Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-2009

Abstract

On the morning of October 2, 1985, Rock Hudson died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). By this date, 12,000 were dead or dying of AIDS and hundreds of thousands were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Five years had passed since the first gay men began suffering from strange diseases like Pneumocystis carinii, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and toxoplasmosis. These men died not long after acquiring the rare diseases—mysterious deaths from “gay cancer,” an untreatable disease that wasted their immune systems. By 1982, the acronym AIDS had superseded “gay cancer,” and in 1983, the United States Department. of Health and Human Services declared AIDS its “number-one health priority.” Still, AIDS had not crossed the threshold to becoming a household name. Only with the passing of Rock Hudson did AIDS gain a face, an identity. To most Americans, it was now “the disease that Rock Hudson died of.” Among thousands of puzzling deaths, it was the death of a celebrity that finally drew the attention of the American public.

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