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Rock Hudson: The shot heard 'round the world

Tuesday, 13 October 2015 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Activism, Arts and Entertainment, Current Affairs, International , Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Revolving Door, Guest Authors

From October 2nd, 2015, marks the 30th anniversary of Rock Hudson's death. That day was arguably “ the absolute moment that changed public awareness of the epidemic.”

Rock Hudson: The shot heard 'round the world

This artcicle by Bruce Ward first appeared in full in here.

October 2nd, 2015, marks the 30th anniversary of Rock Hudson's death.

On July 16th, 1985, Hudson appeared at a press conference on Doris Day's ranch in Carmel, California, to promote Day's new TV cable show. The once-virile and muscular actor had not been seen publicly for a number of months, and his gaunt and frail appearance with Day, his former movie co-star, was shocking to the nation. He was a shadow of his former matinee idol self, and his speech was slurred. This appearance became an international news item and was aired on television repeatedly over the next few days. It was rumored that Hudson had AIDS.

This was the "shot heard 'round the world". It was the absolute moment that changed public awareness of the epidemic.

To the uninitiated: In the 1960s, Rock Hudson and Doris Day were the King and Queen of fluffy romantic comedies: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. In those movies, Day was apple-cheeked, jaunty and forever virginal.  Hudson was virile, square-jawed and a playboy. He had a combative, yet breezy, chemistry on film and, privately, they were friends.

I was working at the time as an AIDS information hotline counselor for the New York City Department of Health. The virus was then called HTLV-III. I was twenty-seven years old.

We worked in a square, state-funded, industrial room with dull, informational posters scotch-taped to the walls, with a corner always curled up or down until someone would smash a palm on the fallen edge so that the poster could stay up for at least one more day.

I remember the sssss of the radiator in the winter and grimy paint-peeling windows we had to lift from the bottom to open.  I remember the smells of pencil shavings and Xerox paper and the ring of the telephones (a loud brrrinngg brrrinngg) and the small square red lights flashing, each one representing a person on 'hold'. 

Before July 16th, the phones would ring at an intermittent pace. There were four of us on the shift, answering the push-button phones. We would talk and listen with an ear crooked to the receiver, cradled on shoulder, while the opposite hand grasped a pencil that checked off boxes on a mimeographed form. In the "Reason For Call" category, the majority of the checkmarks ended up in the "Worried Well" box: mosquitos, swimming pools, casual contact with supposed members of a high risk group, and highly imaginative scenarios depicting every possible "what if" situation.

Two days following his appearance with Doris Day, Hudson was flown to Paris to receive a second treatment of a medication that was being developed there. It was called HPA-23. On July 25th, after first declaring that the actor was suffering from inoperable liver cancer, Hudson's publicist announced that Hudson had, indeed, been diagnosed with AIDS a year earlier.

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