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Richard Chamberlain Comes Out of the Closet

Former matinee idol Richard Chamberlain (search), who's now 69, feels the time is right to come out of the closet.

"I'm not a romantic leading man anymore so I don't need to nurture that public image anymore," he says on Sunday's Dateline.

"The major reason I have something to say about it now, you come up to me and say, 'I'm straight.' That tells me almost nothing about you," Chamberlain says.

"It doesn't tell me whether you're a good person or a bad person, it doesn't tell me anything about hardly anything, except that if you're sleeping with somebody, it's probably a female.

"It's the same with gay," he says. "It tells you almost nothing about the person.

"When I grew up, being gay, being a sissy or anything like that was verboten," Chamberlain tells Keith Morrison.

"I disliked myself intensely and feared this part of myself intensely and had to hide it and became 'Perfect Richard, All-American Boy' as a place to hide."

Chamberlain is best known as handsome Dr. Kildare from the '60s TV series and as the love-torn priest on The Thorn Birds.

His Dateline interview is being timed with the release of his autobiography, Shattered Love.

Chamberlain also talks a little about his love life, alluding to his partner, Martin.

"I just am more thankful for Martin's — this is gonna get me — love than anything else in my life," he says.

"I love my life just the way it is. I'm proud of my relationship. I'm actually proud of myself.

"And there you are."

Although he shot to fame as Dr. Kildare, Chamberlain has also had a stellar career in movies and on Broadway, playing Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

He found a new legion of fans by playing Father Ralph de Bricassart in the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds.

In the story, Father Ralph falls in love with Meggie, played by Rachel Ward — and their tortured relationship helped turn The Thorn Birds into the highest-rated miniseries in TV history behind Roots.