The tragic death of Rock Hudson

In 1962, Lee Garlington had his whole life ahead of him. In his early 20s at the time, the young movie extra wanted to reach for the stars. But there was one in particular that he was especially eager to touch. In 2018, a 77-year-old Garldington told People magazine, "He was the biggest movie star in the world, and the rumors were that he was gay. So I thought, 'Let me get an eye on him.'" Garlington waited with bated breath outside the actor's cottage on the Universal Pictures lot and pretended to read a magazine. Then out he came: Hollywood's square-jawed Adonis, Rock Hudson.

Hudson gave his movie-lot admirer a passing backwards glance and kept going. A year later, he invited Garlington to his mansion. Though too petrified on the first night, Garlington would finally get to touch his sought-for star, and the star touched back. "I adored him," Garlington said of Hudson. Pretty much everyone did. Women's Health contributor Korin Miller describes Hudson as a "BFD" and "basically the Brad Pitt" of his era. Biography writes that Hudson wasn't just extremely easy on the eyes but also had the acting chops to shine when sharing the big screen with acting giants, like Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.

Sadly, while Hudson radiated light on screen, he had to keep the public in the dark about his sexuality. Otherwise, the prevailing homophobia of the era would eclipse his career.

All that heaven wouldn't allow

Rock Hudson kept his heart locked in the closet for most of his life, including hiding his sexuality behind a sham marriage to unwitting Phyllis Gates that his agent arranged in 1955, per Biography. But he could no longer hide after he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984. People magazine writes that the actor couldn't hide his grief, bursting into tears and asking a friend, "Why me?"

After three months, Hudson underwent an experimental treatment in Paris that showed promising results within four weeks. But he refused further treatment. In the coming months, his hope and health faded. As he deteriorated, his friends pleaded with him to return to the States. But he feared his secret being exposed. Once Hudson collapsed and was rushed to an AIDS clinic, there was nowhere to run. As Freddie Mercury would do several years later, Hudson shared his diagnosis with the public, shedding much-needed light on a stigmatized illness.

Upon his return to America, Rock Hudson was greeted by 30,000 letters of encouragement. Elizabeth Taylor launched a fundraiser in his honor. Whether he actually knew how loved he was at the time is a matter of debate. The Washington Post quotes producer Ross Hunter as saying "that 95 percent of the time Hudson wasn't lucid." However, Hudson's close friend, TV producer Stockton Briggle claimed the opposite. In 1985, the 59-year-old star became the first major celebrity to be extinguished by AIDS.