Rock Hudson Is Dead at 59; His AIDS Moved the World : One of First to Go Public With Illness

Times Staff Writer

Rock Hudson lost a months-long struggle with AIDS early today, dying of the incurable disease he personally chose to bring to the attention of a concerned and puzzled world.

The once archetypally rugged and handsome actor, whose film triumphs carried him into a successful television career, died peacefully in his Beverly Hills home. He was 59.

His publicist, Dale Olson, said only members of his staff were present when he died at 9 a.m.


Hudson was a veteran of such motion pictures as “Giant” and “A Farewell to Arms” who in recent weeks had become a symbol of acquired immune deficiency syndrome--a little understood and always fatal ailment that strikes primarily at homosexuals, intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs. As of Monday, the national Centers for Disease Control said, 6,944 of 13,611 American AIDS victims had died.

Made Public Statement

It was a menace seldom mentioned by its victims until Hudson publicly stated this summer that he had been suffering from it since mid-1984.

He flew to Paris in July in a desperate effort to find a cure but stayed in the American Hospital only a week before returning to Los Angeles to die.

Doctors in Paris said his health was too frail for experimental therapy.

Since his return such stars as Elizabeth Taylor had rallied around him, and visitors to his home offered a microcosm of Hollywood’s top talent.

Last month a star-studded benefit, whose genesis was in Hudson’s illness, raised $1 million for AIDS research.

‘Some Positive Worth’

“I am not happy that I am sick,” Hudson said in a message to the gathering. “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.”

Rock Hudson (a name assigned him by press agent Henry Willson, who also devised sobriquets for Tab Hunter, Guy Madison and Piper Laurie), was born Roy Harold Scherer Jr. in Winnetka, Ill., the son of an auto mechanic. The father left for California when Roy was 4, and his parents later divorced. His mother remarried, and Hudson took his stepfather’s name. It was as Roy Fitzgerald that he saw the film “The Hurricane” in the late 1930s. He said years later that Jon Hall’s dive from the mast of a schooner convinced him that he had to become a movie star.

He was then six feet, approaching his full height of 6 feet, 4 inches, but was underweight. Efforts at plays in high school were marginally successful, and he sang soprano in the New Trier High School glee club “because my voice refused to change.”

‘Fictional’ Accounts

After Navy service in World War II he moved to Los Angeles and sent out what he described as “fictional” accounts of his drama skills. Only publicist Willson sent for him, renamed him Rock Hudson, (in honor of Hudson Bay) and got him a screen test.

His first film credit was “Fighter Squadron” in 1948 and his last “The Ambassador,” yet to be released.

In 1971 he moved to television as the star of “McMillan and Wife” and for the next 15 years appeared in several series, the last as millionaire Daniel Reece in “Dynasty,” in 1984-85.

“Rock Hudson is the last major star to emerge from the Hollywood studio system,” a film historian once wrote. “He is a traditional romantic hero in an era when such types are exceedingly rare.”