Rock Hudson's 'true love' Lee Garlington reveals how the two kept their gay love a secret from the world
Rock Hudson's lover Lee Garlington comes forward and recalls the time he spent with the actor before their split.
Thirty three years ago it was revealed that the legendary actor, Rock Hudson had AIDS. He was first diagnosed with it in the year 1984 but he managed to keep it a secret from the rest of the world for a year, and it wasn't until July 25, 1985, that his publicist confirmed the news.
While the actor's life was filled with successful movies, there was a part of his life that he chose to hide from the world as long as he lived as he feared society will not accept him. At the height of his fame in the early ’60s, Rock dated Lee Garlington from 1962 to 1965 and the two not only respected each other but also had an immense amount of love for one another. “He was a sweetheart,” Lee said about Rock in an interview with People. “I adored him.”
Lee was a young film extra when he first met Hudson in 1962. When he first met the actor, he never expected that they would end up having a romantic relationship but fate has its own way of making things work. “He was the biggest movie star in the world, and the rumors were that he was gay,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Let me get an eye on him.’ I stood outside his cottage on the Universal lot, pretending to read Variety, which was probably upside down at the time. He walked out and down the street. He looked back once. That was it.”
A year after Lee broke up with his boyfriend, he received a call from Rock's friend who asked if he’d like to meet the actor. “I think he had me checked out,” he said. However, instead of being excited about the meeting, Lee was a little scared. “I was scared to death,” he said recalling their first meeting. “Of course, he was 6-foot-4, a monster. He offered me a beer, but nothing happened. Literally. I was too scared. He said, ‘Well, let’s get together,’ and we did.”
That was the beginning of the love story that they were going to hide from the rest of the world as long as they could. “I’d come over after work, spend the night and leave the next morning,” he said. “I’d sneak out at 6 a.m. in my Chevy Nova and coast down the street without turning on the engine so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. We thought we were being so clever.” The two went to movie premieres but they decided to bring separate female dates in order to ensure that their secret remained safe.
“Nobody in their right mind came out,” Lee said. “It was career suicide. We all pretended to be straight. Once we met Paul Newman and his wife [Joanne Woodward] at a premiere. He looked at me and smiled. I just read in his face – that maybe he knew Rock and I were together. We kind of laughed about it.” However, Rock never personally asked Lee to keep the relationship a secret. “He assumed I would and I did,” he said. “He wasn’t paranoid.”
However, Rock became more cautious when a female fan broke into his house and slept on his bed when they were out on a tour. “In a drawer on a side table were pictures of me with no shirt on,” he said. “She didn’t find them, but it shook him up. He realized he was vulnerable. He put gates on the house after that.” Even after all these years Lee still has memories of hanging out at the house and taking car trips to county fairs and through the South with Hudson.
“Rock had no pretense,” he said. “He was always casual. He liked to wear chinos and moccasins around the house and hang around and watch television. We’d go on road trips and sometimes he wouldn't tell the studio where he was going.” He further added, "Rock was always himself. He would plant a kiss on a leading lady and I would say, ‘Geez, he does that to me the same way.’ That was always a giggle on my part.”
One of the favorite memories of Lee is from the time Rock taught me to shave properly. “I remember we were getting ready to go somewhere and he said, ‘Let me show you how to shave properly,'” he recalled. “He showed me how to take the razor and go down your face at an angle so it cuts better.” Unfortunately, their relationship did not last long as the two split in 1965. "One of the reasons we went our own way was because in a way I wanted a father figure and he was not strong enough,” he said. “Rock wasn’t a real strong personality. He was a gentle giant.”
They gradually lost contact and by then, Rock revealed that he had AIDS. “I was shocked,” Lee said of the news. “AIDS killed everybody in those days. I called up the people taking care of him, but they said he was so sick that he wouldn’t know who I was and it was best to remember him how he had been before.”
Lee read in Hudson’s biography, published after his death, that the actor had called him his “true love.” "I broke down and cried,” he recalled. “I just lost it. He said his mother and I were the only people he ever loved. I had no idea I meant that much to him.”