12 Incredible Icons Who Tragically Died in the Closet

Looking at these stories through contemporary eyes is a bit unfair. A few generations ago, the concept of gayness was that it was something you did, rather than something your were. Kind of like a behavior you were trying to control, like smoking or nail-biting. Basically, a bad habit. People believed you just needed to buck up and those lavender passions would evaporate.

Also, public condemnation and legal punishments were still very severe. Roy Cohn's closet was particularly odious, but what do we make of the sunlit closet of Sally Ride? Did it matter to her that she wasn't out publicly? Read below a few examples of folks who — if you believe accounts of their lives shared only after death — never got around to making the big revelation before the closet was sealed forever.

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Ed Koch
The mayor of New York City during the devastating early years of the AIDS crisis, Koch was criticized by many for insufficient action to address the epidemic. Activist and playwright Larry Kramer even called him "an evil man" who helped gay men die. Some of his critics also openly called him a closeted gay man. A longtime friend, journalist Charles Kaiser, confirmed after Koch's death in 2013 that the former mayor was indeed gay.

But he was not self-hating, Kaiser said, merely from a generation that did not address such matters publicly. Kaiser also said Koch regretted not doing more about AIDS but that he did take many pro-gay actions, including, while a U.S. congressman, introducing the first version of what is now known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

 

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Katharine Hepburn (pictured above in Sylvia Scarlett)
The original gender-norm rebel, Hepburn was iconoclastic in her choices of film roles, her choice of men's clothing, and her lovers. Scotty Bowers's 2012 book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars lays raw the sex lives of the bronze, golden, and silver ages of Hollywood. His decades as a procurer for the various colorful sexual personalities in Hollywood and Beverly Hills spell out in stark terms the specifics to which the gay rumors had only just alluded.

Names are named, among them Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cole Porter, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, George Cukor, Anthony Perkins, and Rock Hudson. He claims to have arranged over 150 hook-ups for the Oscar-winning actress and claims that her famed relationship with Spencer Tracy was a sham. Is Bowers to be believed? Cynic, truth-seeker, and homosexual Gore Vidal insisted that Bowers's stories hold up. — Christopher Harrity

 

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Anthony Perkins
The dark and brooding boy next door had a secret, and that secret was that his boyfriend was the sunny and athletic boy next door Tab Hunter. Perkins's appeal was a sincere and vulnerable personality with a face that revealed emotions that lurked beneath the surface. He was an award-winning actor early in his career as well as a recording star with Billboard-charted hits.

His fame exploded with the release of Hitchcock's Psycho, and forever after he was typecast as the "disturbed young man." There are photos of Perkins and Tab Hunter on arranged double dates as they sit next to each other in movie houses with the girls flanking the outside. Everyone looks miserable. Off camera, Perkins suffered great anxiety over his sexual orientation and underwent therapy to help overcome his attraction to other men. He eventually married a woman, photographer Berry Berenson (who was a passenger on the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center September 11, 2001), and fathered two sons, but according to TCM never fully overcame his personal demons and suffered the dismay of learning he was HIV-positive via a story in The National Enquirer. — C.H.

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