Rock Hudson dominated the silver screen in the Golden Age of Hollywood—but the heartthrob spent his entire life covering up a huge secret. Even worse, his utterly tragic end revealed it to the world. From his public passions to his hidden life, here are 50 uncovered facts about Rock Hudson, Hollywood’s tragic matinee idol.
Rock Hudson Facts
1. His Real Name Was Much Different
Like so many other Old Hollywood stars, Rock Hudson’s uber hunky name wasn’t actually his real one. He was born the much more humble Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. on November 17, 1925. His parents, Katherine and Roy Harold senior, were of hardy working-class stock, but as we’ll see, little Rock’s childhood was anything but idyllic.
2. He Was Hiding an Enormous Secret
Throughout all his years in Hollywood, Hudson struggled with his biggest secret: He was gay. Many co-stars and producers knew about his sexuality, but the public was entirely unaware, thanks in large part to his many handlers who suppressed the information in the papers. Even so, Hudson still had to go to disturbing lengths to keep it hidden.
3. He Starred in an Infamously Cursed Production
Without a doubt, Hudson’s most famous film role was in the 1956 classic Giant alongside his fellow matinee idol James Dean and screen siren Elizabeth Taylor. Today, however, the film is infamous. It was the last of Dean’s starring roles, and he tragically died in a car crash before the flick was even finished. Yet that was far from the only scandal on set.
4. He and Elizabeth Taylor Were Drinking Buddies
Hudson and Taylor got along very well…but maybe a little too well. Hudson had actually hand-picked Taylor to be cast over Grace Kelly in the film, and the pair apparently spent the entire shoot living my dream and drinking chocolate vodka martinis together until the crack of dawn. James Dean and Hudson, however, were an entirely different story.
5. He and James Dean Had a Disturbing Rivalry…
According to reports, Dean was an absolute terror while shooting Giant, and he directed most of his rage at Hudson. He didn’t like that he received a lesser billing than Hudson, and resorted not only to urinating on set to mark his territory, but also to cruelly insulting the more sensitive actor. Except that wasn’t even the worst part.
6. …But They Also Had Tormented Tension
Dean, whose own sexuality was in flux, despised that Hudson was pretending to be straight, and sniped multiple times that his co-star was “queer” and a “fairy.” He also accused Hudson of coming onto him. Tormented and pent-up, Dean soon came up with his cruelest taunt yet. One day, he reportedly tackled Hudson and French-kissed him.
7. He May Have Had Two Secret Love Children
As a young man, Hudson joined the Navy for a brief period of time, and there’s evidence that he fathered at least one child while serving. In 2014, a woman named Susan Dent surfaced, claiming she was his long-lost daughter. Oh, but it gets better. Other sources claim he actually fathered two daughters with two different women during this period. This was Hudson’s first scandal, but it was far from his last.
8. He Had a Horrific Relationship With His Father
From a young age, Hudson learned some cold, hard lessons. When he told his father he wanted to be an actor, Roy Sr. reportedly physically hit his young son. According to one of Hudson’s biographers, after this incident and others, “he learned that you could talk about pretty much anything—except what you truly felt.”
9. Tragedy Hit Him Very Close to Home
During the Great Depression, the Scherer family fell on extremely hard times, and Roy Sr. even lost his job as an auto-mechanic. When this crisis happened, Rock’s father put his son through utter torment. The patriarch quickly abandoned the family before his son turned four years old—and sadly, the very worst was yet to come.
10. His Family Life Was All Kinds of Messed Up
In 1932, Hudson’s mother Katherine ended up marrying Wallace Fitzgerald, who was a stern, retired Marine officer. Hudson absolutely despised Fitzgerald…and for very good reason. Fitzgerald was domineering, and even forcibly adopted Rock without the young boy’s consent, turning him into “Roy Fitzgerald” against his will.
11. He Always Felt Like a Failure
Hudson first got into acting when he worked as an usher in a theatre, and dreamed of being up on the silver screen himself. He immediately tried out for some school plays—only to receive a bitter disappointment. He didn’t get any of the roles because he could never remember his lines. This fatal flaw would come back to haunt him.
12. His First Film Role Was a Total Trainwreck
Hudson’s acting debut was a small, one-line part in the 1948 film Fighter Squadron. Sadly, it was an unmitigated disaster. His total inability to memorize lines resurfaced, and the nervous young actor took a whopping 38 takes on set just to say his only line. Dear lord, somebody give that hunk of a man a hug.
13. He Wasn’t Always a Heartthrob
In high school, Hudson was very far from his seductive image. He spent most of his time delivering newspapers and performing in his local glee club, which might have been a major hint about his now-infamous personal life. Most people who knew him back them remembered him as a quiet boy, and even when he was famous people called him “a pathologically shy man.”
14. His Failures Only Got Worse
Poor Rock couldn’t catch a break for much of his young adult life. While trying to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, he had to work a bunch of side jobs to make ends meet, including driving a truck. Then, when he applied to study drama at the University of Southern California, they rejected him because of his bad grades.
15. He Gave up a Lot to Make It in Hollywood
Hudson was so desperate to become a star, he went to chilling lengths to get Hollywood to notice him. Not only did he have his teeth capped and take up acting lessons, he also reportedly had his voice surgically lowered. This had an intense side effect: It robbed him of any decent singing voice, and Hudson avoided most musicals in his career.
16. He Showed Incredible Perseverance
Hudson never gave up on his dream, and eventually, he got a lucky break out of his hard work. He tirelessly sent around glamour shots of his square-jawed face, and talent scout Henry Willson ended up taking the bait. Willson took the young Roy Fitzgerald on as a client, but it ended up costing Hudson very dearly.
17. His First Talent Scout Treated Him Horribly
There are reports that Willson brutally took advantage of the naïve Hudson. As actor Tony Curtis later put it about the scout, “Everybody who went with him had to sexually express himself to Henry, I’m putting it nicely.” Other sources state that Willson actively blackmailed Hudson about his sexuality to hold one over on him.
18. He Hated His Stage Name
Almost as soon as Willson met the young boy, he changed his name to “Rock Hudson.” The name was a macho combination of the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River, conjuring up an adventurous, masculine hero. There was just one problem: Hudson absolutely hated the name. Yet he said nothing, and had to take up the mantle for the rest of his career.
19. He Started out as a B-Movie Star
When Hudson was coming up in Hollywood, he started to get a reputation as the go-to man for adventure B-movies. In the early 1950s, Hudson worked on Westerns with names like The Lawless Breed and Horizons West. It was a decent amount of work for a man who could barely remember lines sometimes, but his biggest break was yet to come.
20. He Got Famous Almost Overnight
In 1954, Hudson became a sensation. His work in the romantic drama Magnificent Obsession made practically everyone with a pair of eyes, well, obsessed with him. The film was a box office smash hit, and one magazine named Hudson as 1954’s most popular actor. Fame had finally found Hudson…but there were more struggles ahead.
21. He Never Got Over His Worst Acting Flaw
Even on the set of his blockbuster Magnificent Obsession, Hudson was wracked with nerves, and the consequences were horrifically embarrassing. While acting opposite his co-star Jane Wyman, Hudson still kept forgetting lines, forcing scenes to go for 30 or even 40 takes. Wyman’s reaction to her leading man was unforgettable.
22. He Had an Incredibly Tender Heart
Even though Wyman also had to do retakes whenever Hudson messed up, she never got frustrated or made him feel small—and Hudson was forever grateful for her kindness. Years later at a party, he approached her and confessed, “You were nice to me when you didn’t have to be, and I want you to know that I thank you and love you for it.” Ugh, sometimes this emotionally bankrupt world IS worth living in.
23. His Deepest Secret Almost Got Exposed in the Worst Way
In 1955, the secret of Hudson’s sexuality almost came to light in the most brutal way imaginable. Confidential magazine contacted Henry Willson and threatened to expose Hudson’s bedroom preferences to the public, complete with all the gory details. In order to hush up the article, Willson had to give up information about his other clients—yet Hudson paid an even higher price.
24. His Marriage Was a Sham
Very soon after Confidential nearly exposed his sexuality, Hudson took desperate measures to make sure it never happened again. He married Willson’s secretary Phyllis Gates in a 1955 quickie wedding after a brief courtship. In fact, things moved so fast that Gates herself admitted she was surprised Hudson even proposed. Spoiler: This did not end well.
25. His Divorce Was Intensely Bitter
Though Gates insists she was in love with Hudson and didn’t marry him to cover up his sexuality, the couple was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Three years after tying the knot, Gates divorced Hudson in 1958, giving “mental cruelty” as her reason. Hudson, for his part, let her go quietly without making a fuss. Maybe that was because she now had some cruel leverage on him (but more on that later).
26. He and Marlon Brando Shared a Steamy Night
Hudson took many lovers throughout his life, with some of his longest-term partners being Marc Christian and his live-in publicist Tom Clark. Hudson’s most famous conquest, however, is the stuff fanfics are made of. Apparently, the adventurous heartthrob Marlon Brando and Hudson shared at least one sensual night together.
27. Suppressing His Identity Led to Grave Consequences
In Hudson’s later years, a lifetime of repressing his sexuality took a horrible toll on the actor. He became a heavy smoker and drinker, so much so that he suffered a heart attack in 1981 when he was only in his mid-50s. Even after experiencing the chilling medical scare, Hudson refused to give up his smoking habit.
28. He Guest Starred in a Beloved TV Show
The 80s classic TV show Dallas was based heavily on Rock Hudson’s blockbuster Giant, so it was natural that the producers asked him to play Daniel Reece on the series. At first, Hudson was delighted to return to stardom and the spotlight, but it wasn’t long before everyone realized something was gravely wrong.
29. There Were Early Signs of His Tragic Fate
Hudson had started using cue cards long ago to help him and his bad memory. Yet while filming Dallas, the actor didn’t just have difficulty memorizing his lines, he also had trouble even speaking them. It got so bad, the producers had to write him out of the show and give him an off-screen end. Soon enough, the truth came out.
30. He Found out the Truth After a Routine Doctor’s Visit
In 1984, Hudson discovered a strange irritation on his neck and decided to go to a doctor for a routine visit to check it out. The diagnosis he got changed his life. It was no ordinary skin condition; it was a cancerous lesion called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Even worse, the doctor knew what a Kaposi’s sarcoma meant: Hudson had AIDS.
31. He Lied About His Diagnosis to His Friends
Over the coming months, Hudson took his time coming to terms with the diagnosis. When he started losing weight and looking sick, the actor at first told people that he was suffering from anorexia. After all, not only was AIDS little understood at the time, he felt revealing his diagnosis would all but out him as gay. But whether he told his friends or not, he still had one incredibly hard thing left to do.
32. He Disclosed His Disease With Four Heartbreaking Letters
Shortly after Hudson got his diagnosis, four men got strange letters in the mail. When they opened them, their blood must have run cold. In the messages, Hudson anonymously informed them of his illness, writing: “We recently had sex together and I have been informed by my doctor that I may have AIDS. Please go to your doctor and have a check-up.”
Tragically, at least one man, a 22-year-old who had slept with Hudson very briefly, found out he had the disease the very next day.
33. He Tried Desperately to Stay Alive
Over the next months, Hudson continued to work, all while secretly traveling to France to find a cure and try out experimental treatments. But the end was closing in. On July 21, 1985, Hudson collapsed in a Paris hotel. Though his publicist now claimed he had liver cancer, more and more people were starting to get suspicious.
34. He Had One Final TV Appearance
One of Hudson’s most memorable and heartbreaking appearances on TV came just a few months before he passed on. In 1985, his old co-star Doris Day—with whom he starred in classics like Pillow Talk—invited Hudson onto her shoe Doris Day’s Best Friends. Hudson happily agreed, but when he showed up on set, Day took one look at him and nearly burst into tears.
By then, AIDS had ravaged his body, and he was pale and gaunt. He still hadn’t told the public or even most of his friends about his condition, but Day and everyone else knew all wasn’t right.
35. One Of His Last Goodbyes Was Devastating
Day remembered her last moments with Hudson in excruciating detail. She later related how Hudson was too sick to even eat lunch, and that she tried to cherish every second with him. As she recalled, “We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held on to me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him—but he’s in heaven now.”
36. He Only Admitted the Truth at the Bitter End
By July 25, 1985, Hudson was so sick that his publicist finally had to reveal the tragic truth: He was indeed dying of AIDS. The news rocked the world. Hudson was one of the very first celebrities in history to openly admit to an AIDS diagnosis, and it fundamentally shifted the conversation about the ravaging disease.
37. The Public’s Reaction to His Revelation Was Legendary
For all that Hudson was terrified of disclosing his disease and his sexuality, he need not have been. After Hudson finally confessed his real illness, there was an outpouring of love, grief, and support from his friends and fans. More than that, his announcement skyrocketed the amount of contributions people made to AIDS research.
As actress Morgan Fairchild said, Hudson “gave AIDS a face.” But that didn’t mean the reaction was all good…
38. He Only Got One Oscar Nomination
Hudson was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his work in Giant; it would end up being his only Oscar nomination.
39. He’s the Man Behind the Word “Beefcake”
Hudson really was a hunk to end all hunks. In fact, when Hollywood writer Sidney Skolsky came up with the term “Beefcake,” he apparently had the strapping Hudson in mind. It’s no wonder, then, that Hudson earned himself the nickname “Mr. Beefcake.”
40. Elizabeth Taylor Had an Adorable Nickname for Him
Elizabeth Taylor became lifelong friends with Hudson, and her nickname for him was “Rockaby.”
41. He Revealed His True Self After Hours
Though Hudson meticulously protected the secret of his sexuality in the newspapers of the day, he really let loose during late-night Hollywood parties. Apparently, when things got hazy at the star-studded soirees, people would often get the privilege of seeing Hudson dress up in a ballerina costume and twirl around the room.
42. People Claim He Wasn’t Homosexual
Not everyone agrees that Hudson was homosexual. Some critics claim that especially in his early years, Hudson engaged more in bisexual behaviors with certain actresses—and one of them says she has the receipts. Blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren claims that she and Hudson once got hot and heavy after a studio-arranged date.
43. His Most Controversial Relationship Didn’t Even Happen
Even the steamy affairs Hudson wasn’t having almost ruined his life. In the early 1970s, a rumor went around that Hudson and his good friend Jim Nabors had married in a secret ceremony. Though Nabors was gay—and very closeted—the pair really were only friends. Yet after the vicious rumor spread, it destroyed their friendship forever.
44. He Always Knew He Was Different
Hudson reportedly realized he was gay at the tender age of nine.
45. He Caused a Huge Scandal
After Hudson admitted he had AIDS, people made one disturbing connection. Months before, Hudson had shared an open mouth kiss during a scene in Dynasty with actress Linda Evans. Though we know today AIDS isn’t transmitted through saliva alone, back then the CDC issued a warning saying it could. Many thought Hudson was wrong to not disclose his status to his co-star—and even more controversy was ahead.
46. Elizabeth Taylor Stayed by His Side Until the End
One of the last people to ever see Hudson alive was his lifelong friend Liz Taylor. After she saw Hudson strapped to an IV and slipping in and out of a coma, her response was absolutely heartbreaking. She became a tireless crusader for understanding and sympathy about AIDS, later pleading to the public, “Please God, he did not die in vain.”
47. He Made One Request Before He Passed
On October 2, 1985, Hudson passed on in his sleep while at home. He was 59 years old, and just six weeks shy of his 60th birthday. According to Hudson’s own wishes, his friends cremated his body almost immediately after his passing, and never held a funeral in his honor. It didn’t matter: The world still joined together in mourning their idol.
48. There Is a Secret Tape of His Shocking Confession
According to The Hollywood Reporter, just as their marriage was dissolving, Hudson’s wife Phyllis Gates hired a private detective to record her confronting her husband about his sexuality. The tape’s contents would have ruined Hudson. On the recording, Gates asks Hudson about his bedroom habits with boys, and accuses him of picking men up off the street.
Though Hudson denies picking anyone up, he answers her honestly about sleeping with men, saying he “lasts longer” with boys because “Boys don’t fit.” It’s an incredibly frank conversation for a couple in the 1950s.
49. He Betrayed the Man He Loved
One person was utterly shocked to hear about the actor’s diagnosis: Hudson’s former lover Marc Christian. Christian claimed that Hudson never told him about his disease, and continued sleeping with him after he knew about his status. Terrified that he had also contracted it, Christian took immediate action and sued Hudson’s estate for “emotional distress.” Luckily, Christian never tested positive, but he did win his case.
50. He Made a Surprising Confession
In Hudson’s final days, he worried deeply about his soul. As a child, he was Roman Catholic, but later became atheist. Nonetheless, in his last moments, he begged to confess to a priest. In some of his last hours on Earth, Hudson repented of his “sins.” Though we don’t know exactly what he said, it may very well have been about his sexuality.