Rock Hudson has been dead for years but the man who made his death more famous was alive until yesterday. Hudson, for our younger readers, was a classic Hollywood film star. Male, stunning, well-built. Always playing the role of happily married straight man, on film and in real life. But those who knew him knew better. Rock Hudson was gay. And he died of AIDS in the height of the epidemic, 1985.
Marc Christian MacGinnis was Rock Hudson’s secret lover. McGinnis made legal history by suing Hudson’s estate in 1991, winning a multimillion-dollar settlement, after convincing a jury Hudson had knowingly exposed him to AIDS. He too, has now died, at the age of 56. Christian, who went by his mother's maiden name, made headlines in 1985 when he sued Hudson's estate for $10 million, alleging that he had suffered severe emotional distress after learning about his condition the way the rest of the world did- on a news broadcast that the former matinee idol and television star had AIDS, which was claiming lives throughout the gay community.
Hudson was diagnosed in 1984 but did not publicly acknowledge his illness until July 1985; he died three months later at age 59. Christian tested negative for acquired immune deficiency syndrome several times after learning of Hudson's diagnosis but legally he contended that the star put him at risk of contracting the disease by concealing his illness and continuing to have sexual relations with him.
In 1989, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury said Hudson had displayed "outrageous conduct" and awarded Christian $21.75 million in damages, later reduced to $5.5 million. The $5.5-million award was upheld by a state Court of Appeal, which called it just compensation for the "ultimate in personal horror, the fear of slow, agonizing death." A private settlement was then reached. That is the way America thought of HIV a quarter century ago.
McGinnis never came across as a hero or whistle blower. Instead, twenty-seven years younger than Hudson, he was portrayed by many as a gold digger. It was a time though, when few had a full grasp of understanding of the need for sexual responsibility. There were no laws on the books making failing to disclose your HIV status a crime. That would come later. But this case opened the door to groundbreaking laws and higher standards.
Several years after the sensational case ended, Christian told People magazine that his purpose was "not to sleaze Rock;" that he even wanted to privately settle. Christian argued that his suit "was to say that if you have AIDS, you ought to tell your partner, whether you're a movie star or a postman." Duh! The significant thing, years later, a few days after World AIDS Day, is that we are still fighting the disease. And no one should be 'sleazed' by getting sick.
Larry King interview in 2001 with McGinnis