25 July 2013

Upon This Rock Was The Movement Founded

Although people became ill and died from it long before then, the first documented cases of what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS were reported on 5 June 1981.

For the next four years, the mushrooming epidemic was depicted as a consequence of the libertine lifestyles of gay men and the poor choice others made to use intravenous drugs.  Anyone who contracted the disease was thus tarred with the most negative stereotypes about one or the other; family, friends, colleagues and others often abandoned those who were wasting away and dying from the ravages of the disease.

It was a time when many--including then-President Ronald Reagan--would not speak of AIDS, at least not publicly.  To do so, at a time when the so-called Moral Majority was at the peak of its influence, would be to identify one's self with immorality, degradation and sloth.

Then, on this date in 1985, something happened that began the change in public perception about AIDS and its victims.

If you are around my age, you remember it well:  It was announced that iconic actor Rock Hudson was suffering from the disease.

Earlier in the summer, rumors about his health began to circulate when he looked gaunt and pale--almost unrecognizable--during an appearance to promote a new cable series of his longtime friend and former co-star Doris Day.

He was diagnosed with the disease after collapsing in Paris in early July.  There, he was able to receive treatment with HPA-23, a drug that wasn't available in the US at the time.  The announcement that he indeed had AIDS came while he was in the hospital.

Rock Hudson changed the "face" of the disease, not only because he was so famous, but also because, until then, very few people knew that he was gay. Ironically, his character "feigned" gayness to get the character played by Doris Day in Pillow Talk:


He died on 2 October 1985, less than three months after his announcement.  In that short time, he started the Rock Hudson AIDS foundation.  He was also credited with jumpstarting Elizabeth Taylor's then-nascent fundraising crusade to fight the disease.

Most important of all, his illness and death inspired, in some people, a willingness to be associated with AIDS victims, which probably did more than anything to bring the fight against the disease into the mainstream of society.

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