‘60s heartthrob Richard Chamberlain reflects on why he kept his sexuality a secret: ‘I had to be very careful’

After keeping a secret for so many years in Hollywood, Richard Chamberlain is finally at peace.

The ‘60s star, once a favorite among the ladies, is auctioning off some of his prized possessions. The sale, titled “Property from the Life and Career of Richard Chamberlain,” is part of Julien’s Auctions and Turner Classic Movies’ “Icons & Idols: Hollywood,” which kicks off this weekend in Beverly Hills, California, and online.

Some of the highlights from the auction include Richard Chamberlain's "Shogun" costume.

Some of the highlights from the auction include Richard Chamberlain’s “Shogun” costume.
(Julien’s Auctions)

“Life is really nice,” the actor told Fox News Digital. “I’m sort of retired and can … live a much simpler life than when I was working. Acting is gratifying as it is extremely hard work… I can now sit around and watch TV if I want to, go to the movies, have dinner with friends and just have fun … it’s very gratifying.”

Richard Chamberlain is part of Julien's Auctions and TCM's "Icons and Idols" auction kicking off this weekend.

Richard Chamberlain is part of Julien’s Auctions and TCM’s “Icons and Idols” auction kicking off this weekend.
(Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Chamberlain, who made women across the country swoon as the dreamy Dr. Kildare in the ‘60s, followed by the hunky Father Ralph in the ‘80s, came out as a gay man when he was nearly 70 years old. The now-88-year-old made the revelation in a 2003 memoir titled “Shattered Love.”

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Chamberlain said that as a romantic leading man, it would have been “a disaster” and “awful” for his career if the public knew the truth.

“I had to be very careful and very circumspect,” he said. “Magazines did lots and lots of interviews, and they sort of suspected. They would ask me questions like, ‘When are you going to get married and have children?’ I would say, ‘Well, not quite yet. I’m awfully busy.’ I had to be careful for a long time.”

American film and television actor Richard Chamberlain circa 1960. It wouldn't be until decades later that the star came out as a gay man.

American film and television actor Richard Chamberlain circa 1960. It wouldn’t be until decades later that the star came out as a gay man.
(Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“It was inhibiting,” he said. “But I got so used to it that it was just habitual to be sort of careful and on guard in certain situations. Yes, I would’ve been a happier person to be out and free and all that. But I already had so much to be happy about. I was a working actor, and that’s the main thing I wanted out of this lifetime.”

The star admitted he wasn’t prepared to become a teen idol after scoring the leading role in “Dr. Kildare.” The show, which chronicled the adventures of a young medical intern and his surgeon mentor, aired from 1961 until 1966.

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“It happened kind of fast,” he said. “We started getting fan mail at an enormous rate. Something like 12,000 letters a week, which [the network] had never really experienced before. Even Clark Gable wasn’t getting that much fan mail. And the studio of course answered it all. I didn’t have the time or energy. But that made me realize something was happening that might be overwhelming.”

Richard Chamberlain is shown in costume for television's "Dr. Kildare" series circa 1963. The series catapulted the actor to stardom.

Richard Chamberlain is shown in costume for television’s “Dr. Kildare” series circa 1963. The series catapulted the actor to stardom.
(Getty Images)

“And then if we ever had any breaks in the shooting schedule — I was under contract at MGM at the time — the studio would send me to do publicity or work,” Chamberlain continued. “Sometimes we would encounter rather enthusiastic crowds of people. … People lined up for miles just to get my autograph. I thought, ‘This is wonderful. I’m very pleased they want this.’ But I didn’t quite know why they wanted it. It made me realize that ‘Dr. Kildare’ caused quite a stir.”

Chamberlain said it felt freeing to finally share his truth without fear of consequence.

“While I was writing that book, I thought it was going to be a philosophical book about how to live your life better,” said Chamberlain. “My publisher told me, ‘Richard, you’ve got to talk about the real you and where all of these philosophical ideas came from.’ I was writing… and it was almost as if an angel walked into the room. I didn’t see an angel, of course. But it was almost like this angelic presence came and put her hand on my head. This is all in my imagination, but it had a certain reality to it… [I felt that presence say], ‘Richard, you’ve been barking up the wrong tree here. There is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with you and your life and being gay. It’s totally irrelevant to your worth as a human being. Give up all this fear, give up all this hiding. Just give it up.’”

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Yvette Mimieux and Richard Chamberlain are shown in a scene from the 1965 film "Joy in the Morning." The actor said coming out in the 1960s wasn’t an option and would have destroyed his career.

Yvette Mimieux and Richard Chamberlain are shown in a scene from the 1965 film “Joy in the Morning.” The actor said coming out in the 1960s wasn’t an option and would have destroyed his career.
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

“I suddenly felt deep in my bones the truth of what this angel was saying to me,” he continued. “I’m not claiming an angel was really there, but I felt touched by an angel. And I suddenly agreed deep into my heart and bones that … being who I am was just fine. Yes, there was a sense of freedom. … I knew everyone would want to talk about me being gay in Hollywood. And I was completely free to talk about it with Barbara Walters, Larry King — all these people. I was completely unafraid to talk about it.”

Chamberlain noted he has fond memories of being an actor in Hollywood. Some of the key items fans can look out for at the upcoming auction include costumes, rare memorabilia from his classic films and TV shows, as well as jewelry and a collection of his artwork.

Highlights include his 1963 Golden Globe Award for “Dr. Kildare” ($3,000-$5,000), the original costume for 1980’s “Shogun” ($1,000-$2,000), as well as his Hollywood Walk of Fame plaque ($1,000 -$2,000).

Richard Chamberlain's X-rays from "The Thorn Birds" has an estimated price of $300-$500.

Richard Chamberlain’s X-rays from “The Thorn Birds” has an estimated price of $300-$500.
(Julien’s Auctions)

There are also X-rays from 1983’s “The Thorn Birds.” Chamberlain said that while shooting the famous miniseries, he couldn’t remember his lines at one point, causing him to be frustrated and hit his hand on a camera dolly, breaking it.

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Still, he has zero regrets about being part of the steamy romance.

“It was going to be a movie with Robert Redford., and none of that happened,” he chuckled. “After ‘Shogun’ became a huge success, they were open to considering me for the part of Father Ralph … it turned out to be a stroke of amazing good fortune … Rachel [Ward] and I got along extremely well. There were rumors that we didn’t, but that was just the press at the time. They wanted something to write about. But we got on famously. We had a lot of love scenes, and she was very loving and sweet in those scenes. I thought, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I’m turning her on.’ But it turned out that she was beginning a romance secretly with [co-star] Bryan [Brown], who was playing her husband in the piece. And they were falling in love. So, I pretended she was falling in love with me, which made the love scenes even more fun to play.”

British actress and former model Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain in the television drama "The Thorn Birds" circa 1983. Chamberlain said he and Ward still keep in touch.

British actress and former model Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain in the television drama “The Thorn Birds” circa 1983. Chamberlain said he and Ward still keep in touch.
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ward and Brown said “I do” in 1983. The couple has stayed in touch with Chamberlain over the years.

“It’s amazing that ‘The Thorn Birds’ was so successful because it’s just one tragedy after another,” said Chamberlain. “If you think about it, all kinds of terrible things happen to people in that story. But on the other hand, there was that very intense love affair played out by all these wonderful actors.”

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Chamberlain was also the original Jason Bourne in the 1988 series “The Bourne Identity” opposite Jaclyn Smith of “Charlie’s Angels” fame. Matt Damon has since taken over the role for the action films.

American actors Jane Fonda and Richard Chamberlain at the Emmy Awards on May 26, 1963.

American actors Jane Fonda and Richard Chamberlain at the Emmy Awards on May 26, 1963.
(Darlene Hammond/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

“We got there first,” Chamberlain laughed. “Jaclyn Smith was beyond gorgeous and wonderful in it. It was based on an extremely complicated novel, but we had enough time, the four hours, to tell the whole story. But when Matt Damon made the first ‘Bourne’ movie, they only had about an hour and a half. I was very disappointed that so much of the story was not able to be told. But then in the follow-up films, I thought he was just terrific. But I thought the first one, ours, was better.”

Chamberlain can’t help but beam as he looks back at his career.

“’Dr. Kildare’ was the answer to all my prayers, all I ever wanted to be as an actor,” he said. “And it just dropped onto my lap. The show was an amazing success right from the beginning. It was very hard work, but also incredibly gratifying. It was just a wonderful life.”

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