The Price of Betrayal
"I have very mixed feelings about Rock," says Christian, 35, slowly shaking his head. "I have a photo of him that sometimes I have up on the wall. And sometimes, when I think of what he did to me, it comes right down, and I curse at him." He says he simply cannot find it in his heart to forgive.
After hearing all the sordid details and deceits of Rock Hudson's three-year relationship with Christian, a seven-man, five-woman jury found that Hudson and his personal secretary, Mark Miller, had engaged in "outrageous conduct" when they concealed from Christian that Hudson was suffering from AIDS. For that breach of candor, and the emotional anguish he suffered as a result, Christian was awarded an astonishing $14.5 million from Hudson's estate, as well as $7.25 million in punitive damages from Miller. The decision was as controversial as it was unprecedented: Christian was awarded even more than he sued for despite the absence of any medical evidence that he has been infected by the AIDS virus.
It was a stunning denouement to a drama that began nearly four years ago, when a gaunt and ravaged Hudson admitted he had AIDS and brought the full horror of the disease to the nation's attention. For Christian, the verdict marked the end of a prolonged legal struggle. Since the self-described musicologist filed his suit shortly after Hudson's death in October 1985, his adversaries depicted him as a gold-digging, promiscuous hustler, and throughout the clamorous and often lurid trial it seemed that Christian's reputation, not Hudson's, was on the line. When the verdict was announced, says Christian, "I felt vindicated about everything. The jury had given me $21 million-plus in confidence and credibility. I know no one will believe me, but at the moment that meant more to me than the actual amount."
Christian, who received nothing in Hudson's will, continues to insist it was justice that he sought all along. "Revenge had nothing to do with it," he says. "I simply wanted to set the record straight." Ironically, now that he has done so—and exposed Hudson's scandalous behavior in the process—Christian seems eager to repair the reputation he has sullied. "Rock was the one who had the first duty to warn me, and I blame him as much as Mark Miller about all this," he says. But at the same time, Christian adds, "I find myself defending Rock against people who now characterize him as a monster. You can't dismiss a man's whole life with a single act. This thing about AIDS was totally out of character for him."
Indeed, Christian speaks fondly of his romance with the matinee idol he describes as the love of his life. After he met Hudson in November 1982 at a political fund-raiser in Los Angeles, their courtship was, says Christian, slow, proper and almost old-fashioned; half a year passed before they spent their first night together. "We had to learn to trust each other," he says. "But afterwards it was intense. It was electric. It just kept growing until the desire to be with one another all the time was constant." For another six months, their newfound love was consummated in dozens of tawdry Southern California motels, where Hudson masked his identity behind dark glasses and false names, before he finally ousted his longtime live-in lover, Tom Clark, and Christian moved into the actor's elegant Coldwater Canyon mansion.
While life as Rock's companion was decidedly lush—including travel by limousine, frequent trips to Santa Barbara and San Francisco and a stream of gifts and parties—Christian says they also savored simple pleasures, "as all lovers do," like going to the movies and shopping for 78-rpm records to add to Hudson's Big Band-era collection. "It was not a kind of movie-star atmosphere," he says. "Rock was very down-to-earth." Their physical passions ran high, but what the actor found most alluring about the relationship was a sense of rejuvenation and recaptured innocence. "He said he liked being back in touch with reality, with what it was like in his 20s, when he wasn't famous," says Christian. "I remember one time we went out with Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's to Spago, and he loved it. He liked the exuberance of youth."
It was in June 1984, when Hudson was diagnosed as having AIDS, that the deception began. By then the disease was already taking a visible toll on Hudson, but, Christian testified, they continued to have sex three to five times a week. The actor and his secretary, Miller, told Christian everything but the truth: Hudson attributed his drastic weight loss to dieting aimed at recapturing the youthful slim-ness of his Pillow Talk days. Later, Miller suggested the cause was anorexia. When Hudson developed a cancerous skin lesion of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, he dismissed it as a superficial skin cancer from the sun. Even after illness had ended Hudson's sex life in February 1985, the lies continued. Christian testified that he confronted his lover and asked point blank: "Do you have AIDS?" "No," he says Hudson replied. "I've been checked backwards and forwards, and I'm clean."
It was not until July that Christian learned the shocking truth from a news report shortly after Hudson collapsed in his suite at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. "I thought I was a dead man," Christian said during the trial. "At first I didn't believe what I was hearing. Then I began to sweat. Then I blacked out. Afterward, I vomited. I got chills and became extremely depressed." After Hudson returned home and was admitted to UCLA Medical Center, Christian finally learned the reason for Hudson's deceit: "He said he was afraid I would leave him."
As he sifts through those painful memories, Christian insists that Hudson's fears were groundless; had he known the truth, he would never have left. "I also feel that he cheated both of us," says Christian, who was excluded for a time from visiting Hudson in his hospital room by the actor or his personal secretary—or both. Kept at a distance from his lover by older friends and aides when the film star returned home, Christian goes on to say, "I was robbed of the chance to comfort him during the last days of his life. I don't think he had anyone who really gave him the emotional support he needed at the end." In Christian's view, Hudson demeaned himself by denying his lover's right to know of his disease, thereby setting an infamous example for other gay men.
What angers Christian most is having been deprived of the choice to abstain from having high-risk sex with Hudson. The result, he says, is a morbid fear of developing the disease that has kept him celibate since the actor's death. "I have no idea what was in his mind," he says bitterly. "But if you look at his actions, you'd have to say he wanted to kill me. That might sound farfetched. But if somebody loves you as much as he loved me, it could be that he wanted to take me with him." While Christian has tested negative for the AIDS virus so far, he cannot be assured a clean bill of health. Time has not eased his anguish, he says. He describes a recurrent nightmare that still plagues his sleep. "Rock is standing there at the foot of my bed, cadaverous looking, with sores all over him, just the way he was at the end. And he's smirking at me. Then I realize why. I'm just as cadaverous as he is, and I've got tubes running out of me. I'm dying of AIDS. And he's saying, 'You're next. I'm coming to get you.' "
It may be years before Christian will see even a penny of his $21.75 million award, if he ever does. Defense lawyers for Hudson's estate contend that the jury reached its verdict on emotion rather than evidence, and they are expected to petition for a retrial. Should that effort fail, they plan to appeal the decision to a higher court. Mindful of that prospect, Christian, who is taking a break before looking for a job, is making only tentative plans for the future. If and when he collects, he wants to move out of his modest Hollywood apartment and hopes, despite his notoriety, to get into local politics. "I don't really know if I want to run for any office," he says, "but I'd like to work in city government." He also professes a desire to join the battle against AIDS by tending to the sick and the dying in a hospice and eventually by donating millions of dollars to AIDS charities. "After all, what the hell am I going to do with $21 million?" he says. "No one needs that much money. I'd like to turn an award based on a bad example into something that sets a good example." To his detractors, those words have the hollow ring of false promises. But Christian isn't listening to the criticism. He is convinced that his actions would have earned the blessings of the man who mattered most—Rock Hudson. "He would be proud of me for what I've done—seeing this through and not running away from it all with my tail between my legs," says Christian. "He always admired that in people."
—Paula Chin, and Dan Knapp in Los Angeles