Rock Hudson Interview

This is part of my at home interview with Rock Hudson (his last) as a thank you for giving me a chance when I was a rookie journalist….

Legendary actor Rock Hudson was a man at peace when I met him 12 days before his astonishing disclosure to the world that he had AIDS and a severe liver infection that sent him for treatment to a Paris hospital. Subsequently, I wrote several health oriented type articles about the horrific disease and the research that was taking place. Here’s a briefed summary of the exclusive at home interview relaxing poolside at his southern California estate, a hilltop mansion just off Coldwater Canyon. Huge iron gates and white washed walls surrounded the Hudson mansion that was nestled atop beautiful landscaped hills. It was a secluded place, away from the rush of Hollywood and day-to-day madness of a star’s life. Half-expecting for a butler or a housekeeper to usher us into the magnificent Spanish style halls, I was gape-jawed when the 6 –foot-4 figure with the familiar but gaunt look, greeted us instead with a huge welcoming smile. There stood Rock Hudson, in bathing trunks and dripping wet from the top of his graying hair to his toes. He welcomed us into his home and ushered us into a hall that divided 2 living rooms and went upstairs to change.

My photographer, Chuck and I strolled into the living rooms to await what was to be a very special kind of interview (that I remember to this day)-the last the handsome movie actor, with bigger than life persona, would give before astonishing everyone with the news that he had been living with AIDS for a year. At the time AIDS was a disease that most of us had never heard of.

I left Chuck in one of the living rooms and decided to check his library. You can discover so much about someone by the books they read. I was pleasantly surprised to find hundreds of classics dwelling on the shelves that spanned the tall walls of the main hall. I thought to myself, “there must be thousands in here!”

It was no secret that Rock was an avid reader of literature, but the tomes I surveyed -4000- mostly classics, I would find out later on. But in addition I would discover that he was a collector too especially of limited editions and rare works by great authors. (I would enjoy going through his library so much more now!) I bet many would be surprised to know that and would be astonished at the extent of his library. The hall that divided his two spacious living rooms was lined with shelves too.

The walls of the living rooms were branded with beautiful original art. Art wasn’t genre specific and reflected the movie’s star’s eclectic taste. One living room was done in Spanish style and featured an oversized painting of two men who looked very much like him. A black mahogany piano graced one side together with antique furniture while rugged rustic furniture with zebra skins were featured at another corner. One wall guarded two abstract paintings, while another wall displayed two portraits, one an unmistakable portrait of Hudson. The other? Difficult to discern with certainty. The face was quite similar to Rock’s but yet somewhat different. I thought of the men who’ve shared a closeness with Rock –his managers, none as tall as Hudson- and Jim Nabors, who was also shorter.

Could it be the portrait of former Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback, Roman Gabriel? I remembered thinking. When that name came to mind, the similarity became striking. Gabriel and Rock were friends.
“You can look and describe,” Hudson said firmly as I began discussing his décor adding with a smile, “I never allow photos to be taken inside my house…” I smiled and followed him into one of the living rooms. I was a little nervous and I decided to break the ice by simply asking the legendary actor whether he enjoyed hunting for antiques. Weird, right? The answer was a simple smiling ‘yes’ and he pointed to the stone lion figurehead in the middle of the swimming pool spewing a stream of recirculated pool water. “I got it at a junkyard for $5 dollars,” he laughed, “but it’s a much more expensive sculpture. Truth is I spent much more drilling a hole in the lion’s mouth so it’d spit water fountain-like.”

I remember how lovingly he spoke of his garden and antique treasure hunting trips. His pleasures were oddly simple, and his needs seemed few. That alone made him charming and not how you’d expect an internationally known actor to be. He appeared in good spirits, a little tired at times, but remaining cordial throughout the chat. At one point, his dog, Sister (one of three dogs that he owned) rushed in from a dip in the pool, and brushed against his white pants. He smiled, excused himself for a few minutes and returned after changing them.

Sadly, the photos, taken that day, of the legendary actor were a true testimony to the devastating ravages of AIDS as subsequent pictures, only a few days later, depicted him as a skeleton.

During my lengthy chat with him, Hudson didn’t give any hints of discomfort or pain caused by the disease. No signs of the ravages that the disease had done to him including permanent damage to his liver. If he was in pain, he didn’t show it. And, I’m sure he must have been. Hudson was cheerful, accommodating (I asked him to pause for multi shots, in the garden with his roses, with his books, with his dogs…) even if somewhat sparse with his words. His fans will not find that uncharacteristic as he rarely gave interviews and when he did he wasn’t really chatty. (Looking back, I sigh as I now know how much of an effort that must have been for him. Is it the accomplished actor? The bigger than life persona? Whatever it was, he managed to summon up a cheerful, hospitable façade to a rookie journalist.)

Yes, he did seem a bit tired, his movements a little slow, but despite the dramatic loss of weight-so apparent not only in his face but his once-muscular 210-lb body-he was in an expressive mood throughout the four-hour at home interview. Always cordial and accommodating! (Looking back, I shrink that I bothered that poor man for so long! We had to get that shot in that light and at that angle!)

Hudson had had open heart surgery four year prior to that interview, but there, sitting in front of me, he puffed on one cigarette after the other. He was unconcerned with his health-perhaps because as I later discovered, he knew that time had run out. Still, he seemed to be living in some kind of denial or maybe he simply wasn’t ready yet to share with me nor the world his status. “I don’t want to think about the final curtain but take destiny as it comes without wasting time in vain expectations…” he said as I inquired about his open heart surgery. “I stay away from planning and projecting or dwelling on the future,” he emphasized, “I love to enjoy the present and watch life progress and unfold…” Rock also told me he entertained “one last wish” the words are his –and that is to see the current hit movie ‘Cocoon’ from director Ron Howard. (I don’t know if he ever did see it or not). The plot undoubtedly held great significance for Hudson-it’s about older people discovering a miracle. Rock, who was pushing 60, shared dreamingly that the swimming pool in that motion picture in which the elderly folks recovered their vitality, made him dream of younger, carefree and happier days. That made me conclude that he hadn’t given up hope. (I had heard the rumors but weren’t about to bring them up if he wasn’t ready. Even then, I wasn’t into tabloid journalism- the digging dirt kind. Many magazine editors will subsequently get so upset by that! I didn’t care then and I don’t now!”

Rock spoke of other antiquing searches, of how he’d rummage through ruins of ancient buildings and carried home such treasures as colonnades from an old courthouse or unique structures… What follows are a few of the questions I asked him and his candid answers:

Q: Why do you hate to be interviewed so much?

A: I have been misquoted so many times over 40 years that I get uptight at the idea of yet another interview. I worry about what would be printed. I enjoy playing the game with press of how my answers are interpreted. (I guess Rock would have such a time with the present fake news debate) I like to keep my secrets to myself. I guess they will die with me. I like to keep journalists puzzled. The charm is in guessing.

Q. How would you describe to someone your best trait?

A. Stubbornness. I guess I am very determined and I will go after what I want no matter what it takes.

Q. What is your worst trait?

A. Well… I guess I don’t lose my temper enough.

Q. You’ve costarred with many beautiful women-Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Jane Wyman, Linda Evans, Claudia Cardinale and so many others. Claudia says you’ve left a strong impact on her. But, who is THE woman for you? Who impacted you?

A. I will say Katherine Hepburn. I admire her tremendously. The woman is more than a star. She is a legend. Her personalist is, by itself, a talent. As an actress, she is able to express her emotions and carry the character that she’s portraying on the screen, in a breathtaking way that leaves a certain impact. This ability is the main element in making a star.

Hudson’s publicist had requested not to ask health oriented questions-such as what might have caused his rapid weight loss but inquiries about his bypass surgery weren’t out of bounds. And, so I did.

Q. Any major revelations while on the operating table?

A. No. I looked at it as a fait-accompli. I only wanted the doctors to hurry up. Cut and do what you need to do and then get me out of there. My survivalist nature helped me deal with it. (I didn’t know at the time how these words would be so haunting.)

Q. Does that mean that you don’t plan for the future?

A. I stay away from planning and projecting or dwelling on the future. I just love to enjoy the moment and watch life progress and unfold.”

Q. After 40 years in Hollywood, have seen it change?

A. Definitely. There aren’t any good scripts anymore. Before, studios contracted staff writers who put out the best. You were so inspired as an actor. The character came alive. The system worked. Also, the studios trained you as an actor. Now, sadly none of that place. I can’t see how actors can afford to undergo training since studios don’t offer it them anymore. So, the entire medium suffers.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?

A. No. Everything would stay the same. However, if I didn’t have acting as a choice, I would have become a gardener. I love to watch things grow and bloom. (I still remember that answer to this day! Not, the answer you’d expect from someone who was adored by so many and had fame and fortune.)

Q. How do you feel about all recent drug addiction scandals in Hollywood?

A. I really don’t understand it and can’t explain it. I feel the problem isn’t limited to Hollywood but is everywhere. Hollywood does have the tendency to overblow the problem because the people with the addictions are in the public eye.

I decided to post this, just to say Thanks to a man who had earned the right to take “his secret with him to the grave!”

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store