Today in 1985, Rock Hudson died at age 59. He was the first American celebrity to die of AIDS-related medical complications. Until Hudson's death, the American public and the media were largely content to ignore the growing HIV/AIDS crisis as an issue that could be conveniently written off as a problem of the gay world.
Rock Hudson was a leading man whose entertainment career lasted over thirty years. He was known for his romantic comedies, most remembered for his roles in Magnificent Obsession, Giant and Pillow Talk. He was an entirely closeted gay man.
Hudson received his AIDS diagnosis in 1984. He went public with the diagnosis on July 25, 1985. At the time, he was being treated at a Paris hospital. The world was stunned. Until his announcement, no major American celebrity had come out as having the disease. It was an important moment, if a tragic one. It helped bring AIDS awareness into the American consciousness.
The AIDS crisis began in 1981. It was believed for a time that the disease only affected gay men. As we now know, that is not the case. Health officials and medical scientists urged the government to fund research on the disease, but their calls of alarm fell on deaf ears in the Reagan administration.
Hudson and Reagan were personal friends. His death, on October 2 of 1985, reportedly changed Reagan's position on the disease. It wasn't until 1987 that he first mentioned the crisis in a public speech - a delay that garnered harsh criticism.
Thankfully, the disease is no longer a death sentence with access to proper medication and treatment. However, that is still not possible in many parts of the world. AIDS is still a major pandemic in some parts of the undeveloped world.