BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Actor Rock Hudson, the square-jawed movie hero who played the role of the suave ladies' man for three decades, died Wednesday after a yearlong battle with AIDS -- the first major celebrity known to have been felled by the disease. He was 59.
"I love him, and tragically he is gone," said actress Elizabeth Taylor, his longtime friend and confidante in the last weeks of his life. "Please God he did not die in vain."
Slightly more than three hours after Hudson was pronounced dead, his body -- placed in a cardboard coffin -- was cremated at 12:10 p.m. at the Glenview Crematory in suburban Glendale, said officials of Pierce-Hamrock Mortuary.
Publicist Dale Olson said Hudson died in his sleep at his Beverly Hills home. He said Hudson's personal physician, called to the home by members of the household staff, pronounced him dead at 9 a.m. PDT.
"Two days ago I visited Rock, and while he was weak, he was in a good mood and smiled and talked lucidly," Olson said.
"I am very shocked. I would not have expected this so soon. Rock was not in pain and he had never been in pain."
An employee of a hospital equipment firm reported seeing the actor in his bedroom shortly before his death.
"I came in and he was moaning," said Gary Sweat, adding that the actor looked extremely thin and ill. He said he was surrounded by several nurses and women who appeared to be housekeepers.
Sweat, an employee of a hospital supply rental company called Arnie Weisler Home Health Care, said he spent about five minutes in the room and returned at about 1 p.m. to pick up the bed.
The body later was taken to the Los Angeles County coroner's office in an unmarked, beige van, whose side windows had been covered with towels. Amid shoving and pushing, several photographers rushed to the back of the vehicle and sought to take pictures of the interior.
Hudson -- who stunned the world last July when he was admitted to a Paris hospital for treatment of AIDS, which affects mostly homosexual men -- was one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and 1960s. He returned to the United States because the disease was too far advanced to be treated with an experimental drug.
In Washington, the House, acting hours after Hudson's death was announced voted 322-107 to substantially boost the amount of federal money for the battle against AIDS. The measure provides $189.7 million for AIDS work, $70 million more than President Reagan requested and 90 percent more than is being spent this year.