September 9, 2009 / 2:50 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood gossip writer Army Archerd dies at 87

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Gossip columnist Army Archerd, who wrote upbeat stories about movie stars for the Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety for more than 50 years, died in a Los Angeles hospital on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said. He was 87.

Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd (L) and his wife Selma pose with talk show host Regis Philbin at a gala dinner honoring Archerd's 50th year with the entertainment industry trade paper, in Beverly Hills, California in this April 26, 2002 file photograph. REUTERS/Jim Ruymen/Files

Archerd died of a rare form of mesothelioma cancer, thought to be the result of exposure to asbestos when he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, said spokeswoman Michelle Bega.

One of Archerd’s biggest scoops was the revelation in 1985 that Rock Hudson had AIDS, but he would later say that it was the most difficult story he ever had to write.

“It was July 23, 1985, when ‘AIDS’ was an almost-unknown word,” he recalled in 2003. “In that column about Rock heading to Paris for medical help from the Pasteur Institute I wrote, ‘Doctors warn that the dread disease (AIDS) is going to reach catastrophic proportions in all communities if a cure is not soon found.’”

Hudson’s camp denied the actor had AIDS, but he was dead less than three months later.

Opening with a cheery “Good Morning,” Archerd’s daily “Just For Variety” column provided generally upbeat news about Hollywood’s elite and was required breakfast reading in Hollywood for 52 years until 2005. He continued to write blogs for the paper until July.

Archerd found his news by hanging out at glamorous, long-gone nightspots like Ciro’s and the Coconut Grove. He was also a regular visitor to the studio backlots, where he conducted dressing-room interviews with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Lana and Ava Turner, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby.

He recalled that his column attracted the attention of the FBI under Director J. Edgar Hoover era and the agency tried to plant a fake story about actress Jane Fonda, a noted left-wing activist.

In later years, Archerd’s columns were filled with the exploits of elderly stars like Esther Williams, Merv Griffin and Doris Day.

Occasionally, he wrote about more-contemporary artists, taking Michael Jackson to task in 1995 for derogatory phrases in his new song “They Don’t Care About Us.” Jackson called Archerd a few days later to say he would re-record the song.

Archerd is survived by his wife of 40 years, Selma, a son and two stepsons.

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