When you think of 30 Rock, what comes to mind?
Well, it could be the classic, uproarious television comedy that starred Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey. Or, maybe it’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where the Rockefeller Center is situated.
For this article, however, it is not. What I’m referring to is a recent Poz.com article entitled, “Why Nancy Reagan Refused a Dying Rock Hudson’s Plea.” I decided to write about the post because it’s rather fascinating and telling. You see, it’s an unvarnished reminder of the feelings and sensibilities Americans had about AIDS in 1985, 30 years ago—when Rock Hudson, the iconic actor, succumbed to the dreaded disease.
First though, let’s travel down the “Corridors of Time.” In the mid ‘80s, there was rampant and entrenched ignorance and fear of the illness. People actually believed you could become infected through breathing, and didn’t want to kiss you–even on the cheek.
Pervasive and intense loathing, and hatred for those afflicted were commonplace. Lovers would drop you–and many more than a few of them would go on to develop HIV/AIDS themselves. Family members would abandon you. According to a 2011 CNN report, Dr. John Bartlett, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has led the school’s efforts to combat and prevent HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s, has stated, “’AIDS gave its victims ‘the three D’s’ that no one wants to have: dementia, diarrhea and disgrace’.”
“’It was an awful way to live. They got emaciated. They died a lingering death,’ Bartlett said. ‘If you asked me, ‘How would you least want to die’? I’d say, ‘The way an AIDS patient died in 1990’.” Thankfully however, to a large degree, the advent of antiretroviral drugs began to turn that around. As a result, the infection no longer is a death sentence.
Now, on to Rock. He was a mega star of the 1950’s through the ‘70s. And, it was an open secret in Hollywood that this outwardly handsome, macho man was gay.
Hudson was “tight” with the Reagans, who were also actors many years before claiming the White House. Weeks before he died of AIDS-related illness on October 2, 1985, Rock asked both the first lady and the White House to help him cut through red tape to see a doctor in France. However, his request was denied.
According to Poz.com, “This previously untold detail of an otherwise well-known story was unearthed by the newly restructured Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which provided authenticated documents in a BuzzFeed News article.
“Mark Weinberg, a staffer for the Reagans, told BuzzFeed that the movie star’s request was denied because ‘the Reagans were very conscious of not making exceptions for people just because they were friends of theirs or celebrities or things of that kind. That wasn’t—they weren’t about that. They were about treating everybody the same’.”
But was that really the case? The media outlet went on to state, “ACT UP activist Peter Staley found that excuse implausible because the Reagans had personally intervened for other friends. ’I’m sure if it had been Bob Hope in that hospital with some rare, incurable cancer, Air Force One would have been dispatched to help save him’, Staley said. ‘There’s no getting around the fact they left Rock Hudson out to dry. As soon as he had that frightening homosexual disease, he became as unwanted and ignored as the rest of us’.”
And, Poz.com added, “Other documents unearthed in the article show that anti-gay opinions prevailed among high-ranking White House staff and that these attitudes flavored the administration’s response in the growing epidemic.”
Even with decades gone by, there continue to be strong critics of President Reagan’s response to the AIDS epidemic–or lack thereof. Some of these voices go further, stating that the president had a malign neglect regarding AIDS and harbored hostility towards gays.
What we do know for sure is that we’re fortunate that the mindset about HIV/AIDS has evolved for the better. Thank God for that.