Under tight security, nearly 150 of actor Rock Hudson's friends and colleagues gathered at his Beverly Hills home early Saturday evening at a memorial service designed according to the actor's wishes.
Hudson, one of Hollywood's last great matinee idols, died at his home Oct. 2 at age 59. He had been suffering from AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a usually fatal condition that has killed more than 6,000 people in this country and most often strikes homosexual men, intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Hudson's longtime friend Tom Clark were part of a small group who greeted guests as they arrived at the hillside house about 5 p.m. and were led into the garden for the memorial.
Among those reportedly in attendance were Carol Burnett, Angie Dickinson, Ricardo Montalban, Glenn Ford, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Jessica Walter, Ross Hunter, Lee Remick, Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers, Esther Williams and Susan Saint James. Hudson's publicist, Dale Olson, and actress Jane Withers, who appeared with Hudson and Taylor in the epic film "Giant," which won Hudson an Oscar nomination, also were there.
The guest list was not made public, and the gathering was not opened to the press. "It was friends getting together," said Chen Sam, a spokeswoman for Taylor and a guest at the memorial. Sam, Taylor and Hudson's New York business manager Wallace Sheft were among the group who planned the gathering.
The memorial apparently was a low-key, personal event. After guests arrived, "they all sat around, talking," Sam said. "Whoever felt like it got up and expressed their feelings and wonderful anecdotes about him." Taylor, Burnett and others spoke. "Most people got up and said something," Sam said. "These were people who were his friends, who had worked with him. . . . They each recalled a specific memory of him."
According to some guests' accounts, reported by news services, some of the reminiscences were tearful, but Sam characterized the gathering as "very, very pleasant. . . . People were recalling fond and happy memories of him."
After about 45 minutes of remembrances, according to Sam, two friends of Hudson's got up and sang songs from the musical "I Do! I Do!," in which Hudson appeared with Burnett. Burnett reportedly was not one of the singers.
"After everybody expressed their feelings, mariachis came out and played some of Rock's favorite songs," Sam said. While the music played, food and drinks were served. According to one news account, Taylor asked guests to share Hudson's favorite entertainment -- Mexican food and mariachis. Guests departed about 8 p.m.
Guests were instructed to bring their invitations just to get admittance to the street, Beverly Crest Drive, leading to the Hudson home on a ridge near Coldwater Canyon. Police and private security guards kept everyone except invited guests and residents from driving down the street. Myra Hall, 22, a neighbor of Hudson's, offered reporters temporary squatting privileges on her property for $300 a person.
During the proceedings, a helicopter twice flew over Hudson's home and yard with a video cameraman shooting pictures, and a photographer who had dressed in camouflage and climbed up the side of the canyon was escorted off the property.
Limousines and luxury cars carrying guests sped past reporters. Jane Withers was one of the few guests who spoke with reporters on their way to the house.
"He was a very special human being," said Withers, the veteran character actress who played Josephine the plumber in television commercials. "Everybody that knew him loved him. We spent a year together making 'Giant,' and it was one of the nicest experiences of my life, and he was a very special friend. He'll be missed by the world and especially by me."
Two days after Hudson's death, his Paris spokesman and friend, Yanou Collart, said the actor had requested that his ashes be scattered in the Catalina Channel off the Pacific Coast with 150 guests of his choosing present on a yacht. A week later, Sam announced that there would be a private gathering at his house. There were reports that his ashes were being kept locked in a California mortuary. Asked what had become of the ashes, Sam said, "I was told that had all been taken care of."