“I feel No. 1, like a teen-ager again. I have the energy of a teen-ager,” Rock Hudson was saying in his living room last year. “I feel better than I ever felt before in my life. I have stamina and energy, and if I tell you my eyesight is better, you won’t believe me. My doctors don’t. . . .”
It was July 12, 1984, and Rock Hudson, being interviewed in his hilltop home in Beverly Hills simply because he was Rock Hudson, probably knew he had AIDS. (He died Wednesday at 59.) Reports say the illness was diagnosed sometime in mid-1984. Hudson would go to Paris on his first trip for consultation about the fatal disease some time after that. But whatever the actor did or did not know, Hudson seemed almost obsessed with matters of life and good health.
He looked, despite the photographer’s expert lighting, surprisingly, almost painfully lean. He laughed and blamed it on the bad food in Israel. He said he had been there on location the previous November for 10 days. He talked about his heart bypass operation nearly three years earlier--"a quintuple bypass,” he said holding up the fingers of his right hand--and noted he was now doing a lot of walking, swimming and gardening, as well as making batches of his favorite peach ice cream for small parties. Only occasionally, Hudson said, he did give in and light up a cigarette. An hour into the interview he couldn’t resist, and lit one, later another, urging the reporter not to write about it because his doctor would find out.
“My concentration is better,” he said. “It used to be like you would go to a party, and you’d get cornered with a bore. I always get cornered with the bore, you know, and the interesting conversation is always going over there, and I’m not allowed to join it,” he grinned. “I gotta talk to the damn bore. For years my mind would just drift, I’d go off to Tahiti, I don’t know where I’d go. Maybe I’d get back in time, maybe I wouldn’t. But now I stay right with them. Concentration.
“And if you think in terms of arteries. You have only six arteries, and only one was operating, and if you think a six-cylinder engine of a car is running on one piston, maybe you could understand how I had no energy at all. My mind was barely operating. No blood was getting to my brain. Let’s face it. . . .”
He paused with an actor’s timing. “I don’t think I have any brain damage.” He laughed like a kid at his own joke. “I’m not sure. It remains to be seen.
“I have talked to a lot of people who have in a sense had it (bypass operations), and a lot of people are moaning, ‘Oh woe is me, and I’m going to die.’ Well, I have no patience with these people, and I let ‘em have it. Too busy feeling sorry for themselves, and all this. It’s just plain, pardon my French, bull. . . .
“One time, (there was) a guy sitting in a corner. I didn’t know him very well. ‘Hi, how are you? . . .’ ‘I don’t know, I had heart surgery. . . .’
“ ‘You don’t know what? ' . . .
“ ‘Well I’m in such pain.’
“I said, ‘Well what are you doing about it? Why don’t you go out, exercise? You are supposed to walk, aren’t you?’
“These whiners, and all, and I let him have it. He did say one day (later on), ‘Thank you for that.’
“I’m not going to tell you (who it was). A producer. At a party.”
Hudson talked during the 2 1/2-hour interview about a range of subjects, but it was clear almost from the start that he did not want his private life intruded upon. He was asked if the photographer’s light bothered him. “No.”
Do questions? “Always,” he said, pausing to size up his visitor. Then he said that he could “sit and talk with someone like yourself . . . and talk all night about myself” but he hated to see it in print.
Later he said, “People wrote a lot of stuff about me . . . I’m not going to get into that, and they write, and so I laugh it off, and then spit in their face, if I get a chance.”
He spoke a lot about his mother with whom he was very close, and whom he brought to California after his movie career took off. She had Parkinson’s disease, but when she died at 77, it was sudden. “She was one of the best cooks in the world; she couldn’t cook anymore, she couldn’t hold cards. . . . I made sure she had a good life, as well as I could give her, sent her on trips, she loved to travel, sent her around the world twice. . . . She had a stroke, went unconscious, never recovered. Boy, I hope I go that fast.”
Asked if the quintuple bypass had changed his outlook on life, Hudson replied easily: “I don’t know. Yeah, I take care of myself, whereas I never did before, and I am fortunate to have been blessed all my life with excellent health,” and he knocked on the coffee table, “so I never worried about anything. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m too strong,’ and then bang it does, and you think,” he said in a worried tone, “Ooooh. . . .
“And it makes me mad,” he said angrily and playfully at the same time, as if speaking to himself. “And I won’t have it. I simply won’t have it.”
Hudson talked about going into Cedars Sinai Medical Center in 1981 and about the surgery, concentrating not so much on the clinical aspects, but the comic. “And I remember waking up in intensive care, wires in me, tubes and stuff . . . and I started pulling the tubes out . . . I wanted to talk. It was really like Buck Rogers. All around your bed are monitors, and they’re blue and they’re red, and they’re pink. And this one’s going blinkety-blink and (that one) plickety-plick, and boom-ta-da-dum, and I was looking around, loving every minute of it. And I couldn’t ask the doctors, ‘What is that for?’ because of these goddamn tubes. . . .
“I suppose,” Hudson said, “underlying everything I have to say, in all truth, I appreciate things more, or people more, or days more, or nights more. I suppose. I always appreciated them but . . . like the last two or three nights, how warm they were. I sat on the patio, had the music going. Well, I’ve done that ever since I lived in this house, whatever the mood is.
“I think I’m a little more impatient . . . more of wasting time. . . . I hear stupid, pointless discussion. And I want to say, ‘Why are you both so dumb? Why are you wasting time like this?’ ”