This letter was to reach you on Nov. 17 to congratulate you on your 60th birthday and to wish you well. Now even the fastest runner in the world won’t make it to you anymore.
And yet, I am writing to you all the same because I believe that you’re still alive—not as the hunk of Hollywood, but as the man who had the courage to come out as both gay and strong, as the patient with AIDS, and as the all-American who acknowledged his homosexuality for everybody to know.
Rock, you were very important to many of us. I remember the times as a teenager in Europe when I came across pictures of you in movie magazines. To me, you were Mr. America, the ideal male. I wanted to be close to you. And, yes, I wanted to be loved by you. Deep down, I think I wanted to become as invulnerable as you—the most masculine male of his time.
And when you and I finally met, in a dark movie house—you up on the screen, talking to me with your deep, dark voice—my body began to shake. I was only 15 or 16, maybe, but I felt both delirious with joy and a bit ashamed about my physical reaction to you: How could I possibly fall for a man? Especially a heterosexual who had married Phyllis Gates.
I chose to forget my powerful feelings for you; instead, I wanted to work hard to become a “healthy heterosexual."
By the time I had turned 20, I thought I had managed to become like everybody else. But my first visit to the United States in the mid-sixties changed all that.
Suddenly I found myself surrounded by Americans, almost as handsome as you, Rock. Men who were real and who wanted to be with me. Men, married and divorced like you. And single men. Giants with whom I could have pillow talks, rather than having to share them with Liz Taylors and Doris Days—wonderful as these women were.
And then, during the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles, I stayed with a young black actor who shared the apartment with half a dozen or so young men—one more beautiful and muscular than the next. Initially, I couldn’t figure out why the telephone was ringing off the hook and why one of them was always leaving—only to return after a few hours, usually exhausted but happy and often bragging about someone famous or fabulous.
You, the idol of my adolescence, the semi-God of my dreams, had become a buyer of bodies. Rock, I felt hurt, didn’t realize that deep down you were Roy Scherer of Winnetka, Illinois--a mortal like everybody else with closets full of worries, but with enough money to paint over whatever was troubling you.
But who in America or back home would believe it? I made a promise to myself never to divulge to anybody what I knew, Rock. Perhaps I wanted to keep your image intact, fearful of what might happen if your millions of fans found out about hidden aspects of your private life. I left your country, Rock, happy to acknowledge my gayness at last, but also a little sad. After all, with whom could I share some of my secrets?
And the other young gays? Perhaps they became famous actors and film stars in their own right, or wealthy bodybuilders, or respectable social workers and earnest ministers.
It’s at this point of awareness that I felt increasingly uncomfortable with you, Rock. You had accepted money and international fame in return for becoming one of the film-gods of heterosexuality who appeared to be deluding millions of people on a regular basis.
On the other hand, you were working in a vacuum where we, the community of gays, lesbians, and enlightened non-gays, had not yet created an environment conducive to more openness and honesty.
Well, your lifelong fear of coming out, Rock, must have been trivial by comparison to your public admittance in a Paris hospital that you had AIDS, the “plague of the twentieth century,” the disease which soon might wipe out hundreds of thousands of people.
And when you, on your deathbed, had the courage to speak out, it seemed as if some of the worst hyenas of the American and international gutter press had at last caught up with you, ready for the final kill. I hope that your friends who still dared to be associated with you—the “AIDS victim”—did not show you some of those shameless articles, which tried to exploit the general fear of AIDS in this society, almost automatically linking gayness with an unhealthy lifestyle:
“Even after his AIDS was diagnosed, the actor continued leading an unhealthy lifestyle—smoking and drinking heavily, and frequenting homosexual bars and gay baths,” according to one of the milder voices.
Some people got fired because they had AIDS, although nobody would dare to kick them out if they had cancer. Others didn’t have their contracts renewed, simply because they were rumored or known to be gay. If this dangerous trend continues, we might soon speak of apartheid in America, apartheid based on sexual orientation.
Rock, there were times when I almost regretted my return to the land of the free, because I came to envision a frightening future for men who love men and for women who love women.
People from all over the world, in a most heartwarming way, wrote in, sent money for the new American Foundation for AIDS Research Fund which you and your film friends had established only recently. Even the President of the United States issued a statement, remembering your humanity, your sympathetic spirit, and your “well-deserved reputation for kindness.”
What’s more, Rock, your affliction with AIDS has galvanized a world-wide interest in that disease. Many people feel that you have given AIDS a face. I suppose what they mean is the fact that they couldn’t relate to unknown gay men but found you a known quantity, someone trustworthy.
In plain English, Rock, you might be remembered as much more than a handsome Hollywood hunk. Perhaps you will be remembered as one of the most famous film stars of his time who, shortly before his death, had the courage to change his mind and to become honest. A man who linked the gay world with society at large through the legacy of his last appeal: become aware to help and overcome AIDS.
Let me make a little confession here. Not too long ago, the general fear of AIDS made me become petty: I took down your pictures and your autographs, which were hanging next to those of Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis. Now, I feel ashamed of having given in to the general pressure. Could you smile a bit if I tell you that I will hang up your autographed pictures again, proud of being gay?
Finally, Rock, whatever your private life, you meant a lot to me, and I want to thank you for having been Rock Hudson. Yes, and for having been Roy Scherer from Illinois. Wherever you are in the world of timelessness, let me say my last farewell: Rest in peace, Rock.
And before I forget it: Happy Birthday, old boy.
Originally published by Windy City Times, Chicago, October 10, 1985.