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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
Nancy Reagan to Rock Hudson: Drop dead!
Section One
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Nancy Reagan to Rock Hudson: Drop dead!

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Then-First Lady Nancy Reagan turned down a personal request from friend and political supporter Rock Hudson to help him get experimental AIDS treatments in Paris, according to a story by reporter Chris Geidner on BuzzFeed blog.

Only nine weeks after she turned him down, Hudson was dead of the disease.

Soon after a May 1984 state dinner at which Hudson was invited to sit at Nancy Reagan's table, a biopsy showed the actor had Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer that was one of the early marks of the AIDS epidemic.

A second biopsy in June 1984, confirmed the diagnosis. In those early days of the epidemic, the prognosis was always bad.

Although more than 5,500 people had died from the disease by the start of 1985, the Reagan administration did little or nothing to combat the disease. In fact, the president asked for a $10 million cut in AIDS spending in his budget proposal released in February 1985.

Hudson knew, however, that a French army doctor, Dominique Dormant, had made some progress in treating AIDS patients with HPA-23, one of the first experimental treatments, so he headed for Paris. In June 1985, just after checking in at the Ritz Hotel there, Hudson collapsed.

Dormant, however, was unable to get Hudson admitted to a military hospital for treatment.

At that point, Hudson's publicist, Dale Olson, sent a frantic telegram to the actor's friend, Nancy Reagan. Geidner discovered the document in the Reagan Library.

'Commanding General of Percy Hospital has turned down Rock Hudson as a patient because he is not French,' the telegram read in part.

'Doctor Dormant in Paris believes a request from the White House or a high American official would change his mind. Can you help by having someone call the Commanding General's office at the Percy Hospital at the above number. 'Please advise what can be done.'

The telegram was sent at 12:22 p.m. ET on July 24, 1985, and logged into the White House at 2:07 p.m. The message went to Special Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary Mark Weinberg.

Weinberg then summarized the problem in a memorandum to Bill Martin, a National Security Council staffer.

'I spoke with Mrs. Reagan about the attached telegram. She did not feel this was something the White House should get into and agreed to my suggestion that we refer the writer to the U.S. Embassy, Paris,' Weinberg wrote in the memorandum also discovered by Geidner in the Reagan archives.

Hudson died on October 2, 1985, the first high-profile celebrity death from AIDS that was openly acknowledged as such.

In a conversation with Geidner, Weinberg denied that First Lady had any ulterior motives in refusing to help Hudson.

'That refers to special treatment for a friend or celebrity. And that's all it refers to. It had nothing to do with AIDS or AIDS policy or - that's a whole different issue,' Weinberg said. 'We weren't talking about that.'

'I know, I know that conversation,' he added, referring to well-known criticism of the Reagan administration's dilatory response to the AIDS crisis.

In fact, Charles Francis, once President of the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society - an early Gay rights group - revived exactly that criticism in his comments to Geidner.

'Drenched in animus, stigmatization, and an inexplicable nonchalance, the notes and memoranda provide a window into federal discrimination against a despised group, even in the midst of a raging epidemic,' Francis said.

Reagan eventually took action to fight HIV/AIDS, but only after the intervention of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop - who issued his groundbreaking Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome without giving advance notice to the White House - and another of Reagan's Hollywood friends, Elizabeth Taylor, who was emerging as a leading AIDS activist in her own right.

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