When Merv Griffin died, he left behind: Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy & its theme song, hotels, real estate ventures, more than a billion dollars, & a great deal of speculation. According to Merv Griffin: A life in the Closet by his friend Darwin Porter, Griffin’s 1st crush was Errol Flynn, whom he saw passed out naked on a couch. He was a roommate with Montgomery Clift for 2 years. He lived with Roddy McDowall at the famed Dakota in NYC, where he introduced Eddie Fisher to Elizabeth Taylor. He had an affair with Rock Hudson, whom he met through Henry Wilson, Rock's agent, & who advised him to keep his sexuality under wraps, & there was a young James Dean selling his sex for cash. He had a relationship with Judy Garland's Meet Me in St. Louis boy next door- Tom Drake. There was golden age stars Peter Lawford, & Robert Walker on his list of conquests, & a sexual tryst with Marlon Brando. He was famous in gay circles for his all-male pool parties with hired porn stars serving up goodies.
I used to come home from elementary school, & let myself into our house with my key, practice the piano & then settle in to watch the Merv Griffin Show. I was already zany for show biz & I was big on Merv’s guests including Moms Mabley, Mrs. Miller & Pamela Mason. Merv's secret gay life was widely known in showbiz, but not to his viewers.
The issue of his sexuality became an issue in 1991 when he was targeted in 2 lawsuits: by Dance Fever host Denny Terrio, alleging sexual harassment; & by his personal assistant- Brent Plott seeking $200 million in palimony. Both suits were eventually dismissed. Eva Gabor played his beard. Nothing was discussed in the media or in his own circles, particularly straight political circles. Though he quietly led a gay life, & had his pool parties filled with hot young men, & a parade of boyfriends, it was viewed as "private" information that was not discussed in mixed company.
In the last years of his life, Griffin deflected the gay questions with a quip, determining that his private life remain private. He felt that he needed explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to open the secret he'd been forced to hide throughout his adult life. But, Griffin had a place in the Hollywood firmament at a time when being gay was unthinkable & the allegation alone would ruin a career.
I would think that the public would have been more tolerant about his being gay as he grew into old age? Even in Hollywood where homosexuality isn't exactly a rare phenomenon, being gay is rarely spoken of in an honest way. Griffin's brush with tabloid scandal probably only drove him deeper into the closet.
Griffin's closet kept him shockingly silent while he had access to the President of the United States as gay people were dying. He was close with the Reagans (Nancy Reagan in particular, they share a birthday today) during the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s, with few treatments available & fear-mongering having gripped the media. Griffin's friends, his lovers, gay men across America, & around the world suffered & met horrific deaths. Griffin was closeted, & it is highly unlikely he ever made the connection for the Reagans, pointed out the government negligence, or even talking openly as a gay person. They likely knew he was gay, but it was unspoken. Maybe the Reagans rationalized that Griffin was not like "those people", & that maybe it wasn't true anyway... maybe he was actually dating Eva Gabor. Griffin stayed silent about the epidemic in the media, ironic because he was at the center of the media industry & in shaping the TV industry, when his voice would have made a huge difference.
Griffin died in 2007, at 82 years of age. He left behind an immense fortune & many unanswered questions.