LGBT History Month Icons: Rock Hudson & Brandi Carlile
Rock Hudson – Award-Winning Actor
June 7, 1928 – October 2, 1985
“I can at least know my misfortune has had some positive worth.”
Rock Hudson was an award-winning actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age. A handsome leading man who appeared in nearly 70 films, he became the face of the early AIDS epidemic at a time when the virus and its victims were demonized. In coming out with his diagnosis—and his homosexuality—he helped raise public awareness and humanize the disease.
Born Leroy Harold Scherer Jr. in Winnetka, Illinois, Hudson served as an aircraft mechanic in the Navy during World War II. After his discharge, he moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. In 1947 a talent scout took him on as his protégé, crafting the stage name “Rock Hudson.” Despite Hudson’s lack of experience, he landed a bit part in the 1948 feature film “Fire Squadron.”
Hudson played minor roles in a number of films before he scored the lead in “Magnificent Obsession” (1954). The film established Hudson as a star and his career skyrocketed. He made five more movies in two years, before appearing in the critically acclaimed “Giant” (1956), alongside Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. The performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
In 1959 Hudson’s career took another positive turn when he was cast opposite Doris Day in the romantic comedy “Pillow Talk.” The charismatic actor quickly became a Hollywood heartthrob, starring in two more comedies with Day. The couple’s on-screen chemistry made box office magic and ignited a lifelong friendship. In the late 1960s, Hudson turned his talent to television, most notable starring in “McMillan & Wife,” a popular police drama that ran through the 1970s.
Despite his public success, Hudson’s private life was shrouded in secrecy. Fear of social stigma and professional disaster kept him, and other gay actors of the day, closeted. In 1955, to keep up appearances, Hudson entered a short-lived marriage to Phyllis Gates, arranged by his agent.
Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS in June 1984. In 1985 Doris Day asked him to guest on her television talk-show premiere. He appeared in July for the taping and post-show press conference looking shockingly ill and gaunt. Shortly thereafter, he publicly acknowledged his health status. He was one of the first major celebrities to disclose his homosexuality and his battle with AIDS. The revelation helped catalyze awareness and change public perceptions about the disease.
Hudson died in Beverly Hills just a few days after the program with Day aired. He was 59.
Brandi Carlile – Award-Winning Singer-Songwriter
June 1, 1981
“I was pretty convinced I was a flamboyant gay rock star in the making.”
Brandi Carlile is a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and activist. Her musical style spans multiple genres.
Carlile was born in Ravensdale, Washington, a small town 50 miles from Seattle. She grew up camping, hiking and practicing her singing. Her parents’ preference for classic country artists influenced her early musical tastes.
By the time she was 17, Carlile’s interest turned to rock and roll. She drew inspiration from Elton John and Freddy Mercury. “I was pretty convinced I was a flamboyant gay rock star in the making,” she told Rolling Stone in 2019.
Carlile taught herself to play guitar and piano and dropped out of high school to focus on her music. Performing gigs around the Seattle area, she met twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, members of a local rock band, who became her co-writers and bandmates. The group began headlining shows and opening for major artists such as Dave Matthews.
In 2004 Columbia Records signed Carlile to a recording contract and released her self-titled debut album a year later. Rolling Stone named her one of its “10 Artists to Watch in 2005.” She toured nationwide with her band, doing her own concerts as well as supporting established artists such as the Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin. In 2007 the hit ABC drama series “Grey’s Anatomy” featured three of Carlile’s songs, expanding her reach and popularity.
In April 2007, after the release of her second album, “The Story,” VH1 named her a “You Oughta Know Artist.” Produced by T-Bone Burnett, “The Story” remains Carlile’s most popular album to date, selling more than 500,000 copies.
Carlile has released six studio albums and one live album. Her 2018 album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart. The work earned her six Grammy nominations, making her the most-nominated woman at the 2019 Grammy Awards. She won three: one for the album and two for the song “The Joke.”
In addition to her music, Carlile is an activist. With the Hanseroth twins, she created the The Looking Out Foundation, which has awarded grants to the Human Rights Campaign, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and other nonprofit organizations. Through benefit albums and performances, she has raised more than $675,000 to support former child soldiers and $700,000 for Syrian refugees.
Carlile has publicly identified as a lesbian for more than 17 years. In September 2012, she married Catherine Shepherd in Boston. The couple lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with their two daughters.