I couldn’t write about him---could I? Before, I always kept my feelings to myself, wrote them into journals, wrote them into stories I hoped one day to have published. In the real world I didn't think I'd have the courage to do as Madonna once had---to publicly admit I'd had a crush on Rock Hudson since I was just a girl.
And yet...I wanted him to be remembered.
He was owed that much by us...wasn't he?
For someone still to love him enough to be mourning him, to write these words for him.
So many from his life were already gone, and few from that inner circle had ever really known him at all. Marty Flaherty was one of those people, and he has been very generous in allowing me this opportunity to speak. Marty and Elizabeth Taylor had put together a program to be handed out at Rock's memorial service. A simple ivory-colored folder with a beautiful picture of him inside, between two sheets of vellum. Written on the vellum was Rock's favorite poem by Kahlil Gibran. It read:
But if in your fear, you would seek only
love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover
your nakedness and pass out of love's
into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
I thought maybe Rock liked that poem so much because he tried to live his life that way---both arms reaching---else, why live at all?
And I wanted to be like him.
So I knew I must grasp my pen between shaky fingers and gather my courage and write these words of remembrance.
That is how I think of him now---as Roy, not Rock. But once he seemed everything a man should be, Rock Hudson, at least to the women before and of my generation. He was tall and he was dark and take-control handsome; he WAS the perfect man! Why, even his name implied strength and wisdom and dependability. He wanted to become a star more than anything and he came from very humble beginnings and a very tough childhood and his start in the movie business was a questionable combination of luck and fate and possibly only being in the right place at the right time. He made his way through the studio system the same way he approached every other obstacle in his life---full-on, with eagerness and enthusiasm and a willingness to please. He never really changed in that respect. He sacrificed most of himself most of his life for his work and his fans. Paramount to him was holding the affection of those who had gotten him to where he was, and he never wanted to let them down.
Yet he was only human, Roy, with such a sweetness and a lightness about him. Just to look at him made one smile with pleasure. Everyone loved him and there was no time as fun as the time spent with him. He exuded an animal magnetism both on screen and off; nothing got the heart beating faster than one look into those eyes. " Shoe-polish brown and uninteresting," he used to say of his eyes. Roy could never make sense of his appeal, but a lion's share of it may have come from those mesmerizingly- gentle brown eyes. Therein lay the attraction of Rock Hudson, this very nice but rather shy, even insecure man. His soul shone through those beautiful eyes---his goodness, his vulnerability, his yearning to be loved. And loved him we did. He was top box office draw for ten years straight-running, and then when they weren't making his kind of movies anymore, he switched to television. He did what he had to do in order to keep working.
His seemed a magical life. He travelled all over the world, had loads of friends, his five dogs and his fans. He adored his mother, always wanted children, never lost that yearning to be part of a real family. He was a simple man and liked nothing more than life's simple pleasures. He loved his home, his "Castle" he called it---a big, white, Mediterranean-style fortress of a mansion situated high on a promontory above Beverly Hills. He loved that house and he liked nothing better---when he wasn't working, that is---than to spend his day outside, puttering in the garden. Pulling weeds, tending to his orchids in his greenhouse, making ice cream from the peaches on his trees. If not an actor, he probably would have been a landscape architect, he maintained. But his work was really everything to him.
He made sixty-five movies in the course of over thirty years, though some of them were better than others. But he learned along the way and his talent grew to fit his 6'4" frame. He made westerns and comedies and dramas and war pictures, dark thrillers and even science fiction. He played sad men, serious men, funny men, men who pretended to be gay to get the girl. Men who loved, men who lost, not necessarily always the hero but sometimes just an ordinary, everyday guy. He made his stage debut at the ripe old age of forty-eight---you name it, he was up for it.
He wasn't afraid of trying anything, or if he was he did it anyway. Because Rock didn't feel it was worth accomplishing if it came too easily. He liked to work, lived for his work---he acted and danced and sang his way through life and nothing gave him a bigger thrill than to get that step, hit the right note, deliver his lines and move his audience to laughter or tears. He first and foremost considered himself a movie actor---an often underrated actor, but that was because he made it look so easy. He could be a playboy on the prowl, a concerned and gentle father, a romantic loving husband, or... a doctor-raping rough-hewn soldier hell-bent on his mission---AND WE BELIEVED HIM! This, it seemed, was his destiny and he was good at it and we loved him in it. But noone knew the sacrifices he made for his career---sacrificing most of all the man he was, a lovely man called Roy.
What is it about this world, we humans? Even back then, in what seems to us now a more gentle, innocent, even naive era---what made it right for people to judge someone else, something...different, something they knew nothing about? Not all the facts certainly, the mitigating circumstances for an entire life---why one person is one way, why one becomes the other. How COULD we understand, lest we have walked in their shoes.
This big-hearted wonderful man---with his bridge and his crosswords and his needlepoint. He was our hero, but an unlikely hero---only human, with his own set of problems and phobias and foibles. We wanted him one way and then when he wasn't we were surprised, then dismayed, disappointed.
We who loved him prayed.
Got mad. Sad. Furiously so.
Would this, then, be the way he would be remembered---he , of kind heart, our hero? Why HE---of all--- we wondered? HE did not deserve an end such as this. And then again---why NOT?? Who better than this giant of a man, this Rock Hudson, this...EVERYMAN... to bring out of the closet such a heinous disease.
There were those who turned on him.
Those who were afraid to go near him.
Some took what they'd no right to take.
That poor man, ravaged by his disease.
That actor, that movie star.
So much easier to point fingers and make offensive fun than to try to understand why anybody is the way they are. To let them be just who they are. Why is it we expect so much more of others than ourselves? He had not changed, he was same as he always was, just maybe he didn't always let us see it.
Some said he deserved the end he was facing. Filled with their fear were their hearts, but it took me a long time to realize that.Where was the humanity in some people's response, we devoted ones wondered. Why were they better---those who chastised and ostracized and claimed it was a just punishment for one of his kind?
Still, where he is now, it is of no consequence.
And his illness brought out the best in his truest of friends, friends who cared for him and tended to his needs, even when AIDS was frighteningly new and dastardly deadly. Friends like Tom and Mark and George, the closest Rock had to family. And Taman and Stockton and both Gordons---Miller and Propps. Dale Olson, Susan Stafford, Roddy McDowell---friends who came, no matter what. And always, those of the house, the rest of Roy's "family"---Clarence and Marty and James and John.
And then, too, there were his legions of faithful fans---ones like you and like me---devoted ones. Ones who gathered 'round him from all corners of the world and stood beside him, behind him once they knew, even now. His legacy was love and then compassion, and he helped more than he knew---more than probably he would have wanted, had he a choice in the matter. But this, it seemed, was his destiny also, and Rock was a firm believer in fate.
And so we remember him today---we friends, we fans, we devoted ones. We remember that movie star with the kind eyes and charismatic smile, but we also remember the man. Let us not forget that Rock we so loved, that nephew/lover/son/friend/that everyman---one of us, a part of us. Let us not forget also the lessons of his death---lessons of more love, more understanding and then compassion for those who are different from us.
Sweet and dear and brave and true---these are the adjectives which shall always come to my mind when I hear the name Rock Hudson. I love him still; I guess I always will, but in a different way. A greater way. His light has not diminished despite the horror of his kind of death. We won't let it---have never allowed it with those who would try. In our eyes---we devoted ones---there will never be another like our Roy. I'm no longer afraid to admit to the world that, yes, I was one of the masses to fall under his spell. I'm not afraid to be known as his "fan" anymore--I AM his fan, a good Rock fan. I mourn him and miss him and sometimes I even watch his movies, although I must admit I know most of them by heart by now. To know him was to love him, and to love him was to become forever his champion, his fan.
Now nearly finished, I wonder really what Rock would have wished written of him in remembrance. He, who could be just a little bit cranky about what was expected of actors regarding their personal life. I'm certain he'd have wanted only one thing said for sure: "He gave one helluva good performance!"
And he did.
He made us laugh and he made us swoon. He entertained us and made us want for him to be our hero always, and then,too, he made us cry on that long-ago day when he died---October 2nd, 1985.
As I sit here at my desk , I can see out my window and this day seems much alike that other one. Warm and sunny with just a hint of crispness to the air. A plainly perfect fall morning, the kind that makes one long to be outside instead of in. And---like Kennedy's assassination before and 9/11 after---those who knew and loved him best will always remember where they were and what they were doing on the day Rock Hudson died.
Twenty five years ago.
But let us think of him today.
Let us lift our faces to the sun on this fine October morn. Somewhere high... maybe higher than even those hills of Hollywood, where he once reigned. Where his light still shines---our star, our Rock, our Roy. Sense the warmth of that wide and shy smile, like he was smiling down at you from that movie screen. Behold the great and beautiful soul which lingers beyond the memory of those beckoning brown eyes. Hear in the fleeting fall breeze perhaps just an echo of his wonderful, wonderful laughter. Smile then, and send every bit of love in your heart back to Roy...wherever he is.
So he will know...finally...irrevocably...
We love you.