first of three profitable co-starring performances with Doris Day. This was followed by Lover Come Back, Come September, Send Me No Flowers, Man's Favorite Sport?, The Spiral Road, and Strange Bedfellows. Along with Cary Grant, Hudson was regarded as one of the best-dressed male stars in Hollywood, and received "Top 10 Stars of the Year" a record eight times from 1957 to 1964.
He worked outside his usual range on the science-fiction thriller Seconds (1966). The film flopped but it later gained cult status, and Hudson's performance is often regarded as one of his best.
He also tried his hand in the action genre with Tobruk (1967), the lead in 1968's spy thriller Ice Station Zebra, a role which he had actively sought and remained his personal favorite, and westerns with The Undefeated (1969) opposite John Wayne.
Hudson's popularity on the big screen diminished after the 1960s. He starred in a number of made-for-TV movies and series. His most successful TV series was McMillan & Wife opposite Susan Saint James which ran from 1971 to 1977.
In it, Hudson played police commissioner Stewart "Mac" McMillan with Saint James as his wife Sally. Their on-screen chemistry helped make the show a hit. Hudson took a risk and surprised many by making a successful foray into live theatre late in his career, the most acclaimed of his efforts being I Do! I Do! with Carol Burnett in 1974.
In the early 1980s, following years of heavy drinking and smoking, Hudson began having health problems which resulted in a heart attack in November 1981. Emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery sidelined Hudson and his new TV show The Devlin Connection for a year; the show was canceled in December 1982 not long after it first aired.
Hudson recovered from the heart surgery but continued to smoke. He nevertheless continued to work with appearances in several TV movies. He was in ill health while filming the action-drama film The Ambassador in Israel during the winter months of 1983-84 with Robert Mitchum. The two stars reportedly did not get along with each other, with Mitchum himself having a serious drinking problem.
During 1984, while filming the TV drama The Vegas Strip Wars, Hudson's health grew worse, prompting different rumors that he was suffering from liver cancer, among other ailments, because of his increasingly gaunt face and build.
From December 1984 to April 1985, Hudson landed a recurring role on the ABC prime time soap opera Dynasty as Daniel Reece, the love interest for Krystle Carrington (played by Linda Evans) and biological father of the character Sammy Jo Carrington (Heather Locklear).
While he had long been known to have difficulty memorizing lines, which resulted in his use of cue cards, on Dynasty it was Hudson's speech itself that began to deteriorate. Hudson was originally slated to appear for the duration of the show's 5th season, however, because of his progressing ill health, his character was abruptly written out of the show and died offscreen.
While Hudson's career was developing, he and his agent Henry Willson kept his personal life out of the headlines. In 1955, Confidential magazine threatened to publish an exposé about Hudson's secret homosexual life.
Willson forestalled this by disclosing information about two of his other clients. According to some colleagues, Hudson's homosexuality was well known in Hollywood throughout his career; former costars Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Saint James claimed they knew of his homosexual activity, as did both Doris Day and Carol Burnett.
Soon after the Confidential incident, Hudson married Willson's secretary Phyllis Gates. Gates later wrote that she dated Hudson for several months, lived with him for two months before his surprise marriage proposal, and married Hudson out of love and not, as it was later purported, to prevent an exposé of Hudson's sexual orientation.
Press coverage of the wedding quoted Hudson as saying, "When I count my blessings, my marriage tops the list." Gates filed for divorce after three years in April 1958, charging mental cruelty. Hudson did not contest the divorce, and Gates received alimony of US$250 a week for 10 years.
After her death from lung cancer in January 2006, some informants reportedly stated that she was actually a lesbian who married Hudson for his money, knowing from the beginning of their relationship that he was gay. She never remarried.
According to the 1986 biography Rock Hudson: His Story by Hudson and Sara Davidson, Hudson was good friends with American novelist Armistead Maupin, and Hudson's lovers included: Jack Coates (born 1944); Hollywood publicist Tom Clark (1933–1995), who also later published a memoir about Hudson, Rock Hudson: Friend of Mine; and Marc Christian, who later won a suit against the Hudson estate.
An urban legend states that Hudson married Jim Nabors in the 1970s. In fact the two were never more than friends. According to Hudson, the legend originated with a group of "middle-aged homosexuals who live in Huntington Beach" who sent out joke invitations for their annual get-together.
One year, the group invited its members to witness "the marriage of Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors", at which Hudson would take the surname of Nabors' most famous character, Gomer Pyle, becoming "Rock Pyle". Those who failed to get the joke spread the rumor. As a result, Nabors and Hudson never spoke to each other again
In July 1985, Hudson joined his old friend Doris Day for the launch of her new TV cable show, Doris Day's Best Friends where he videotaped a live guest appearance at her southern California ranch. His gaunt appearance and nearly incoherent speech were so shocking that it was broadcast again all over the national news shows that night and for weeks to come.
Earlier, Hudson had been diagnosed with HIV on June 5, 1984, but when the signs of illness became apparent a few months later, his publicity staff and doctors told the public he had inoperable liver cancer. During most of 1984 and 1985, Hudson kept his illness a secret while continuing to work and at the same time travel to France and other countries seeking a cure, or at least treatment to slow the progress of the disease.
It was not until July 25, 1985, while in Paris for treatment and just over one week following his appearance on Doris Day's TV cable show, that Hudson issued a press release announcing that he was dying of AIDS.
In another press release a month later, Hudson speculated he might have contracted HIV through transfused blood from an infected donor during the multiple blood transfusions he received during his heart bypass procedure in November 1981.
He flew back to Los Angeles on July 31, where he was so physically weak that he was taken off by stretcher from the Air France Boeing 747 he had chartered and upon which he and his medical attendants were the only passengers.
He was flown by helicopter to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he spent nearly a month undergoing further treatment. When the doctors told him there was no hope of saving his life, since the disease had progressed into the advanced stages, Hudson returned to his house, "The Castle", in Beverly Hills, where he remained in seclusion until his death on October 2, 1985 at 8:37 a.m. PDT. He was a month and a half away from his 60th birthday.
Following Hudson's funeral, Marc Christian sued Hudson's estate on grounds of "intentional infliction of emotional distress". Christian tested negative for HIV but claimed Hudson continued having sex with him until February 1985, more than eight months after Hudson knew he had HIV. Hudson biographer Sara Davidson later stated that, by the time she had met Hudson, Christian was living in the guest house, and Tom Clark, who had allegedly been Hudson's partner for many years before, was living in the house.
Following his death, Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in the film Giant, purchased a bronze plaque for Hudson on the West Hollywood Memorial Walk.
Hudson had been diagnosed with HIV on June 5, 1984.Hudson issued a press release announcing that he was dying of AIDS.
Rock Hudson remained in seclusion until his death on October 2nd, 1995.
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