Lee Garlington, one-time boyfriend of Rock Hudson, said he didn’t learn how much he meant to the actor until after he died.
Garlington, who dated Hudson from 1962 to 1965, learned that he was Hudson’s “true love” in his biography that came out after he died of AIDS-related causes.
“I broke down and cried,” Garlington, 77, told People. “I just lost it. He said his mother and I were the only people he ever loved. I had no idea I meant that much to him.”
Hudson and Garlington met on a film set in 1962.
“He was the biggest movie star in the world, and the rumors were that he was gay,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Let me get an eye on him.’ I stood outside his cottage on the Universal lot, pretending to read Variety, which was probably upside down at the time. He walked out and down the street. He looked back once. That was it.”
Garlington broke up with his boyfriend a year later and got a call from a friend of Hudson’s asking if he would like to meet the actor.
Garlington said he was “scared to death.”
“Of course, he was 6-foot-4, a monster,” Garlington said. The two met at Hudson’s mansion in Beverly Hills. “He offered me a beer, but nothing happened. Literally. I was too scared. He said, ‘Well, let’s get together,’ and we did.”
The two continued to see each other after work. Garlington would come over after work and stay the night, then leave at 6 a.m., coasting down the street so neighbors wouldn’t hear the engine.
They would attend movie premieres together, but with female dates.
“Nobody in their right mind came out,” Garlington said. “It was career suicide. We all pretended to be straight. Once we met Paul Newman and his wife at a premiere. He looked at me and smiled. I just read in his face – that maybe he knew Rock and I were together. We kind of laughed about it.”
Garlington said Hudson wasn’t paranoid about people finding out about their relationship – that it was a mutual understanding to keep it a secret. One night, a female fan broke into Hudson’s house and slept in his bed while the men were on a road trip.
“In a drawer on a side table were pictures of me with no shirt on,” Garlington said. “She didn’t find them, but it shook him up. He realized he was vulnerable. He put gates on the house after that.”
The couple broke up in 1965.
“One of the reasons we went our own way was because in a way I wanted a father figure and he was not strong enough,” Garlington said. “Rock wasn’t a real stong personality. He was a gentle giant.”
In 1985, Hudson became the first well-known celebrity to contract AIDS. The couple had already lost contact by then.
“I was shocked,” Garlington said. “AIDS killed everybody in those days. I called up the people taking care of him but they said he was so sick that he wouldn’t know who I was and it was best to remember him how he had been before.”
Though the two lost touch, Garlington still has fond memories of the actor.
“Rock was always himself,” he said. “He would plant a kiss on a leading lady and I would say, ‘Geez, he does that to me in the same way.’ That was always a giggle on my part.”