It’s been a long time coming. Thirty-six years after he died tragically of AIDS — finally putting a famous face on the disease that had taken the lives of millions — Rock Hudson is having his moment in the sun. With an upcoming AIDS Project L.A. documentary that features Rock prominently and a movie in the works of Mark Griffin’s insightful biography, All That Heaven Allows: The Rock Hudson Story, fans will soon get to know this kind and complicated actor as they never have before.

“We’re recognizing how important his legacy is — not only in terms of reclaiming him as an American film icon, but how important he was to the gay rights movement,” Griffin exclusively tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “It’s fascinating how multilayered Rock’s story is.”

Indeed, though he was only 59 when he passed away, Rock lived a life of tremendous highs and lows, in which he enjoyed great fortune and legions of fans — but in which he was also forced to hide something as basic and unchangeable as his sexual orientation. He became intensely private as a result.

“I like to keep my secrets to myself,” he said in one of his final interviews. “I guess they will die with me.”

Rock Hudson Shirtless Photos

Still, Rock was able to live a good part of his life on his own terms. While he did spend his early career under the control of manager Henry Wilson — whose efforts to keep his client’s sexuality a secret included an arranged marriage to Henry’s secretary, Phyllis Gates — he eventually broke free, enjoying an active (if closeted) love life and relishing his fame and the perks it brought.

“He loved being a movie star,” Griffin says. “He worked so hard to maintain that career, and he loved it when people approached him for an autograph.”

He also formed lifelong friendships with costars like Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day and Carol Burnett.

“Tragically, one of Rock’s last public appearances was on Doris’ cable series, Doris Day and Friends, and some of the last images we have of Rock looking ravaged and cadaverous,” Griffin says. “People were trying to talk him out of that appearance, but Rock insisted and said, ‘No, I promised Doris. I have to do it. They were devoted to one another like that.’”

As Rock neared the end of his life and word spread of his diagnosis, one of the most touching displays of loyalty came from Linda Evans, who stood up for him after their kiss on an episode of Dynasty caused a public uproar. “It turned out to be a very good time in my life because I got to see who people were,” Linda recalls.

Responses like those were why Rock treasured those who loved him — and why, even during his toughest times, he was always grateful for a life well-lived.

“I stay away from planning and projecting or dwelling on the future,” the ailing star said, late in his life. “I just love to enjoy the moment and watch life progress and unfold.”

Alison Gaylin, with reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows

For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.