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12 Incredible Icons Who Tragically Died in the Closet

12 Incredible Icons Who Tragically Died in the Closet


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Sally Ride
The first American woman in space, Ride had a long-term same-sex relationship, something that didn't become known until she died in 2012; her obituary listed her female partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, as a survivor. Ride, who flew multiple space missions, was married to a man, fellow astronaut Stephen Hawley, when she met O'Shaughnessy; the revelation of their divorce coincided with her retirement from NASA. "She was so eager to promote and protect the space agency, she might well have hidden her private life to help preserve its image," speculates biographer Lynn Sherr in the just-published Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space.

Ride also had witnessed her lesbian sister, Bear, being forced out of a job in the clergy due to her sexual orientation, something else that may have kept the astronaut in the closet. Ride and O'Shaughnessy went on to found Sally Ride Science, an organization that encourages girls to pursue scientific careers. Their relationship was an open secret to employees there, known but not discussed, but Ride gave O'Shaughnessy permission to open her closet door posthumously. — T.R.


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Władziu Valentino Liberace is perhaps the most dramatic example of denial on the list. Putting the flame in flamboyant, Liberace lived with his lover, assistant, and co-perfomer Scott Thorsen for five years before Thorsen sued him for palimony. After gossip magazines began printing gay-baiting articles about him, he took legal action against both the Daily Mirror in the U.K. and Confidential magazine here in the States, testifying in his libel case that he was not a homosexual and had never participated in homosexual acts.

Liberace died in 1987 of AIDS-related pneumonia, but his personal physician persisted in denying the pianist had AIDS. After an autopsy, Riverside County, Calif., coroner Ray Carrillo finally confirmed that Liberace had indeed died "of opportunistic diseases caused by AIDS." — C.H.



Rock Hudson
The 6-foot-5 actor was the king of the dreamboats. His light comedy romps with Doris Day as well as his more serious films like Giant and Seconds allowed him to also be considered as a serious actor. His television series McMillan & Wife kept him on our screens once a week, and his last performances were on the campy, iconic Dynasty. Rock Hudson tried to play both sides of the closet. He was very out at his legendary pool parties.

Folks such as Armistead Maupin have written about their sexual experiences with him. But he also married his agent Henry Wilson's secretary Phyllis Gates. Gates was revealed to be a lesbian later in The Advocate. The walls of the closet all but evaporated when Hudson began being seriously ill with AIDS. Even then he said it was from blood transfusions. Regardless, Hudson's death from AIDS complications resulted in enormous public awareness of the disease and as Morgan Fairchild said, "Rock Hudson's death gave AIDS a face." — C.H.


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