TOKYO — Actress Elizabeth Taylor angrily turned aside a suggestion that AIDS sufferers were victims of divine wrath and told of how she held Rock Hudson in the last hours of his life.
Taylor, who heads the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said she became involved in this work seven months before she knew that Hudson, a close friend, had the disease.
"There was the first dinner in Los Angeles ... for AIDS in the world, to raise funds," Taylor recalled. "There was very little known about AIDS, except that there was a stigma attached to it. Actually, people did not want to get involved."
This angered her into a one-woman crusade, the 55-year-old actress said, and she got "deeply and passionately" committed to the effort to help patients and researchers, along with educating the international public about AIDS.
"I have dedicated and will dedicate my life to it until a cure is found," Taylor said.
HER FEELINGS became more intense, she said, when she learned that Hudson — with whom she appeared in "Giant" — was ill and had not long to live.
"I loved Rock," Taylor said. "He was a great friend. ... I was with him the day before he died and I've never seen a more horrible death. It was a cruel, painful, agonizing, degrading death."
Taylor bristled when asked if, by going to see Hudson, she was afraid of getting AIDS herself.
"No. I embraced him. He was somebody I loved. He was dying. I held him close to my heart. I had no fear. You can't contract AIDS that way."
Her anger increased at another question: Was AIDS sent by God as disapproval and warning to homosexuals?
"No. Why? That God should all of a sudden strike, start to kill? I don't believe that God is a vicious God. A warning to whom? What group of people are you referring to?"
IF THE DISEASE was identified with homosexuality, Taylor said, it started as a heterosexual disease in Africa and it is rising among heterosexuals because they "are not taking the preventions that they should."
"How can God be striking," she asked, "unless you can consider it a plague or a famine or an earthquake — just at random knocking down the people on the face of the earth?"
Taylor was invited to Japan by the wealthy Ryoichi Sasakawa, who has a leprosy foundation and has spread his support to fight AIDS, which destroys the body's immunity to disease. An active case is inevitably fatal.
"It's going to eradicate the population of this world unless we do something quickly," Taylor said.