Who Was Rock Hudson? The Life of Hollywood's Closeted Gay Heartthrob
Rock Hudson’s Hollywood beginnings.
Born as Roy Harold Scherer Jr. in Winnetka, Illinois, it didn’t take long for the man we’ll forever know as Rock Hudson to take Hollywood by storm.
Following his breakout role in 1954’s Magnificent Obsession, Hudson absolutely became one of the ultimate heartthrobs in what became known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The thirst for Hudson intensified tremendously.
In the 1940s and 1950s, it was basically impossible to escape photographs and visuals of a shirtless Hudson all over the place. Hollywood understood that they had a rising star on their hands, and Hudson’s attractiveness was definitely a huge help.
He was nominated for an Academy Award.
It was unanimously acknowledged that Hudson was a sight for sore eyes, but he also needed prestige in order to survive in the industry. Hudson first starred in 1955’s All That Heaven Allows, showing a bigger depth to his talent. That was followed by an Academy Award-nominated performance in 1956’s Giant, solidifying him as a prominent actor and a household name in the US.
Hudson’s short-lived marriage to Phyllis Gates.
Right as he experienced a career high that included an Oscar nomination, Hudson got married to interior decorator Phyllis Gates from Dawson, Minnesota. The coupled tied the knot in 1955 and got divorced in 1958 – a three-year marriage that clearly wasn’t sustainable given that Hudson was a closeted gay man.
The events that led to their divorce included cheating rumors while Hudson was filming 1957’s A Farewell to Arms. Although Gates reportedly only found out that Hudson cheated on her with a man sometime later.
The rom-com era.
After gaining critical attention with his Oscar nomination and trying to deflect news of his divorce, Hudson embarked on a series of fun romantic comedies, many of which featured the legendary Doris Day as his costar. This string of hit movies included 1959’s Pillow Talk, 1961’s Lover Come Back, and 1964’s No Flowers.
Transitioning from film to television.
Hudson started to struggle with the movies he was getting cast in as he neared 40 years of age. For instance, the actor was publicly unhappy with films like 1966’s Seconds, 1967’s Tobruk, and 1968’s Ice Station Zebra, to name a few. This was the moment when he decided to pursue TV projects.
Hudson’s TV career.
Hudson’s status as a prominent leading man was safely secured through his work on television. He first made a splash on the mystery TV show McMillan & Wife, which aired on NBC for most of the 1970s. That was followed by guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show and miniseries like Wheels and The Martian Chronicles. Finally, Hudson landed a legendary guest role in 1984 on Dynasty, which went on to be the last performance of his life.
Friendship with the Reagans.
With the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1980, it became much more evident how close of a friend Hudson was not only to him, but also his wife Nancy Reagan. During a particular White House party in 1984, Hudson was pictured with the Reagans – even holding hands with Nancy – showing how close of a friendship these three had.
Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis and eventual death.
Unbeknownst to the public, Hudson was diagnosed with HIV in June 1984, when Reagan was already President. As many LGBTQ+ people will remember, the Reagans turned a blind eye to the AIDS pandemic, and their friendship with Hudson didn’t change that point of view. Like so many other people infected with HIV in the 1980s, Hudson died from complications of AIDS in 1985. He was only 59 years old.