In the aftermath of Rock Hudson's death last week from complications due to AIDS, a controversy has erupted over the actor's mental and physical condition during the last two months of his life.
Allegations by Hollywood producer Ross Hunter "that 95 percent of the time Hudson wasn't lucid" and therefore could not have known about highly publicized statements and decisions made in his name have raised the ire of Hudson's associates and frustrated their efforts to shield Hudson's privacy, if only after his death.
"I can say in my own personal experience, having visited Rock many times during his illness , that he was lucid," said Stockton Briggle, a film and television producer who was a close friend of the actor. Briggle directed Hudson in the national tour of the musical "Camelot" in 1977.
"As a matter of fact, we joked quite a bit," said Briggle. "He was always aware of what was going on. Of course, he was a sick man. But he was not comatose. There's certainly no question in my mind that he knew what was going on."
Hudson stunned the world when he disclosed in July that he was suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the usually fatal disease that in this country has struck mostly homosexual men, intravenous drug users and recipients of blood products. The Centers for Disease Control report that as of this week, there have been 13,834 cases of AIDS and 7,055 deaths.
Hunter's charge was reported last week by syndicated columnist Marilyn Beck, who also reported that Hunter said he visited Hudson regularly. "Rock never -- never -- publicly acknowledged he had AIDS. All those statements made in his name were lies. He knew nothing about any of them," Beck quoted Hunter as saying.
During Hudson's illness, a statement attributed to him was read by Burt Lancaster at a lavish Hollywood benefit for AIDS research. "I am not happy that I am sick," the statement read. "I am not happy that I have AIDS, but if that is helping others, I can, at least, know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth."
Hudson did not write the statement himself but he knew about it, according to Dale Olson, Hudson's publicist. "I wrote the statement," said Olson, "and it was approved by him."
But more than the statement is at issue. Hudson's associates also announced that the actor had contributed $250,000 to the Rock Hudson AIDS Research Foundation. And Hudson was reportedly working with writer Sara Davidson on a book about his life, when he felt up to it.
Hudson's associates and Davidson's publishers maintain that Hudson carried out all of the actions that have been attributed to him. They paint a portrait of a man who, despite his illness, was good-spirited and alert much of the time.
"He had a wonderful sense of humor clear up to the end," Briggle said.
Paul Sherman, Hudson's New York attorney for the past 10 years, visited Hudson in his Los Angeles home on Sept. 4, 5 and 6 to discuss legal papers related to his autobiography. "I was with him in his bedroom, and he greeted me when I came in," Sherman said. "He remembered a number of things. I had had lunch with him in April in New York. I told him that I was traveling to Japan in May . . .The first words out of his mouth were 'Hiya, Paul. How was Japan?' "
Sherman said, "We kidded about him doing crossword puzzles. He and Tom [Clark, a longtime friend] were doing crossword puzzles."
While Sherman was there, Hudson "signed a contract turning over his share of the money from his book -- every cent of those monies and all the subsidiary rights -- to the Rock Hudson AIDS Research Foundation . . . Rock was never much in terms of business; he relied on his people."
About two weeks later, Sherman called Hudson from New York. "Rock Hudson picked up the phone, he answered it himself. He said, 'Where are you, Paul? Are you here in Los Angeles?' " When Sherman asked Hudson what he was doing, "he said, 'I'm watching television.' It was a Monday night. I said are you going to watch the "Monday Night Football" game?' I know that he and Tom Clark used to go up to the [San Francisco] 49ers games. He said, 'I guess Tom will put it on.' Now, I had a perfectly lucid conversation."
Hudson's New York business manager, Wallace Sheft, said he visited Hudson during his stay at UCLA Medical Center and discussed with Hudson the formation of the Rock Hudson AIDS Research Foundation and a donation by the actor of $250,000 to it.
Sheft said Hudson "agreed wholeheartedly with the gift I advised. We discussed it, and he agreed with it . . . There were other people in the room. He knew what was going on. He liked the idea of helping." Sheft said a check was drawn up later. "He never signs any checks -- ever," said Sheft. "For 10 years all those checks were always done by my office. The point is he was very lucid. He discussed it and was wholeheartedly in favor of it."
Sheft adds, "I told him at that time of this huge flame that seemed to be ignited around the world about this disease due to his announcement. He was very surprised by that. We all knew he was a very private person."
During Hudson's hospitalization in Paris, the first public announcement that he had AIDS was read by Hudson's friend, publicist Yanou Collart. "I read the statement to him," Collart said. "He said, 'Go and read that to the dogs.' That's what he called the press."
Ross Hunter could not be reached for comment, and none of Hudson's associates would discuss Hunter on the record. It is unclear how often Hunter, the producer of several of Hudson's romantic comedies, was a visitor to Hudson's house in the last months of his life.
"I saw Ross Hunter at the house. He was there the day Rock died, as was I," said Briggle. "I arrived at his house about 40 minutes after he died. [Hunter] arrived about an hour after that."
In a statement released by her publishing company, William Morrow, Sara Davidson said, "I met with Rock Hudson on numerous occasions. We did formal interviews and made tape recordings."
Morrow also released a portion of Hudson's signed foreword to the book that reads, "I want the truth to be told, because it sure as hell hasn't been told before."
Hudson's lawyer, Sherman, recalls giving Hudson the foreword, "and I said, 'Do you want me to read it?' He said, 'No, I can read it.' He read it, nodded his head and signed the foreword."