Powerful new Rock Hudson documentary to uncover the real story of a closeted Hollywood star

Still from Rock Hudson_ All That Heaven Allowed.

Director Stephen Kijak’s new documentary promises to confront legendary actor Rock Hudson’s legacy as a closeted gay man.

Hudson is probably best remembered as the Hollywood heart-throb who became one of the first major celebrities to go public about their HIV diagnosis and died of Aids-related complications soon afterwards, shortly before his 60th birthday.

But there is much more to the man whose sexuality was Hollywood’s biggest open secret for decades – depicted in Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed.

Hudson was Oscar-nominated for the ’50s classic Giant, in which he starred alongside James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, before appearing in hit TV series such as McMillan & Wife and, later, Dynasty. He was forced into a three-year marriage to American secretary Phyllis Gates by his agent Henry Willson.

His life has been depicted in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix mini-series Hollywood, the 1990 biopic simply titled Rock Hudson, and told in Mark Griffin’s All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson. But as we herald in a new era of queer Hollywood stars, Kijak has told The New York Times of the fresh perspective his documentary brings.

rock hudson all that heavens allows
Rock Hudson’s life is looked at anew in Stephen Kijak’s documentary. (Universal Pictures)

“He’s faded away,” Kijak said. “Who were the big marquee names from the ’50s who everybody knows? It’s Marilyn Monroe. It’s James Dean. If anything, he is probably remembered for having died of Aids in the ’80s and that scandal of having kissed Linda Evans on Dynasty when he was sick.”

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The order to kiss co-star Evans in 1984, the year before he died, left Hudson feeling “trapped” since knowledge of how AIDS was transmitted was still severely limited at the time. However, decades on, Evans is still fond of Hudson and is one of several contributors to the documentary.

As Kijak explains: “Who you see on camera is a short stack of gay men who were in his life, either lovers [Lee Garlington, Marc Christian], play mates, a wing man, a co-star, a best pal – people he revealed himself to.

“What you get is an arc of gay men that takes you from pre-Stonewall, pre-gay liberation to the other side of the Aids crisis. It’s Rock’s life that could have been [seen] through the lens of these guys.”

And while Kijak acknowledges Hudson’s death triggered huge HIV/Aids awareness (he almost called the documentary The Accidental Activist), he wanted to flesh out who Hudson was beyond that.

“There is so much more around his story,” he said. “The Hollywood closet, the manufactured personality, the double life, the way the private existed weirdly under the surface of the manicured facade.

Rick Hudson with lover Lee Garlington.
Rick Hudson with lover Lee Garlington. (Martin Flaherty & The Rock Hudson Estate Collection/HBO)

“He was having this kind of great rampant, randy gay sex life right there under everyone’s noses, but seemingly living without a care. There wasn’t the kind of angsty, oh-I-wish-I-could-just-be-an-out-gay-man. It was a generation that I don’t think considered that to be an option, or even something that they would want.”

Kijak, who has made films about boyband Backstreet Boys and doomed rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd, continued: “Who doesn’t like a doppelgänger story? The hall of mirrors, the split personality, the hidden life. There’s always the question of ‘why would young people be interested in this?’

“It wasn’t that long ago when it was really hard to be gay. Publically, your life would be ruined. You were constantly afraid of being discovered.”

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed has its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday (11 June) and will air on Max in the US on 28 June 2023.