Rock Hudson

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In 1954, when he became a romantic idol, and in 1985, after developing AIDS.

“As close to the heart of Rock Hudson as anyone ever got.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Excerpt

This excerpt is from the end of the book, when Rock Hudson returns to his home, called “The Castle,” on a bluff overlooking Beverly Hills, where he wants to die in his own bed. With him are his former partner, Tom Clark, his most recent lover, Marc Christian, his butler, James Wright, and his gardener, Clarence Morimoto. Stockton Briggle, who directed Rock in “Camelot,” arrives shortly.

On Wednesday morning, October 2, 1985, Rock was in bed watching the Today show. James had left to do some shopping-he needed more disinfectant for the sickroom and some Swiss Miss tapioca puddings that Rock liked. Tom had coffee with Rock, they talked about the news, and at 8:30, Tom said, “I’m out of coffee. Want some more?

‘No, not now,” Rock said.

Tom went down to the kitchen and a few minutes later, the nurse buzzed him. “Could you come upstairs?” Tom walked into Rock’s room and saw the nurse in tears. “We’ve lost him.” They reached for each other and hugged, then Tom asked to be left alone with Rock.

Tom had been given instructions on what to do when Rock died, “but I hadn’t paid attention because I thought Rock was gonna live.” Rock had stipulated he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered at sea, but Tom couldn’t remember the procedure. Ironically, Rock’s chief of staff, Mark Miller, had flown to New York for that one day. Tom called Rock’s doctor, Rex Kennamer, then went to the guest quarters and told Marc Christian Rock had died.

James came home carrying the groceries shortly after nine, and when Tom told him Rock was gone, James put his hands to his face. “No, he can’t be, he isn’t!” He went upstairs to see Rock just as Dr. Kennamer arrived. Elizabeth Taylor called and said she was sending her security guards over. “My God, the gates are wide open,” Tom said, and quickly went and closed them. At 9:15, the news of Rock’s death was on the radio, and all four phone lines began to ring.

Stockton Briggle, who’d directed Rock in “Camelot,” was getting dressed when he heard the news. He called the house and told Tom, “I’m on my way.” He arrived at 9:50, rang the bell at the gate and when it opened, a yellow car drove in behind him. Shirley Boone, wife of the singer Pat Boone, and her friend Eleanor got out of the car, brushed past Stockton and went upstairs to pray. Eleanor lay down on the floor and spoke in tongues. “I was stunned at the impropriety of it,” Stockton says. “They were blubbering and carrying on. It was as if a medieval king had died and the women were chanting over his body.”

Stockton called his office and said, “There’s no one here but James and Tom. Cancel my appointments for the day.” Stockton told Tom, “I’ll take care of this,” and started to answer the phones: “Mr. Hudson’s house.” Stockton says he took over because “there was no one else to do it. I’m a director, and I ended up directing Rock’s last appearance. You know what?” He patted the arms of his chair. “I feel a great deal of pride and happiness that I was able to do that in his service.”

At 10:45, the van from Pierce-Hamrock-Reed Mortuary arrived and could barely get through the gates because there were so many photographers, reporters and TV crews in the street. They were hanging on the gates, jamming microphones and flash guns through the bars. Several started to climb over the gate and Stockton yelled, “Get back, you’re on private property, we’ll call the police!”

Stockton saw that the van had two windows in back. Photographers would be able to shoot through the windows, and Tom was determined that no one be allowed to take a picture of the body.

“Get some towels,” Stockton said. “We’ll cover the windows.” The two men from the mortuary asked, “Where’s the body?” and began putting on masks and gloves to place Rock in a body bag.

“Do they have to do that?” Marc Christian said.

“No,” Dr. Kennamer said, “but let them, it’s easier not to cause a problem.”

James brought out two of his own towels that were brightly colored with diamond patterns. Stockton said later, “The towels were hideous. That house is full of beautiful things, and Rock was going to his final reward with the tackiest towels in the world draped over the windows.” James was miffed when he heard Stockton’s description. “They served their purpose,” he said.

As Stockton and James were taping the towels on the truck, Ross Hunter, who’d produced “Pillow Talk” with Rock and Doris Day, came through the gates. He had called earlier and said he and his partner, Jacque Mapes were coming. “Make sure we get through the gates.” But their Rolls Royce had been blocked by the press. “Jacque is caught in the Rolls! You’ve got to get Jacque! He’s caught in the Rolls!” Ross cried. One of the security men left to see if he could help Jacque.

Stockton ran back upstairs to Rock’s bedroom just as the men from the mortuary were starting to carry Rock out on a gurney. Tom, Marc Christian, James, Dr. Kennamer and the nurses were following down the stairs. Shirley Boone and Eleanor had disappeared. As the procession reached the landing, Ross Hunter came into the red room and started hyperventilating. “Oh, Rock, Rock!…Oh, no!…Oh, Tom…Oh my God…”

“It’s okay, Ross, it’s okay,” Tom said.

They carried Rock out through the garage to where the van was parked, lifted the body into the van and put a chair beside it for Tom. Ross said, “I’m going with you,” and tried to get in the van.

“No, you stay here, I can take care of it,” Tom said.

They tried to close the doors of the van but couldn’t because Rock’s feet were sticking out.

“Get his feet!” The men pushed and pulled at the gurney, and just as they got the doors closed, Ross fainted. “He collapsed like a bloody sponge,” James says. Marc Christian ran to get a pillow and placed it under Ross’s head. Dr. Kennamer looked at him briefly and said he would be fine.

Jacque Mapes came through the gates, calling, “Where’s Ross?”

“He fainted.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no!”

“Let’s get going,” Tom yelled from inside the van. “It’s a hundred degrees in here!” Tom was wearing a blue sport shirt and an I LOVE ROCK button. Stockton said, “Don’t you want to put on a sport coat?”

“No, Rock doesn’t care,” Tom said.