In the weeks prior to his 1985 death, a deluge of supportive letters and telegrams arrived at Rock Hudson’s door from fans. Though he was weak and ill, the actor sat at his kitchen table slowly reading each one.

“He was really gratified,” his biographer Sara Davidson, who wrote Rock Hudson: His Story, recalls. “His secretary said to him, ‘You’re more famous now than you’ve been in 20 years.’ And he was relieved that there were no more secrets.”

rock hudson

Rock in February 1985.

Keeping secrets had been among Rock’s greatest challenges. Though he was one of the world’s most-sought-after leading men in the 1950s and 1960s, Rock despaired that he was forced to hide his true sexual orientation. It was only at the end of his life, during the 1980s AIDS crisis, when he summoned the courage to admit publicly that he had the disease, and was gratified to find out that the world still loved him.

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In his heyday, few leading men shone brighter than Rock, who starred in hits including Giant, Pillow Talk and nearly 70 other features, all while pretending to be heterosexual — he even married a woman, Phyllis Gates, in 1955. In those days, “your life would be destroyed if you came out,” Lee Garlington, 78, his romantic partner for three years in the early 1960s, tells Closer.

To read the full story on Rock, pick up the new issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now!