HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - I was the most hated man - in some circles - in Hollywood on Tuesday, July 23 1985.
It was the day I wrote, with heavy heart, the most difficult and most astounding column of my career. It started with, ``The whispering campaign on Rock Hudson can -- and should stop. He has flown to Paris for further help. The Institute Pasteur has been very active in research on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.''
I went on to write, ``Doctors warn that the dread disease (AIDS) is going to reach catastrophic proportions in all communities if a cure is not soon found.''
Unfortunately, that prediction proved true. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the disease, which was first observed in June 1981. In 1985, AIDS was unknown to almost everyone; for much of the world, Hudson was the first person they knew to contract the whispered-about disease. For the first time, they had a face to put with the disease.
My 1985 column resulted in international response, questions -- and immediate denials from Hudson's camp. When his press agent declined to confirm it, even the then-editor of this paper, Thomas M. Pryor, wanted me to ``correct'' my story. I told him my facts were accurate: I had known about Hudson's illness and had a copy (under lock and key) of the diagnosis in which Hudson's doctor had given him confirmation six months earlier.
Yet even after that diagnosis, Hudson continued a lifestyle that no AIDS patient (or partner) today would condone. When Hudson collapsed at the Pasteur Institute, I reported he was then transferred to the American Hospital in Paris after the White House (Ronald Reagan) had gotten a request from longtime supporter Hudson. But the White House noted they would offer assistance ``to any American citizen.'' The American hospital in Paris denied that he had inoperable cancer.
After my column ran, Hudson's press agent Dale Olson would issue a statement ''to clear up confusion and speculation about the medical condition'' of Hudson. The confusion was caused by Hudson's camp. And while Hudson knew he had AIDS, Olson says ``He never admitted it to me.''
On July 31, Hudson, now confirmed as suffering from AIDS, was admitted to UCLA Medical Center at 3 a.m., having arrived from Paris in a chartered Air France 747.
Hollywood was stunned. As was I, when I first learned of Hudson's illness and his ensuing deterioration, which became evident to all when he ``winged to Carmel (July 16) to help longtime friend Doris Day launch her new pet TV series,'' as I wrote at the time.
``His illness was no secret to close Hollywood friends but its true nature was divulged to very, very few.''
When my story appeared, some of those friends and former associates berated me for the story. ``How could you do that to Rock?,'' wrote one of his former press agents.
When Elizabeth Taylor was giving a press party for friend Carole Bayer Sager at Tiffany's, the publicist told me, ``If I invite you, Elizabeth will not show up.'' Taylor soon thereafter became one of the staunchest supporters, fundraisers and contributors to AmFar.
Four years later, Hudson was again in the news: In 1989, Marc Christian, a former lover of his, went to court vs. the Hudson estate saying the actor had kept his illness a secret from Christian, saying it was he, not Hudson, who went public with Hudson's illness.
But the New York Times, on Feb. 15, 1989, reminded Christian, ``It was not he who first went public with confirmation of Rock Hudson's fatal attraction. That was done by a longtime Variety columnist, Army Archerd, who printed the information a few months before Hudson's death. Mr. Archerd was both applauded and scorned at the time by a town and an industry with a schizophrenic attitude toward homosexuality, privately accepting as they had been of Hudson's double life, but publicly squeamishly fearful of just what Middle America might think.''
When I wrote the story, I told the L.A. Times I wanted to help the AIDS education campaign and at the same time respect Hudson's dignity, and ``I wanted to print it (the story) as painlessly yet as effectively as possible so that the message would come across.''
I also knew that by acknowledgment by celebrity, some of the most worthwhile causes have achieved recognition and assistance. For instance, the health problems of First Ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, and men's prostate problem making news thanks to President Reagan's advice for early examinations. AIDS didn't get the White House's attention until friend Hudson' affliction. Two years later, the FDA's drug-approval program's weakness was highlighted.
In its current cover story, ``AIDS at 20 -- A Special Report,'' Newsweek quotes Elizabeth Taylor as saying that friends started calling her with, ``Don't go near this one (an AIDS fund-raiser). It's not a sympathetic charity.'' However, Taylor is quoted as saying, ``Then a couple of months before the (AIDS benefit) dinner it came out (guess where! -- ed.) that Rock had AIDS. All of a sudden the city did a total spin, It was like, 'Oh, one of us got it, it's not just bums in the gutter.'''
But as the New York Times pointed out (in 1989) ``Without Army Archerd's column there is a very real chance that the world might have suspected but never known what killed Rock Hudson.'' Hudson died Oct. 2, 1985, of complications from AIDS. His secret may have been his vanity -- but it was not in vain.