On this day in 1985, actor Rock Hudson became the first major U.S. celebrity to die of complications from AIDS at the age of 59. Hudson’s death raised public awareness of the epidemic, which until that time had been ignored by many in the mainstream media and by Ronald Reagan and was known as a “gay plague.”
In 1984, while working on the TV show Dynasty, Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS. On July 25, 1985, he publicly acknowledged he had the disease at a hospital in Paris, where he had gone to seek treatment. The news that Hudson, an international icon, had AIDS focused worldwide attention on the disease and helped change public perceptions of it.
Hudson was a friend of Reagan’s and his death was said to have changed the president’s view of the disease. However, Reagan ignored and did not address the issue of AIDS in a major public speech until 1987; by that time, more than 20,000 Americans had already died of the disease and it had spread to over 100 countries. By 2006, the AIDS virus had killed 25 million people worldwide and infected 40 million others.