Marc Christian; won AIDS suit vs. Hudson estate

By Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - Marc Christian MacGinnis, who won a multimillion-dollar settlement in 1991 from the estate of his former lover, actor Rock Hudson, after convincing a jury Hudson had knowingly exposed him to AIDS, is dead. He was 56.

Also known as Marc Christian, he died June 2 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank of pulmonary problems. The details were confirmed Friday by his sister, Susan Dahl, who said she did not publicly announce his death earlier because of her brother’s wish for privacy.

Mr. Christian, who went by his mother’s maiden name, made headlines in 1985 when he sued Hudson’s estate and his secretary, Mark Miller, for $10 million, alleging he had suffered severe emotional distress after hearing on a news broadcast that the former matinee idol had AIDS, which was claiming lives throughout the gay community.

Hudson was diagnosed in 1984 but did not publicly acknowledge his illness until July 1985; he died three months later at age 59.

Mr. Christian tested negative for acquired immune deficiency syndrome several times after learning of Hudson’s diagnosis but contended that the star put him at risk of contracting the disease by concealing his illness and continuing to have sexual relations with him.

Mr. Christian included Miller in the suit because he said Miller lied to him when asked if Hudson had AIDS.

In 1989, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury said Hudson had displayed “outrageous conduct’’ and awarded Mr. Christian $21.75 million in damages, later reduced to $5.5 million. The $5.5 million award was upheld by a state appellate court, which called it just compensation for the “ultimate in personal horror, the fear of slow, agonizing death.’’

A private settlement was later reached.

He was portrayed by Hudson estate lawyers as a gold-digging hustler and was criticized in the gay community, which at the time had little understanding of the need for sexual responsibility.

“It was obviously a groundbreaking case,’’ said Tammy Bruce, a former president of the National Organization for Women Los Angeles chapter and an openly gay talk-show host. “It was the first public acknowledgment that gay relationships are complicated, important, and that responsibility is attached to them. . . . A lot of people owe a great deal to that man.’’

Several years after the case ended, Mr. Christian told People magazine that his purpose was “not to sleaze Rock. It was to say that if you have AIDS you ought to tell your partner, whether you’re a movie star or a postman.’’

He later often found himself defending Hudson’s reputation against those who viewed the late actor’s conduct as reprehensible.

“You can’t dismiss a man’s whole life with a single act. This thing about AIDS was totally out of character for him,’’ Mr. Christian said in the People interview.

Mr. Christian was born in Hollywood on June 23, 1953, and grew up in Orange County. He attended California State University, Fullerton, where he earned a business degree.

After college, he worked as a waiter and learned about sound engineering. He was interested in acting, but his two greatest passions were music and politics.

Mr. Christian met Hudson in late 1982 at a fund-raiser for then-senatorial candidate Gore Vidal.

“I heard this voice, `Where the hell’s the booze?’ I turned and saw Rock Hudson standing next to me,’’ he testified in 1989.

He and Hudson became lovers about five months later. By late 1983, they were living together.

When Hudson began losing weight and looking ill, he told Mr. Christian, who was about 20 years his junior, that he was merely dieting; later, associates said he was anorexic.

Mr. Christian said he learned the true cause of his partner’s increasing gauntness the way the rest of the world did - from a 1985 television broadcast from Paris, where Hudson had flown to seek treatment for AIDS.

“I thought I was a dead man,’’ Mr. Christian recalled thinking at the time.

Mr. Christian tested negative for the disease several times. Told by medical experts that the best treatment would cost $100,000 a year with a life expectancy of three years, he approached Hudson’s managers after the actor’s death and asked them to place $300,000 in a trust fund to cover his care if he developed AIDS, with the funds returning to the estate if he remained AIDS-free.

When the managers turned him down, “that’s when he went to Marvin Mitchelson,’’ the famous palimony attorney who filed the lawsuit against Hudson’s estate, said Brent Beckwith, who was Mr. Christian’s lover and best friend for nine years.

After the settlement, Mr. Christian bought and renovated a house in the Hollywood Hills, filling it with his collection of musical instruments, antique Edison phonographs, and tens of thousands of vintage 78s, LPs, and CDs. He restored old recordings and was famous among friends for his ability to name almost any tune.

Mr. Christian’s death was the result of his heavy smoking, which began in 1998, Dahl said.