He dies at Garden Sullivan Hospital in San Francisco.
Coinciding with the CDC’s release of another MMWR detailing opportunistic infections among gay men, The New York Times publishes the article “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” At this point, the term “gay cancer ” enters the public lexicon.Learn More.
The CDC report, titled “Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis Pneumonia Among Homosexual Men — New York City and California,” described cases of KS and PCP among 26 gay men (25 white and one black).
In an 18-paragraph story on Page 20 of The New York Times, reporter Lawrence K. Altman cited 41 reported cases of “a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer.” Altman reported that eight of the 41 men diagnosed with the condition were already dead, and that the time between diagnosis and death from the disease was less than 24 months.
In the last paragraphs of the article, Altman wrote:
“The reporting doctors said that most cases had involved homosexual men who have had multiple and frequent sexual encounters with different partners, as many as 10 sexual encounters each night up to four times a week.
“Many of the patients have also been treated for viral infections such as herpes, cytomegalovirus and hepatitis B as well as parasitic infections such as amebiasis and giardiasis. Many patients also reported that they had used drugs such as amyl nitrite and LSD to heighten sexual pleasure.
“Cancer is not believed to be contagious, but conditions that might precipitate it, such as particular viruses or environmental factors, might account for an outbreak among a single group.”
According to Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a New York City clinician who was among the first in the U.S. to recognize the emerging AIDS epidemic, this article was significant because of the Times‘ large, international readership. But doctors treating New Yorkers from the gay community had been noticing strange symptoms and unusual illnesses in their patients for at least two years.
“I had been observing some clinical and laboratory abnormalities among my patients as early as 1979. These included enlarged lymph glands, an enlarged spleen, low blood platelets and a low white blood cell count,” Dr. Sonnabend told POZ magazine in 2020.
“Then, in April or May of 1981, I was stunned to learn that Kaposi’s sarcoma was being diagnosed in young gay men in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Joyce Wallace, a physician whose office was close to mine on West 12th Street in New York passed this information on to me,” he recalled.
When Dr. Sonnabend heard about the KS cases in young men, he reached out to a colleague, Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist at NYU medical center. Dr. Friedman-Kien was caring for several gay men with Kaposi’s sarcoma, and soon Dr. Sonnabend joined him at NYU’s virology lab.
Through their research, the doctors found high levels of interferon in their patients. Early research and discoveries like this formed the foundation of HIV/AIDS research for many years to come.
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Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), “Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis Pneumonia Among Homosexual Men — New York City and California,” July 3, 1981
The New York Times, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” by Lawrence K. Altman, July 3, 1981
POZ magazine, “A Look Back at the Year a Rare Cancer Was First Seen in Gay Men” by Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., July 13, 2020
POZ magazine, “Interferon and AIDS: Too Much of a Good Thing” by Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., May 7, 2011
A pregnant Elizabeth Glaser, wife of television star Paul Michael Glaser, is rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to give birth to her first child. She hemorrhages heavily during labor and requires a transfusion of seven pints of blood.Learn More.
A former teacher who worked as exhibit director of the LA Children’s Museum, Glaser asked her doctor about the mysterious disease reported recently in the press, and her doctor dismissed her concerns, assuring her, “Your nightmare is over.”
In 1985, daughter Ariel experienced persistent stomach pains and doctors were unable to determine the source. The four-year-old was tested for HIV “as just a precaution,” and the results came back positive for the virus.
Each member of the Glaser family was then tested, and would result in the additional HIV diagnosis of mother Elizabeth and 18-month-old son Jake.
Doctors determined that Elizabeth contracted HIV during her 1981 blood transfusion, and Elizabeth had unknowingly passed the virus on to Ariel through breastfeeding. Jake, who was born in October 1984, had contracted the virus in utero.
When Elizabeth sought counseling for Ariel, she discovered that no child psychiatrist would take the case. Aware of the stigma of AIDS, the Glasers pulled Ariel out of nursery school and erected a wall of secrecy to protect their children.
In August 1989 (one year after Ariel died of AIDS-related illness), the National Enquirer and other tabloids threatened the Glaser family with exposure.
Elizabeth Glaser would side-step the media ambush by sharing her harrowing story in her 1991 autobiography, In the Absence of Angels. She and two frinds then started the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and she became one of the most aggressive and effective pediatric AIDS activists in the country.
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Washington Post, “AIDS: The Glaser Family’s Battle” by Janet Huck, August 28, 1989
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, “Elizabeth’s Story”
The New York Times, “The Youngest Victims of AIDS” by Bettyann Kevles, March 3, 1991
Forbes, “Before Charlie Sheen, They Went Public With HIV” by Barron Lerner, November 17, 2015
Dreamgirls makes a splashy debut on Broadway with stars Jennifer Holliday and Sheryl Lee Ralph, who both get involved fighting AIDS after some of heir cast mates become sick and die.Learn More.
The successful debut of Dreamgirls marked career breakthroughs for Holliday and Ralph, but also began a time of great loss.
In addition to cast members, Dreamgirls Director Michael Bennett would die of AIDS-related illness on July 2, 1987 at the age of 44. He would be diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and choose to keep his illness a secret from all but a few close friends.
“Friends and cast members just got sick and died,” Ralph would later write in the Huffington Post. “They were sick today and dead tomorrow…. Then the deadly silence would set in because nobody wanted to talk about it, much less do anything about that disease, that shhhhh, gay disease. The silence was deafening.”
Ralph would go on to found the DIVA Foundation, which raises awareness about HIV/AIDS. DIVA stands for Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware.
“It got to the point I couldn’t cross one more name out of my phone book, back when folks had such a thing called a phone book, when you would actually write a name in a book. That many people [died],” Ralph said in a 2008 Star Tribune interview.
Also, Holliday would dedicate much of her life to HIV/AIDS advocacy and activism. In 2017, Holliday would release a song to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“I’ve been an advocate for AIDS assistance, because it took the lives of male chorus members and the creative team of Dreamgirls,” Holliday told the Broadway Blog.
“The gay community has really been a vital part of my whole existence. It’s been a vital program under the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition. They let people know that housing is available and want to serve people who need a place to stay.”
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The New York Times, “Stage: ‘Dreamgirls,’ Michael Bennett’s New Musical, Opens” by Frank Rich, December 21, 1981
www.RonFassler.org, “The Death and Life of Michael Bennett” by Ron Fassler, July 2, 2018
HuffPost, “Thirty Years of ‘Dreamgirls’ and AIDS in America” by Sheryl Lee Ralph, June 14, 2011
CBS News Richmond, “Sheryl Lee Ralph Raises AIDS Awareness with DIVAs,” December 4, 2019
StarTribune, “Original ‘Dreamgirl’ Sings a Song of AIDS Awareness” by C.J., February 6, 2008
Playbill, “Jennifer Holliday Releases Single to Benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS” by Andrew Gans, January 26, 2017
The Broadway Blog, “Jennifer Holliday on ‘Dreamgirls,’ Being an LGBTQ Icon, and Turning 60” by Ryan Leeds
Lenny Baker, who won the 1977 Tony Award for Best Actor in a featured role (musical), dies of AIDS-related illness in a hospital in Hallandale Beach, Florida at the age of 37.Learn More.
Born Leonard Joel Baker in 1945 in Boston, he began his acting career in regional theater and spent several summers at the O’Neill Center’s National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Connecticut. He told an interviewer in 1977 that the center was instrumental in his career, partly because he saw performances of the National Theater for the Deaf there.
”It’s perhaps because of watching them work,” Baker said, ”that I can be so brazen with comic uses of my body.”
After moving to New York City in 1969, Baker acted in Off-Broadway stage productions until making his Broadway stage debut in 1974 in The Freedom of the City. Baker won a Tony award and the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actor in 1977 for his performance in the musical I Love My Wife.
Baker also acted in films and television shows, including Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe award. His other film credits included The Hospital (1971) and The Paper Chase (1973).
Following Baker’s death, a memorial service was held at The Public Theater, located at 425 Lafayette Street in New York City.
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The New York Times, “Lenny Baker, 37, Stage Actor” by Eleanor Blau, April 13, 1982
IMDb, “Lenny Baker biography”
To the shock and dismay of many fans in San Francisco and New York City, The Advocate announces: “Founder of Cockettes, Hibiscus, Dead of GRID.”Learn More.
Hibiscus was famous on both coasts for founding and performing with the flamboyant theatrical groups The Cockettes and Angels of Light. He died of AIDS-related illness (then called “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency”) at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York at the age of 32, becoming one of the earliest casualties of the epidemic.
Born George Edgerly Harris III in Bronxville, N.Y., he was the child of theater performers who relocated the family to a home on El Dorado Avenue in Clearwater Beach, Fla. Before long, George Jr. had founded his first theatrical group, the El Dorado Players, which performed in the family’s garage.
“He was fascinating even as a small child,” his mother Ann Harris told The New York Times Magazine in 2003. “All the other kids followed him and acted out his fantasies. He did Camelot one time and had the kids on bicycles with the handlebars as the horses’ heads. Another time he directed Cleopatra, and used the garden hose as the serpent and our cats as Cleopatra’s gifts to Caesar. He was very much the little producer.”
When his family returned to New York in 1964, George Jr. reprised the El Dorado Players, augmenting the troupe with children he met in Greenwich Village. He took acting and singing classes at Quintano’s School for Young Professionals, and soon he was cast as an extra in a milk commercial, a deaf-mute in a television series and an antiwar protester in an Off Broadway play called Peace Creeps, co-starring Al Pacino and James Earl Jones.
The latter role would be strangely prescient. On October 21, 1967, an 18-year-old George Jr. would be photographed placing a flower in a gun barrel pointed at him while taking part in an anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon. The photo, widely circulated in the media, became iconic of the anti-war movement and generational divide in the country.
Washington, D.C. was just a stop-over, through, of a trip he was taking to San Francisco with friend Irving Rosenthal, the author of the homoerotic novel Sheeper and the onetime lover of William Burroughs. Inspired by an image in a Cocteau novel, he changed his name to Hibiscus, and started wearing the glittery makeup, diaphanous robes and floral headpieces that would become his signature.
He joined Rosenthal’s commune, KaliFlower, which was dedicated to distributing free food and creating free art and theater. This was the fertile environment in which Hibiscus founded The Cockettes.
Hibiscus and other KaliFlower members first performed at the 1970 New Year’s Eve Show at the Palace Theater, an old Chinese movie house in North Beach. They called themselves The Cockettes, a bawdy allusion to the Rockettes, and danced a cancan to the Rolling Stones’ song Honky Tonk Women.
Under the leadership of Hibiscus, the group’s act quickly evolved into bigger, wilder, and more lavish productions, and The Cockettes’ shows fast became not-to-be-missed events. New shows were created every few weeks, with Paste on Paste, Gone with the Showboat to Oklahoma, and Tropical Heatwave/Hot Voodoo being some of the early productions.
Pearls Over Shanghai became the Cockettes first show featuring an original script, music and lyrics, and was an instant hit with fans. Some members of the Cockettes, like Sylvester and Devine, began to garner their own fan followings. During this time, Hibiscus found he could express his sexual identity with fearless abandon.
”He came out of the closet wearing the entire closet,” says Nicky Nichols, a fellow Cockette.
When some members of The Cockettes began insisting that they begin charging for their shows, Hibiscus refused and found himself expelled from the group he founded. Unperturbed, Hibiscus formed a new theatrical group called the Angels of Light Free Theater. Their shows included Flamingo Stampede and The Moroccan Operette, which Hibiscus described as being ”like Kabuki in Balinese drag.”
Among the people he convinced to perform with the Angels of Light was poet Allen Ginsberg, who appeared in drag for the first time. Hibiscus found another collaborator in his new boyfriend, Jack Coe, also known as Angel Jack, who eventually moved to New York with Hibiscus in 1972, around the same time that the Cockettes disbanded.
Upon his return to NYC, he recruitd his mother and three sisters (Jayne Anne, Eloise and Mary Lou) into an east coast version of the Angels of Light.
“I wrote almost all the music for the Angels of Light,” said his mother, Ann. “George would say, ‘Oh, I need a sheik scene, with a sheik in it,’ and then I would come up with a song.”
The group performed at the Theatre for the New City, where John Lennon was known to jump on the stage and sprinkle glitter on Hibiscus.
In the early 1980s, he and his sisters and brother formed the glitter rock group “Hibiscus and the Screaming Violets,” supported by musicians Ray Ploutz on bass, Bill Davis on guitar and Michael Pedulla on drums. But he had to stop performing in 1981 due to his escalating illness.
It’s testament to the power of his personality and creativity that the spirit of Hibiscus dominates the 2002 Cockettes documentary, even though the film’s focus is on the group. Decked out in gender-bending drag and tons of glitter, the flamboyant ensembles of both The Cockettes and Angels of Light are considered to be the inspiration for later theater productions like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and acts like The New York Dolls.
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The New York Times publishes the first media mention of the term “GRID” (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), deepening public perceptions that HIV/AIDS is solely related to homosexuality.Learn More.
Under the headline “New Homosexual Disorder Worries Health Officials,” the Times introduced its readers to “a serious disorder of the immune system” that had proved fatal in 136 people to date.
“It was colloquially referred to as GRID – ‘Gay Related Immune Deficiency’ or ‘Gay Related Immune Disease,’ as if there was something intrinsic about being gay that made people susceptible to it,” wrote Carla Tsampiras in The Conversation.
While the Times article identified 13 cases of the disease in heterosexual women, it went on to state, “Most cases have occurred among homosexual men, in particular those who have had numerous sexual partners, often anonymous partners whose identity remains unknown.”
Even once the disease was renamed HIV/AIDS, the stigmatization continued. Early research elicited categories of people, referred to as “high-risk groups,” who were apparently at increased risk of having AIDS. They were informally known as “the Four-H Club” — homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs and heroin users. Later, “hookers” were added to the list.
“As a result, AIDS avatars — such as The Homosexual, The Prostitute, and The Drug Abuser — were created, drawing on long histories of social and medical prejudice and othering of certain groups of people,” said Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at the University of Cape Town. “The avatars drew on existing stereotypes and reinforced them, reflecting existing prejudices or social attitudes relating to sexuality, sexual orientation, race, class and gender.”
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The New York Times, “New Homosexual Disorder Worries Health Officials” by Lawrence K. Altman, May 11, 1982
The Conversation, “AIDS: What Drove Three Decades of Acronyms and Avatars?” by Carla Tsampiras, June 4, 2015
The Los Angeles Times publishes the story “Mysterious Fever Now an Epidemic” on its front page, marking the first time the disease receives top coverage in the mainstream media.Learn More.
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Los Angeles Times, “Anti-Gay Bias? : Coverage of AIDS Story: A Slow Start” by David Shaw, December 20, 1987
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence creates Play Fair! — the first “safer sex” pamphlet to address the growing AIDS epidemic.Learn More.
The Sisters distributed 16,000 copies of Play Fair! during the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian parade in June 1982.
Written by Sister Florence Nightmare and Sister Roz Erection, who outside the Order were known as registered nurses Bobbi Campbell and Baruch Golden, Play Fair! was among the first guides promoting safe sex and raising awareness around sexually transmitted diseases.
The Sisters originated in 1979 with three gay men who wanted to combine radical politics, street theater, and high camp, according to Will Kohler. Having obtained nuns’ habits from a community theater production of The Sound of Music, these men (a.k.a., Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch, Sister Missionary Position, and Sister Roz Erection ) turned heads as they strolled Castro Street on Easter Sunday.
By 1982, the Sisterhood had many members and promoted a lively campaign around sex-positivity through a combination of fundraising, community outreach and events. With growing anxiety and concern around the spread of Kaposi’s sarcoma and other immune disorders among gay men, it was inevitable that the Sisters would incorporate AIDS awareness into its mission.
For over 40 years, the order of queer and trans nuns has been spreading its ministry across San Francisco, the U.S., and the world. Each professed nun takes a religious name (usually irreverent and hilarious). For example, cities, events and venues have been ministered to by Sisters Psychedelia, Hellen Wheels, Innocenta, Rhoda Kill, Lotti Da, and Hysterectoria.
Although originally founded as an “Order of Gay Male Nuns,” the group now includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and transgendered men and women. Many of their rituals are influenced by Eastern religious practices and beliefs, as well as by Roman Catholicism. Their doctrine stresses universal joy and the expiation of guilt.
Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who have died are referred by the Sisters as “Nuns of the Above.”
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The Abbey of St Joan, “Play Fair”
Back2Stonewall, “Gay History – April 15, 1979: San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Founded,” April 16, 2022
The Culture Trip, “Meet the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, San Francisco’s Order of Queer Nuns” by Deanna Morgado, July 3, 2019
GLBTQ Archive, “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” by Robert Kellerman, 2002
Larry Hinneman, a dancer with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness.Learn More.
The exact date of Hinneman’s death is not known, nor is his age at the time of his death.
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San Francisco Chronicle, “AIDS at 25” by Steven Winn, June 8, 2006
In their New York Native article “We Know Who We Are,” Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz suggests “excessive promiscuity” as a risk factor for contracting AIDS.Learn More.
Callen and Berkowitz, who wrote the article with the assistance of Callen’s partner Richard Dworkin, were New Yorkers living with AIDS.
After seeing the disease quickly progress and kill people they knew, they wanted to do something that could save lives. In their article, they warned readers against “the cumulative effects of re-exposure to CMV [cytomegalovirus] and other infections.”
“Deep down, we know who we are and why we are sick,” they wrote for the November 8, 1982 edition of the gay weekly.
The reason why men were sick, they theorized, was because they lived a life of “excessive promiscuity on the urban gay circuit of bathhouses, backrooms, balconies, sex clubs, meat racks and tearooms.”
Callen and Berkowitz argued that AIDS was caused by a combination of factors associated with a “promiscuous lifestyle” – drug use, multiple sexual partners and repeated exposure to other sexually-transmissible infections.
After publication, the article drew a torrent of angry criticism from readers of the Native, as well as from gay periodicals across North America, including the Toronto newspaper Body Politic, which accused Callen and Berkowitz of creating unnecessary panic in the community and working against the tide of gay liberation.
“It was widely criticized – not least because it had no scientific basis, and also because it assumed that all gay men with AIDS had lived so-called ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles,” said Colin Clews, author of Gay in the ’80s.
Even so, the article served as a clarion call for many and offered a considerable amount of information that could be useful to its readers:
- “If you live in or frequent New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any of several other metropolitan areas, it is likely you will be having sex with men who are sick.”
- “If you have sex with sick men, you may get sick, too.”
The article also included these remarkably prescient suggestions:
- “Educate yourself about how your body works — particularly the immune response. Read about health, and in particular, read about the present epidemic of AIDS.”
- “We need to support each other’s search for sexual alternatives Certainly the future holds more options than phone sex!”
- “We need to form support groups. Some will want to consider group or individual therapy or other means of smoothing an admittedly difficult transition.”
Still, the criticism from the community stung. In the months that followed, Callen turned his attention to his personal life, tending to his own health and that of friends. But Berkowitz was not deterred; he began a new project which would eventually become the 46-page groundbreaking pamphlet How to Have Sex in an Epidemic.
Callen would eventually work with Berkowitz on the new project, and they would both take what they learned from the reponse to their Native article to develop an entirely new approach to fostering AIDS awareness. Published in the summer of 1983, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic would be embraced by the community and eventually have a widespread impact on the sexual practices of gay men.
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Richard Berkowitz Files, “We Know Who We Are: Two Gay Men Declare War on Promiscuity” by Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz with Richard Dworkin
Gay in the ’80s by Colin Clews (self-published)
The U.S. Health & Human Services Department launched the National AIDS Hotline (NAH). and by the end of the first month, it’s receiving 8,000-10,000 calls a day.Learn More.
Operated by the U.S. Public Health Service, the AIDS Hotline responds to public inquiries about the disease, and by July 28, the hotline has to be expanded from three phonelines to eight to accommodate the high volume of calls.
In 1985, HHS transferred the hotline to the Center for Disease Control and eventually services were expanded in October 1987 to become the National AIDS Clearinghouse, with electronic linkage to computerized referral databases.
Spanish-languages services on the hotline were not included until August 1988. A month later, the hotline adopted TTY services for the hearing-impaired.
By February 1991, the total of calls to the hotline in eight years of service was 5 million.
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National AIDS Hotline: HIV and AIDS Information Service through a Toll-Free Telephone System by Robert R. Waller and Lynn W. Lisella (CDC’s HIV Public Information and Education Programs, November-December 1991)
The New York Times Magazine releases “AIDS: A New Disease’s Deadly Odyssey,” the first indepth article on AIDS in the mainstream press.Learn More.
The article describes how the virus — “the century’s most virulent epidemic” — is spreading in “big-city homosexual communities” and has become the second-leading cause of death in hemophiliacs.
Dr. James W. Curran, head of the AIDS task force at the Centers for Disease Control, told the NYT Magazine reporter that AIDS was moving into mainstream America, and scientists still have not identified the disease’s cause or a way to stop its spread.
“The incidence of AIDS has nearly tripled in the past year, from about seven new cases a week to 20 or more,” Dr. Curran says, citing recently released data that shows that the CDC received reports of 92 cases of AIDS in December 1982, about one-third more than had been received in any other previous month.
The article describes how the CDC is struggling to identify the cause of AIDS. The work is being done by 20 full-time physicians and other professionals, with help from 80 professionals working part-time, focusing on four locations of the outbreak – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.
The medical investigators have bee able to broadly trace the spread of the disease, the article states.
Beginning in spring 1981, clinicians in New York City began to see a surprising number of young male patients with Kaposi’s sarcoma, an extremely rare cancer usually seen in elderly Mediterranean men
At about the same time, infectious-disease specialists throughout the city noted a surge in another rare disease, Pneumocystis pneumonia. At the weekly citywide infectious-disease meetings sponsored by the city’s Department of Health, where physicians present their most perplexing cases, medical professionals started sharing information about these cases.
In mid-1981, the CDC formed a special task force to investigate these unusual cases, and then published its first findings in June and July in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Of the 116 patients identified at the time, about 30% had Kaposi’s sarcoma, about 50% had Pneumocystis pneumonia, and about 10% had both. The remaining 10% had unusual infections that also usually occur in immunosuppressed patients.
Half of the case subjects lived in New York City, and the next-largest group lived in California. An indepth study of 13 patients in Los Angeles conducted by Dr. William W. Darrow and Dr. David Auerbach, both CDC researchers, was able to compare a list of all the sex partners that the patients (or their survivors) could name for the previous five years with a roster of all the AIDS cases in the country.
The result of the comparison revealed that nine of the 13 case subjects had common sexual contacts. This was the so-called “LA cluster” of AIDS patients. Later, a missing link was found between LA and NYC: a patient from New York was identified as having been a sexual partner of four men in the LA cluster, as well as of four NYC men who also developed AIDS.
The widely-read article also quoted activist Larry Kramer: “You don’t know what it’s like to be gay and living in New York. It’s like being in wartime. We don’t know when the bomb is going to fall.”
Kramer described losing 18 friends in the previous 18 months to AIDS, and said another 12 are seriously ill.
“Doctors and psychiatrists are pleading with the community to learn a new way of socializing. They’re begging us, in the name of all who died, to learn how to date,” said Kramer.
The article also addresses the issue of whether the nation’s blood supply is safe. At the time, the CDC had received a total of eight confirmed reports of hemophiliacs with AIDS, six of whom have died.
”I’m concerned and worried,” says Dr. Joseph Bove, chairman of the American Association of Blood Banks committee on transfusion-transmitted diseases and a professor of laboratory medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. ”But as a scientist, I have to look at the evidence. And the evidence is that ordinary blood transfusions are not transmitting AIDS.”
Dr. Bove cited the number of people who had received transfusions in the two years since AIDS was first identified — 20 million — and claimed that there was no “epidemic of AIDS spread by blood.”
Dr. Bruce L. Evatt, director of the CDC’s Divisiony of AIDS,” said Dr. Evatt, adding that while the risk appears to be low, it may increase significantly.
At the time the article was published, the CDC had received reports of 958 individuals with the AIDS virus, and 365 were already diseased.
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New York Times Magazine, “AIDS: A New Disease’s Deadly Odyssey” by Robin Marantz Henig,
Los Angeles publisher Bob Craig publishes activist Larry Kramer’s essay “1,112 and Counting” in Frontiers magazine. Many of the gay bars where the free community magazine is distributed throw it out.Learn More.
First pubished in the March 14-27, 1983 edition of New York Native, Kramer’s long, comprehensive essay expresses frustration, anger and despair. A newcomer to the gay press, the bi-weekly news-magazine Frontiers gave the essay prominent placement on its cover.
After listing the names of 20 friends who had died of the disease (“and one more, who will be dead by the time these words appear in print”), Kramer closed with a plea: “Volunteers Needed for Civil Disobedience.”
By the end of 1983, 2,807 cases of (and 2,118 deaths from) HIV/AIDS had been reported in the U.S.
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Los Angeles Blade, “March 27, 1983: 1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, May 27, 2020
LGBT History Archives, “AIDS: 1,112 and Counting …” by Larry Kramer
Joe MacDonald — the most popular male model of his time and a favorite photography subject of Andy Warhol and Bruce Weber — dies of AIDS-related illness in New York at the age of 37.Learn More.
Square-jawed and classicly handsome, he was frequently featured in GQ magazine during its Haber-Coulianos-Sterzin era, described by Meredith Etherington-Smith, who was GQ’s editor in the 1970s, as “so Zeitgeisty, in a tiny window of time when homosexuality was chic but not yet widely accepted.” Considered to be the first male supermodel, MacDonald counted David Hockney among his many friends and he enjoyed collecting art.
Friends were shocked to see how much MacDonald’s appearance had changed when his photo was featured in an early 1983 advertisement appearing in The New York Times fashion supplement, the results of MacDonald’s final modeling assignment.
“He looked very old,” Susi Gilder, a model who knew MacDonald personally, would tell New York magazine for an article published in June 1983. “The eyes were just very sad.”
In Vogue magazine’s 2020 retrospective on the AIDS crisis, fashion designer Michael Kors recalled MacDonald as the “first famous person who passed away” from AIDS.
“When we first started reading about [HIV/AIDS] and hearing about it, people did not want to acknowledge that this disease didn’t discriminate,” Kors told Vogue. “People thought, oh, if you’re young and you’re healthy and you, quote, live a clean life, you’re not going to get it. And then they started seeing people like Joe MacDonald and realized this was not selective. The reality became very harsh at that point.”
As the first AIDS casualty in the fashion industry, the news of MacDonald’s death sent shockwaves through New York.
“I remember walking in NYC on Columbus and 83rd – on the corner – one summer night,” model Rosie Vela told The AIDS Memorial on Instagram. “I passed Joe sitting at a crowded outdoors cafe. It was a year before he died.”
“He stood up when he saw me, and invited me to sit with him,” Vela recalled. “He was gorgeous, elegant and kind. I’ll never forget how welcome he made me feel. A true gentleman.”
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GQ magazine, “It All Started Here: The Gay Legacy of GQ” by David Kamp, June 23, 2017
New York magazine, “AIDS Anxiety” by Michael Daly, May 20, 1983
Vogue magazine, “Chapter One: How Fashion Was Forever Changed by ‘The Gay Plague’” by Phillip Picardi, December 16, 2020
The AIDS Memorial on Instagram, tribute post about Joe MacDonald
The news show 20/20 broadcasts the first investigative report on AIDS for network TV with reporter Geraldo Rivera.Learn More.
The 17-minute story features footage of hundreds of activists in AIDS memorial marches in San Francisco, New York City and Houston, as well as interviews with persons living with AIDS Ken Ramsaur, Bob Cecchi, Ron Resio, and Bill Burke
Reporter Geraldo Rivera charts the history of AIDS, starting with the first AIDS cases appearing in New York City and San Francisco in 1979 and the early occurances with members of the gay population, intravenous drug users, and Haitian immigrants.
For the story, Rivera interviewed several people from the front lines of the AIDS crisis, including Marcus Conant, M.D., of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, who warns that the “entire American public” should be concerned about the disease. Dr. Conant tells Rivera that AIDS will become a major health crisis in the U.S. if research funds are not quickly allocated to develop effective ways to prevent and treat the disease.
“And so the evil genie is out of the bottle,” says Rivera, adding that AIDS has been diagnosed in 16 states already.
Rivera also interviews Larry Kramer, co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York. In his characteristic animated fashion, Kramer criticizes The New York Times for failing to report on the AIDS crisis and expresses his frustration with the Centers for Disease Control for failing to add AIDS to its list of communicable diseases that public officials are required to report.
Rivera also includes footage of Rep. Henry Waxman in Congressional hearings, voicing criticism of the Reagan Administration for its lack of resources and action.
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Vimeo | Lovett Productions, “20/20 AIDS Broadcast,” May 19, 1983
The New York Times publishes its first front-page story on AIDS, “Health Chief Calls AIDS Battle ‘No. 1 Priority’.” The article reports on the federal response to the growing AIDS epidemic.Learn More.
By the time the article reaches newstands, 1,450 cases of AIDS have been reported and 558 of those individuals have died.
Conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, tells his followers that “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”Learn More.
A notious homophobe and segregationalist popular with religious conservatives, Falwell continues the campaign of stigmatization against the LGBTQ community that he began in the 1970s with Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign.
The following month, Falwell’s organization, Moral Majority, would publishe a report on AIDS headlined “Homosexual Diseases Threaten American Families.” It features a white couple with two young children, all wearing surgical masks suggesting AIDS is a gay disease that can be spread casually and that gays do not have families.
Many suspect that Falwell’s close ties to President Ronald Reagan directly contributed to the Administration’s refusal to address AIDS.
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The Milford Daily News, “Press: The Sad Legacy of Jerry Falwell” by Bill Press, May 18, 2007
PBS, “Anti-gay Organizing on the Right” by Neil Miller (Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, Vintage Books, 1995).
American Historical Association, “Fearing a Fear of Germs” by Heather Murray, October 2, 2020
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “Moral Majority Report,” July 1983
Produced for a gay audience, I Will Survive is broadcast on Los Angeles public radio station KPFK 90.7 FM as part of a day of programming celebrating gay pride month.Learn More.
In the one-hour radio show, producer David Hunt examined “the conflicting currents of fear, greed, despair and denial that confronted the gay community in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.”
“For its time, the documentary is a fairly clear-eyed look at the emerging AIDS epidemic,” writes Hunt on his website Tell Me David. “It correctly emphasizes the medical consensus that a virus is the cause of the disease, and urges education, personal responsibility and collective action as the tools for fighting it.”
Hunt credits early activists with saving the lives of many people in the community in the early 1980s.
“Without the leadership of people like Larry Kramer, Randy Shilts, Harry Britt, Bobbi Campbell, Matt Redman and others, the suffering would have been far worse, the toll far greater,” he said. “I remember wondering in the early days, in 1981 and 1982, whether any of us would survive. Titling the documentary I Will Survive was an act of false bravado as much as it was a hat tip to Bobbi Campbell, who wore a button emblazoned with that message.”
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Tell Me David, “I Will Survive” by David Hunt, May 1, 2015
Metropolitan Community Church founder Rev. Troy Perry debates Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell on the subject of “the AIDS controversy” on national TV.Learn More.
In the debate, Falwell calls for the mandatory closing of bathhouses, saying that AIDS is caused by homosexual promiscuity. Then he walks back his previous statement regarding AIDS as a punishment against homosexuality. He cites incorrect numbers regarding deaths and illness from AIDS.
The Rev. Perry responds, saying that diseases are the result of many variables, and that Falwell is dimishing the dangers of AIDS when he compares it with herpes. He goes on to tell the TV audience that the majority of members in the LGBT community are in loving relationships, and that is the norm.
The Rev. Perry founded the LGBTQ-inclusive Metropolitan Community Church in 1968 after recovering from an attempt to end his own life. He is well-known in the community for filing suit against the Los Angeles Police Department to clear the way for the city’s first Pride parade in 1970.
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Gay bars in West Hollywood and Los Angeles report a 20% drop in business, according to the Los Angeles Times. Six area bathhouses also report a 50% plunge in revenue.Learn More.
Some community members, like Circus Disco owner Gene La Pietra, think the drop may be related to an earlier news article that erroneously reported AIDS can be spread through casual contact.
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AIDS Activist Bobbi Campbell and his partner Bobby Hilliard appear on the cover of Newsweek magazine for the story “Gay America: Sex, Politics and the Impact of AIDS.”Learn More.
It is the first time two gay men are pictured embracing one another on the cover of a U.S. mainstream national magazine.
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Modern dancer Graham Conley, who performed with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.Learn More.
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Comedian Eddie Murphy performs his comedy special “Delirious” on HBO with material that further stigmatizes gay men and HIV/AIDS. In the show, he makes jokes about AIDS, uses a gay slur multiple times, and tells the audience he is “afraid of gay people.”Learn More.
After its release to the public, the show would become watched by millions and go on to win a Grammy Award.
Murphy would apologize in 1996 for the homophobic remarks in his performances after gay rights activists in San Francisco mount a protest during one of his film shoots. In a public statement, Murphy said that he deeply regretted “any and all pain” that he caused, adding, “Just like the rest of the world, I am more educated about AIDS in 1996 than I was in 1981.”
David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund in Washington, D.C., would respond: “This statement certainly does sound as though Murphy recognizes the impact his past statements have had on the gay community. It’s important for people in the public eye like Eddie Murphy to recognize they set a tone for the general public.
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After New York City physician Joseph Sonnabend is threatened with eviction from his office building for treating patients with AIDS, the state’s Attorney General and Lambda Legal join together to file the first AIDS discrimination lawsuit.Learn More.
Dr. Sonnabend and five of his patients sued and won what became one of the first AIDS-related civil rights cases.
With others including AIDS activist Michael Callen, Dr. Sonnabend founded the AIDS Medical Foundation, the first AIDS research group and now known as the Foundation for AIDS Research.
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NBC’s “St Elsewhere” airs the episode “AIDS and Comfort,” with the story about a former councilman diagnosed with AIDS.Learn More.
In the episode, the presence of a person with AIDS at St. Elygius Hospital triggers the fears and prejudices of various hospital staff.
The episode attempts to call for compassion in its viewers while dispelling misinformation about the virus, using medical professionals as gateways to inform and educate a mainstream audience.
However, by depicting the patient with AIDS as a white, heterosexual, well-off character who’s the victim of an ill-timed affair and the subsequent confusion about whether the patient is straight or gay once he is diagnosed, the viewers are presented with the message that “gay = AIDS,” reinforcing the stereotype stigmatizing the gay community.
John Ponyman, an off-Broadway actor who migrated to San Francisco, dies of AIDS- related illness at the age of 41.Learn More.
Ponyman regularly appeared in shows at Theatre Rhinoceros. His final project was a solo show titled “Sawdust,” featuring several of his own songs.
Performer Bill Kendall, who received rave reviews for his portrayal of “Mr. Peanut” in the long-running San Francisco production of Beach Blanket Babylon, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35. He is pictured with the cast (standing far left).
Beach Blanket Babylon was the world’s longest-running musical revue at the time. The show began its run in 1974 at the Savoy Tivoli and later moved to the larger Club Fugazi in the North Beach district of San Francisco.
Kendall was in the production’s original 1974 cast and continued to be a featured performer through 1982, playing the roles of Superman, John Travolta Sat Night Fever, and The Original Mr. Peanut.
Beach Blanket Babylon was created by Steve Silver, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1995. The San Francisco Chronicle described the show’s roots as a combination of “Vegas lounge acts, the Follies Bergere, God Rush-era extravaganzas, English music halls, a child’s birthday party gone mad and dopey beach party movies.”
Dennis Yount, a Marine who served in the Presidential Honor Guard at President Kennedy’s bier in the Capitol Rotunda, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 43.Learn More.
Yount was born in North Carolina and attended North Carolina University at Columbia before joining the Marines. In 1970, he moved to New York City and became a favorite bartender at the Village bar Trilogy. He moved to San Francisco in 1980 and began tending bar at the Eagle.
Once relocated to the Bay Area, Yount also pursued his long-held interest in acting, being cast in stage productions of Delivery and Sunsets.
Allan Estes, the founding artistic director of Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 29. His final project, “The AIDS Show,” would become the first work by a theater company to deal with the AIDS epidemic.Learn More.
Theatre Rhinoceros is the nation’s oldest and longest-running LGBTQIA+ theater, founded in 1977 by Estes.
Estes came to San Francisco from Boston in 1977 with one goal: to establish a theater where the gay community could go to make and see theater which reflected the realities and joys of homosexual life.
From 1977 until 1984, Estes and Theatre Rhinoceros produced works by gay New York writers that included Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick, Lanford Wilson, Terrence McNally, and Harvey Fierstein, as well as several San Francisco playwrights including C.D. Arnold, Robert Chesley, Cal Youmans, Philip Real, and Dan Curzon.
In the early 1980s, Allan began transforming the Rhino from a gay men’s theater into a lesbian and gay theater, and invited lesbian screenwriters to stage their plays.
In 1984, he conceived the production Artists Involved with Death and Survival (“The AIDS Show”), which was brought to fruition by director Leland Moss (who would die from AIDS at age 41) and included the works of 20 Bay Area playwrights. “The AIDS Show” became the first work by a theater company to deal with the AIDS epidemic.
In 1987, “The AIDS Show” and its touring company became the subject of a PBS documentary by Rob Epstein and Peter Adair and brought the Rhino national attention.
When Estes died, his friends and collaborators vowed to continue Theatre Rhinoceros as a monument to their fallen leader.
Bay Area dancer Charles Butts — who performed with Dance Spectrum, Xoregos Dance Company, Ballet Trocadero de Monte Carlo and Valerie Huston Dance Company — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31.
Singer-songwriter António Variações, Portugal’s first gay superstar, dies of AIDS-related illiness in Lisbon, Portugal at the age of 39.Learn More.
Variações made his TV debut in 1981 during the Sunday variety show on Portugal’s sole broadcaster, recounts Pedro João Santos in his Guardian profile.
“He sang a punk metaphor about pills while a dancer dressed as a giant aspirin threw Smarties at the dumbfounded audience,” writes Santos. “Nothing so transgressive had ever graced Portugal’s airwaves.”
His 1983 bestselling debut album, Anjo da Guarda (Guardian Angel), features Variações’ Portuguese folk-style singing set to new-wave music. His follow-up album, Dar & Receber, fused disco-rock with synthpop.
In May 1984, Variações was admitted to hospital due to illness, according to The AIDS Memorial. Except for his family and close friends, he received few visitors during his hospital stay. A month later, the media reported that his health had deteriorated and rumours began to circulate that he had AIDS.
The initial cause of Variações’ death would be reported as bilateral bronchial pneumonia. At his funeral on June 15, 1984, the coffin would be sealed shut by order of the Portugese government.
Paul-Michel Foucault, one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 57.
A day later, French newspaper Libération would include in the death notice a mention of the rumor that it had been brought on by AIDS. The day after that, Le Monde would issue a medical bulletin cleared by his family that makes no reference to HIV/AIDS.
On 29 June, Foucault’s la levée du corps ceremony would be held, in which the coffin is carried from the hospital morgue. Hundreds attend, including activists and academic friends, while French philosopher Gilles Deleuze gives a speech using excerpts from Foucault’s extensive examination of sexuality in the Western world, The History of Sexuality.
His body is then buried at Vendeuvre-du-Poitou in a small ceremony.
The son and grandson of a physician, Foucault was born to a bourgeois family. A distinguished but sometimes erratic student, Foucault gained entry at the age of 20 to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1946, and established a reputation as a sedulous, brilliant, and eccentric student.
After graduating in 1952, Foucault travelled Europe, issued monographs of his work and, in 1969, published L’Archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge), which won him attention as one of the most original and controversial thinkers of his day.
A year later, he was awarded a chair position at the Collège de France, the country’s most prestigious postsecondary institution, and began conducting intensive research.
Between 1971 and 1984 Foucault wrote several works, including Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison); three volumes of a history of Western sexuality; and numerous essays.
Foucault continued to travel widely, and as his reputation grew he spent extended periods in Brazil, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the U.S. He became particularly attached to the San Francisco Bay area and was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley for several years.
Although Foucault reportedly despised the label “homosexual,” he was openly gay and occasionally praised the pleasures of sadomasochism and the bathhouse. Foucault died of a septicemia typical of AIDS, with the fourth volume of his history of sexuality still incomplete.
Foucault’s partner Daniel Defert would go on to found the first HIV/AIDS organisation in France, AIDES; a play on the French language word for “help” (aide) and the English language acronym for the disease. On the second anniversary of Foucault’s death, Defert would publicly reveal that Foucault’s death was AIDS-related.
AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell dies of AIDS-related illness at age 32.Learn More.
Just one month earlier, Campbell spoke at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
Campbell told the crowd that he had hugged his boyfriend on the cover of Newsweek, “to show Middle America that gay love is beautiful.” He held 15 seconds of silence for the 2,000 who had died of AIDS at that point “and [for] those who will die before this is over.”
He then laid-out a series of concerns for politicians to address — including increased funding for both research and support services and a warning of the potential for discrimination with the advent of a test for HTLV-3 (now known as HIV) — and appealing to all candidates in the upcoming elections to meet with people with AIDS.
Two weeks after his DNC speech, Campbell appeared on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. While the rumors and fear of AIDS had reached a mainstream audience, the facts had not, so Campbell was placed in a glass booth, with technicians refusing to come near him to wire up microphones for the interview.
At noon on August 15, 1984, exactly a month after his DNC speech and after 2 days on life support in intensive care, Bobbi Campbell died at San Francisco General Hospital. His parents and his partner Bobby Hilliard were by his side. Bobbi Campbell was 32 years old and had lived for over 3½ years with what was by then called AIDS.
His partner Bobby Hilliard would succumb to the deadly disease not long afterwards.
The New York Times reports that new scientific evidence has raised the possibility that AIDS may be transmissible through saliva . It will be another two years before proof emerges that this is false.Learn More.
Epidemiologic studies to date point to sexual contact as well as transfusions of blood or blood products as the major risk factors leading to AIDS.
”Right now epidemiological studies do not point to saliva as the key mode of spread of AIDS and data show that close contact is much more important,” Dr. Robert C. Gallo, a leading AIDS researcher, told The New York Times.
Even so, this article spread fear among the public and further stigmatized those living with AIDS.
The City of San Francisco orders 14 bathhouses closed due to reports of high-risk sexual activity occurring in these venues.Learn More.
“It has been established that the bathhouses contribute to the spread of AIDS and they ought to be closed,” Mayor Dianne Feinstein said. Frustrated with gay rights groups that were blocking her two-year campaign to close the bathhouses, Feinstein decided on a different approach: closing them one by one.
Under Mayor Feinstein’s direction, the City hired private investigators to go undercover into baths and other venues that were known to serve the gay community and report on anything considered by them to be an unsafe sex act.
The city’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Mervyn Silverman, did not approve of these tactics, but when the investigators submitted an 85-page report that listed the types of sexual activity taking place at these venues, he felt compelled to respond, according to Randy Shilts’ book And the Band Played On.
At a news conference, Dr. Silverman ordered the closure of baths and several other establishments identified in the report as places where gay men partook in unsafe sex, citing them by name, stating, “These 14 establishments are not fostering gay liberation. They are fostering disease and death.”
Within six hours of the order, two would re-open. An additional 10 re-opened within 24 hours.
The controversy over gay bathhouses and sex clubs and the roles they play in the spread of AIDS was not limited to San Francisco. Every major city with a significant gay population was struggling with this issue. Even within the gay community, members debated each other over which was more important — public health or gay civil liberties.
But it was in San Francisco where political debates first broke out. New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Seattle and Portland followed, with local policy approaches varying from a citywide closure of all bathhouses to collaborations between health agencies and community members to introduce education and precautions for patrons.
Why were bathhouses the focus of so much intense debate? Because, to the gay community in the 1970s and 1980s, they were places that took decades of social evolution to establish.
“Early American bathhouses evolved out of traditional 1920s and ‘30s Turkish and Russian baths, which offered communal hot tubs and showers to all men,” according to Stephan Ferris in Out of the Tubs, and Into the Streets! Tracing the history of bathhouse regulations in San Francisco, CA “Gay bathhouses, in contrast, distinguished themselves from these venues by permitting sex among
members and by offering food, entertainment, and private rooms.”
Bathhouses catered to a mixed male clientele, serving those seeking social networking as well as providing a space for anonymous sexual encounters. Membership was driven by a common desire to engage with other members.
“They are not for taking baths,” the Washington Post stated in its reporting of “The Bathhouse War.” “Some of the houses have steam rooms, or saunas, or more lavish facilities that include jacuzzis and swimming pools, but that is not why men pay their $5 or $10 for a locker or a tiny private room in a dimly lit San Francisco bathhouse. Men use them to meet other men, to engage sometimes in what the clinical language calls ‘multiple, anonymous sexual contacts.'”
But for many gay men, the bathhouses of the 1980s represented much more; they were a refuge.
“We were paying money to get in there, and sometimes it was too much, but we weren’t paying for sex. We were paying for the territory — to get in there,” San Francisco historian Allan Be’rube’ told The Post. “They have a tremendous symbolism.”
In 1984, Be’rube’ submitted a historical brief to the California Superior Court that provided evidence on the social and cultural importance of bathhouses. He also described the potential role the venues could play to educate the community about AIDS prevention. A year later, when the City of New York was immersed in a similarly stormy debate, Be’rube’ updated his legal brief and submitted it to the NY Supreme Court.
Be’rube’s defense of the bathhouses stressed the right of gay men “to use them for associational purposes that were sexual as well as social and political.” A version of this historical brief was later published in 1996 in Policing Public Sex, edited by the scholar-activist group Dangerous Bedfellows.
Hundreds gather in a drafty auditorium to attend the first City Council Meeting for the newly chartered City of West Hollywood.Learn More.
A county sheriff’s deputy led the new mayor, Valerie Terrigno, through the crowd to the stage.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Terrigno’s family members sat in the front row. Attendees in the packed auditorium (a space which fire marshalls restricted, leaving scores of additional people outside in West Hollywood Park) included a composite of the city’s residents: elderly Russian-Jewish renters, members of the LGBTQ community, and plenty of activists.
The meeting started with the council officially appointing Terrigno to the office of mayor.
“I’ve worked to become a leader of our dreams and our future, and I know with power comes great responsibility,” she told the crowd. “It’s a responsibility I eagerly accept … Our dreams are a sound investment. Don’t let them waver.”
The Council then moved to adopt a ban on sex-orientation bias, and moratoriums on new construction, rent increases and evictions. Councilmembers voted to roll back rents to August 1984 levels.
The new city was created out of the unrest and fear of rising rents and housing insecurities in the early 1980s, set to the backdrop of a new disease that was spreading among members of the gay community. An area populated primarily with renters, West Hollywood established itself as a safe place for gays and lesbians. As a result, many of its residents were living with AIDS and involved in AIDS activism.
In the months that follow, Mayor Terrigno would receive letters from fans and admirers.
On crumpled yellow legal stationery, a woman from Missoula, Montona, wrote to her: “I’ve always been a dreamer, always wanting to find a utopia and always without much luck. I envy you finding yours, Ms. Valerie.”
From Tahiti, a vacationing Frenchwoman named Vera sent a postcard saying she would stop in West Hollywood before returning to Paris. The card read: “Felicitation for your victory. You are an escample for a French people homosescule.”
And from Turkey, a teacher afraid to give his name sent a rambling two-page letter. “Homosexuelity is completely forbidden,” he wrote. “Please, please, help me, take me near you — dear my friend, my sister.”
Each week, dozens of such letters arrived at Terrigno’s office in West Hollywood’s temporary City Hall. They continued to come for months, missives from gay men and women who read about the new city and saw Terrigno as a symbol of the pride they still struggled to achieve.
Before the West Hollywood election, there had been only 13 openly gay elected officials in the country. Now there were three more. In the summer of 1985, Terrigno would go on a hectic three-month cross-country speaking tour, appearing before somber audiences of upwardly mobile gay business leaders and parading before cheering masses at gay-pride events.
But within a year, Terrigno would be charged and convicted of embezzling $7,000 in federal funds during a previous job with a job-referral agency. Her trial in March 1986 would last three days, and the jury would convict her after just four hours of deliberation. She was sentenced to 60 days in prison or in a halfway house, five years’ probation, restitution and 1,000 hours of community service.
Terrigno would tell the LA Times: “A situation like this shakes your sense of what life is about. I feel sad about everything. I have no idea where to pick up from this point. I just hope this won’t change peoples’ attitudes about the city or the gay movement.”
Lawrence ‘La-La’ Beach, one of the founders and principal owners of the San Francisco bar The Balcony, dies of AIDS-related illness at the San Francisco Hospice at the age of 42.Learn More.
In 1977, Beach opened The Balcony on the north side of Market Street with co-owners Lee Harington and Terry Scott. Commonly referred to as “The Baloney” after the “c” in the signage was dislodged, the venue earned a reputation as one of the most outrageous gay bars on the west coast, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
Born in Oneida, New York, Beach was born in 1942. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a law degree from Duke University. He joined the Navy and was stationed at Treasure Island, where he served as a legal adjutant.
After being discharged from the Navy, Beach held a series of corporate jobs, and then changed the course of his career when he took a job as floor manager of The Ambush Bar on Folsom Street. It was at The Ambush where Beach met his future co-owners, Harington and Scott.
The Balcony would close in March 1982. Beach would become an early casualty of the AIDS epidemic.
James Thomason-Bergner, musical director and conductor for the San Francisco production of Beach Blanket Babylon, dies of AIDS-related illness on his 40th birthday. He was also a vocal coach and headed the musical theater program at Lone Mountain College.
AIDS activist Larry Kramer’s autobiographical play, The Normal Heart, opens Off-Broadway at the Public Theater.Learn More.
The play covers the impact of the growing AIDS epidemic on the NYC gay community, highlighting growing rifts between those — like the play’s protagonist, Ned Weeks (Kramer’s alter ego) — who are desperately banging on the doors of government and science in an attempt to stave off the annihilation of gay men, and those who focus instead on building new institutions that will care for the sick and the dying.
“The blood that’s coursing through ‘The Normal Heart,’ the new play by Larry Kramer at the Public Theater, is boiling hot,” said New York Times theater critic Frank Rich.
“In this fiercely polemical drama about the private and public fallout of the AIDS epidemic, the playwright starts off angry, soon gets furious and then skyrockets into sheer rage.”
The plot focuses on a gay couple who have broken up — but when one of them develops AIDS, his ex-partner comes back to take care of him — “as is.”
The play gets excellent reviews and runs for 285 performances.
“Strange as it may sound, Mr. Hoffman has turned a tale of the dead and the dying into the liveliest new work to be seen at the Circle Repertory Company in several seasons,” said New York Times theater critic Frank Rich.
Actor Rock Hudson dies of an AIDS-related illness at age 59. As the first major U.S. public figure to publicly acknowledge AIDS diagnosis, Hudson’s death marks a turning point in public perceptions about the epidemic.Learn More.
Hudson leaves $250,000 to help set up the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). Actress Elizabeth Taylor serves as the organization’s founding National Chairman.
New-wave rock musician and founding member of the B-52s, Ricky Wilson dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.Learn More.
The B-52s become popular for their dance tunes — “relentless, rhythmic songs built around Ricky Wilson’s scratchy, one- and two-chord guitar riffs, Kate Pierson’s throbbing keyboard bass lines, and Keith Strickland’s propulsive drumming,” writes James Henke in a 1980 feature in Rolling Stone.
Wilson’s musical inspirations were children’s music, The Mamas & The Papas, and Esquerita, writes Stephen Rutledge in The WOW Report.
“At first, The B-52s did not have a bass player, so Wilson invented his own tunings on a guitar, grouping the strings into a bass course,” Rutledge says. “It was quite an original sound. It was a sound that I still continue to really dig. I had some major fun on the dance floor in the late 1970s-early and 1980s, courtesy of the B-52s.”
In the beginning, the Athens, Georgia-based band would scrape together the resources to take trips to New York City to perform at Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s and Club 57.
“My parents lent us their station wagon,” Ricky tells The Rolling Stone in a 1980 interview, “and we borrowed Keith’s parents’ charge card.”
By the winter of 1978, The B-52s would become the hottest club band in New York, and everyone would be trying to get a copy of their independently produced single, “Rock Lobster.”
“At a time when an overwhelmingly straight, male punk scene ruled, The B-52s’ knowingly kooky aesthetic, along with their hilariously surreal lyrics in songs like ‘Quiche Lorraine,’ read as queer to those with the eyes to see it,” writes Billboard reporter Kera Bolonik.
Much of queer aesthetic came from Wilson’s songwriting.
“I remember seeing him write some music and laughing to himself,” says band member Cindy Wilson, who was Ricky’s sister. “I said, ‘What are you laughing at?’ He said, ‘I just wrote the stupidest riff.’”
It would be for their first single, “Rock Lobster,” which became an instant hit with East Village audiences but wouldn’t reach mainstream listeners until the mid-1980s. Wilson would go on to become the principle songwriter for the band’s first four albums.
“We were writing [fourth album] Bouncing Off the Satellites, and Ricky just got thinner and thinner,” band member Kate Pierson recalled in an interview years later. “And we suspected, but we didn’t know. One day he wasn’t there at rehearsal. The next day, Keith [Strickland] called me and said, ‘Ricky’s dying of AIDS.’”
Wilson had confided in band member Strickland about his illness, but wanted to keep it a secret — even from his sister Cindy — so no one would worry about him or fuss about it. Just a few days later, Wilson would die, Kate says.
“We were all mourning Ricky, and I was in a deep depression,” recalls Cindy Wilson in Classic Pop magazine.
The band would wait almost a year to release their fourth album and consider calling it quits. In 1988, still mourning the loss of his close friend, Stickland isolated himself in the upstate New York countryside and began working on new songs.
“Eventually, he called Kate and me to see if we were interested in working on new music,” Cindy Wilson would tell Classic Pop. “When we started jamming, it felt like Ricky was in the room with us. I was having a really hard time with the grieving and sorrow, but creating this music was such a wonderful thing. Ricky’s spirit was there and it was amazing.”
For Cosmic Thing, the first album without Ricky Wilson, band members reject the idea from industry professionals that they find a new guitarist. Instead, Strickland would learn how to play guitar in Wilson’s unique style.
Inspired by Wilson, the band’s song “Roam” is “a beautiful song about death,” Cindy says. “It’s about when your spirit leaves your body and you can just roam.”
Tammy Faye Bakker, a televangelist with a nationwide following, interviews AIDS activist and ordained pastor Steve Pieters on her show Tammy’s House Party, becoming one of the very first nationally broadcast, longform interviews with an HIV-positive gay man.Learn More.
Rev. Pieters, who agreed to the interview with Bakker on the condition that it be broadcast live so that it could not be edited or taken out of context, presented Christian TV fans with a novel viewpoint, one that never had been heard from outside the LGBTQ community.
At the time, homophobic rhetoric dominated televangelist TV shows, according to Religion & Politics, an online news journal from the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.
“As a pastor, [Rev. Pieters] stood in sharp contrast to the often-vitriolic rhetoric about AIDS from conservative Christian spokespeople,” wrote Emily Johnson, author of This Is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right and a professor specializing in the U.S. histories of gender and sexuality. “While others quoted the Bible to condemn people with AIDS, Pieters drew on his faith and his theological training to make sense of his diagnosis and to preach about hope and community.”
Although weakened by his illness, Dr. Pieters was a highly capable interview subject. He had been pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, which was founded in Hartford, Connecticut by activist Troy Perry as a place for people from the LGBTQ commuity to worship God.
“There were some virulently anti-gay groups,” Dr. Pieters wrote in a 2022 article for The National Geographic. “I would find myself on TV arguing with homophobic priests or ministers that I would later see in the gay bars in Hartford around the same time. So I learned early on how to handle myself in the media around issues of being gay.”
In his interview with Bakker, Rev. Pieters talked about his life as a gay man and his own battle with AIDS. During the broadcast, Bakker sat in a studio with a monitor streaming Rev. Pieters from San Francisco. At that point, Rev. Pieters had been living with AIDS for three years and had survived a near-death experience two weeks earlier.
“She’d say on air that I was having chemotherapy, and that I was being interviewed from Los Angeles because the journey would be ‘too hard on me.’ I think she thought this was true, maybe,” Dr. Pieters wrote in The National Geographic. “What I heard later was that they were afraid that I might not be treated well, that the camera crew wouldn’t work if I was in the studio.”
After two years battling various illnesses and infections, Rev. Pieters was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma and Karposi’s sarcoma in April 1984, and given eight months to live.
“I wasn’t actually diagnosed with AIDS; I was diagnosed with GRID — gay-related immunodeficiency — which is what they were calling AIDS back then,” he told Religion & Politics in a 2022 interview. “In 1982 and 1983, I was sick with hepatitis, thrush, pneumonia, mono, herpes, shingles, and a variety of awful fungal infections.”
However, one of his doctors believed that if he could stay alive, there still was hope that doctors could find a way for him to manage his condition.
“So I set out to do everything I could to take care of myself and create the conditions for healing in my body,” he said.
During his interview with Bakker, Rev. Pieters also talked about how his faith in God helped him survive.
“When I was finally diagnosed with AIDS, after this long period of feeling abandoned by God and my friends … I fell apart. I absolutely lost my sense,” he told Bakker. “My chaplain, my pastor, Nancy Radcliffe, was with me, and she held me, as did several other friends, as I sobbed and cried my despair, cried out for God.’
“Do you know something? In that deepest, darkest moment, that’s when I found God. When God touched me, and I realized that my life was not yet over, that I still had time, that God was with me against this disease — not having given me this disease — but was with me against this disease.”
When word of the interview spread, many in the gay and lesbian community became Bakker’s fans. She, in turn, continued to openly support the LGBTQ community, preaching compassion and risking her standing within the world of conservative Christian televangelism.
Her obituary in The New York Times noted that she attended LGBTQ pride events. In 1996, Tammy Faye partnered with openly gay actor Jim J. Bullock (Too Close for Comfort, ALF) on the talk show The Jim J. & Tammy Faye Show, but left the show after just a few months when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Bakker (who later changed her surname to Messner) died in Kansas City in 2007 at the age of 65.
The Bakker-Pieters interview was recreated in the 2021 biographical drama The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Jessica Chastain, who portrays Tammy Faye Bakker in the film, won an Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” and a BAFTA Award for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.”
Listen to Jessica Chastain tell the story of Rev. Pieters for STORIES: The AIDS Monument.
Watch the entire interview with Rev. Pieters and Tammy Faye Bakker here.
An Los Angeles Times poll contends its that a majority of Americans favor quarantining people who have AIDS.Learn More.
The LA Times poll found that more than half of its respondents support quarantining AIDS patients, nearly half would approve of ID cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies, more than a third would be willing to pay a one-cent national sales tax to finance greater research, and one in seven would favor such radical action as tattooing those with the disease.
The poll results came from interviews with about 2,300 across the U.S. — a very small pool of respondents — yet the announcement of the poll results garnered considerable attention nationwide with little regard to the small number of Americans involved in taking the survey.
In its article about the poll results, the LA Times also stated that most responents were adverse to electing homosexuals to office and were disinclined to support candidates who espoused homosexual causes.
“Even a whisper of suspicion about homosexuality was enough to turn almost 60% of the voters against a candidate for the office of President,” stated the LA Times article written by political reporter John Balzar.
“Respondents in the poll were given characteristics of make-believe candidates,” Balzar wrote. “When a rumor of homosexuality was included in the descriptions, support for a make-believe candidate dropped from 70% to 11%.”
Charles “Chuck” Lee Morris, former owner and publisher of the San Francisco Sentinel, dies of AIDS-related illness in Denver at the age of 42. Morris is also the co-founder of two AIDS hospice programs in California.Learn More.
Believed to be one of the longest-living victims of AIDS, Morris had reportedly been seriously ill since April 1978, but he wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until 1982
Morris was a confidant of then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and often was sought for political endorsements from such people as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale.
In the early 1980s, Morris helped found two hospice programs in California for those dying of AIDS.
Morris and his partner moved to Denver in the spring of 1984. Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick, Morris’ physician and an AIDS researcher at National Jewish Hospital, said Morris survived four to five times longer than most AIDS patients. He said the average survival time of someone with full-blown AIDS is 12-18 months.
Howard Greenfield, the 20-year songwriting partner of Neil Sedaka, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 49.Learn More.
Born in 1936, Greenfield grew up in the same Brighton Beach apartment building as Sedaka, who was three years older than Greenfield.
“After Howie’s mother Ella had seen me, he came ringing my doorbell,” Sedaka would tell Goldmine magazine years later. “I was playing Chopin, and he said, ‘My mother heard you play and thought we could write a song together.'”
The first Greenfield-Sedaka hit would be ‘‘Stupid Cupid,” recorded by Connie Francis in 1958. Later collaborations with Sedaka included ”Calendar Girl,” ”Oh! Carol” and ”Next Door to an Angel.”
Greenfield was openly gay at a time when it was particularly courageous to do so. His companion from the early 1960s until his death was cabaret singer Tory Damon.
The two lived together in an apartment on East 63rd Street in Manhattan before moving to Los Angeles in 1966. Damon would die of AIDS-related illness just 26 days after Greenfield’s death.
Greenfield’s and Damon’s bodies are interred side-by-side at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Damon’s epitaph reads: Love Will Keep Us Together…, and Greenfield’s epitaph continues: … Forever.
William F. Buckley, seen by many as the founder of the modern conservative movement, writes in The New York Times that people diagnosed with HIV should be tatooed with a warning on their arm and buttocks.Learn More.
Under the heading “Critical Steps in Combating the AIDS Epidemic,” Buckley writes:
“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”
Buckley, founder of National Review magazine, also proposes that everyone seeking a marriage license must “present himself not only with a Wassermann test but also an AIDS test.”
He goes on to write that the couple could marry only after “the intended spouse is advised that her intended husband has AIDS, and agrees to sterilization.”
Looking back at this time, Michael Spector would write in The New Yorker in 2021, “Several years into a harrowing epidemic, gay Americans were told that an act of consensual sex could not only infect them with a fatal disease; it could also, at the will of a state, send them to prison. The fears of internment were not easily dismissed as hysteria.”
Buckley would later withdraw the proposal, because “it proved socially intolerable.”
At the time of his death in early 2008, Buckley would no longer be considered a journalist of any repute, although convervative cicles would continue to champion his ideas. When he died, he was working on a book about President Ronald Reagan.
Barry Robins, best known for his portrayal of troubled teenager “Cotton” in the 1971 film Bless the Beasts & Children, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.Learn More.
In New York Times article, “The Gay Film That Changed My Life,” actor John Cameron Mitchell credits Robin’s portrayal of “Cotton” as having a profound impact on him as a boy.
In particular, Mitchell is moved by the scene in which Robin’s character saves another character, a “delicate, blond shiksa” named Gerold, from a gang of bullies.
“The mean boys part for Cotton as he reaches a hand out to the boy,” Mitchell recalls. “Branded on my 10-year-old brain was Gerold’s heartbreaking expression when he realizes that for the first time there is someone he can trust and, just maybe, love.”
Mitchell adds, “It was sad to hear that Robins succumbed to AIDS in 1986. If we’d met, I would’ve thanked him for helping me out of the pond.”
In 2013, actor and comedian Jason Stuart would tell A&U: Art & Understanding magazine:
“When Barry got really sick, he stopped seeing people, including me. I was devastated. I remember going by his apartment, knocking on his door, and he would not answer it. He would tell me, ‘Go away. It’s better that way.’ I respected his wishes. To this day I regret that.”
Stephen Stucker, the scene-stealing comic performer in the Airplane! movies, dies from AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.Learn More.
Stucker was known for zany portrayals in comedies, notably the manic air traffic controller Johnny in the 1980s Airplane! movies.
Created by the directing-writing team of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker, the Airplane! movies featured Stucker in a non-essential role that wasn’t crucial to the plot. But in a movie with established stars, larger-than-life performances and endless jokes, Stucker managed to steal every scene he’s in with his comic performance.
Some may see the character as an offensive stereotype that hasn’t aged well, but Stucker’s performance can also be viewed as progressive for its time, a character that is unapologetically gay in an era where that was still taboo. Johnny is never harassed or bullied by the over-the-top manly-men characters (played by Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen) that dominate Airplane! Instead, Johnny turns the joke around on them and provides the perfect foil to their authority, gruffness, and self-importance. The screenwriters developed the character specifically for Stucker, who wrote his own lines for the part and ad-libbed many of them.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Stucker moved with his family to Alameda, California, where he attended Lincoln School. During his school days Stephen was known as both an accomplished pianist and a class clown with a dry wit. Stucker made his film debut in 1975 as a crazed asylum escapee in Delinquent School Girls (also released as Carnal Madness).
He went on to perform in the 1977 earthquake-disaster comedy Cracking Up, alongside Fred Willard, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. Stucker had been a scene-stealing member of the cast of the Madison, Wisconsin Kentucky Fried Theater sketch comedy troupe founded by Abrahams and the Zucker brothers and, in 1977, he appeared in the film based on the troupe’s comedy sketches. The Airplaine! movies soon followed.
Stucker also appeared on Marie Osmond’s TV show, Marie (1981), and on one of the last epidodes of Mork and Mindy (1982), playing a wildly enthusiastic TV producer intent on capitalizing on Mork’s fame.
Stucker was diagnosed with AIDS in July 1984, and was one of the first celebrities to go public with his diagnosis. He appeared on talk shows like Donahue, where his unrestrained and acerbic personality sometimes bumped hard against an audience ignorant and fearful of AIDS.
Dancer and choreographer Ed Mock — who fused modern dance and jazz dance, acting, improvisation and mime in his work — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.Learn More.
Born in Chicago, Mock performed as a boy in his family’s pool hall, tapping out steps for customers. Athletic in high school, he chose to pursue dance because, as he would tell the San Francisco Examiner in 1980, “I just love body movement, it was all just movement for me, and sports was just a function of that. I just was always aware of my body in a sort of a dance sense. I never try to tell anybody it’s an easy life, but not a day has ever gone past that dancing didn’t make me feel good emotionally and spiritually.”
As the founder of the West Coast Dance Company (1974-1979), Ed Mock Dancers (1980-1985), and the Ed Mock Dance Studio, Mock’s dance style and teaching influenced future generations of dancers and artists.
Brontez Purnell, Director of the documentary Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock, states, “I believe Ed Mock is the missing choreographic link between Alvin Ailey, Anna Halprin, and Bill T. Jones. He is my direct predecessor, creatively. We – artists, black queers, Bay Area dancers, gay men – have to extract our collective past and create the historical record.”
Mock would teach and perform taught and performed up until weeks before his death. In 1988, he would posthumously be elected to the Bay Area Dance Coalition Hall of Fame.
Herman George, the first in-house costume designer for the long-running stage show Beach Blanket Babylon, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 46.Learn More.
George also designed costumes for the San Francisco Opera and Charles Pierce. For Pierce’s New York production of “The Crazy Ladies,” George created the costumes for Pierce’s various numbers in which he impersonated prominent female celebrities, according to the New York Public Library.
But it was for Beach Blanket Babylon, a stage show in North Beach known for its camp aesthetic and over-the-top costumes, that George found the opportunity to create outrageous, one-of-a-kind ensembles for the stage, often based on sketches from Babylon producer Steve Silver.
Beach Blanket Babylon closed in 2019 after an epic 45-year run, and many of the costumes remain today in a 6,000-foot San Francisco warehouse. But some of the pieces are being sent to various museums for historical preservation, including The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park, according to Jo Schuman Silver, who took over the show when her husband died in 1995 of AIDS-related illness.
During its historic run, the show toured to Las Vegas and London, and opened the Academy Awards. ; Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, David Bowie, Liza Minnelli and Robin Williams were among its fans.
Top fashion designer Perry Ellis dies at the age of 46. Ellis presented his first collection under his own name on Seventh Avenue in 1979 and almost immediately achieved star status.Learn More.
Both women and men adored Ellis’ fashion sense for its clean-cut, all-American look. What the designer did best was take elements of classic American style — like stadium coats, tweed jackets, and homey sweaters — and adapt them to suit the consumer passion for gender-neutral, high-quality separates.
His ethos earned him accolades — including the Coty Award for his first show in 1979, which he would go on to win eight more times, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Designer of the Year Award in 1982. And in 1984, he became the head of the CFDA, extending his influence on designers worldwide.
At the time, the cause of Ellis’ death was listed as viral encephalitis, but rumors of Ellis’s HIV-positive status made news after it came to light that his lover and business partner, Laughlin Barker, died earlier in the year of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
In a controversial move, some media organizations mentioned the rumor that Ellis was HIV-positive in his obituary.
While the vast majority of newspapers omitted mention of the rumor, the Washington Post, USA Today, Newsday and the San Francisco Examiner decided to publish it. Among the news magazines, Newsweek mentioned the AIDS rumor, and Time did not.
This started a conversation among media professionals worldwide about whether media outlets should mention AIDS as a cause of death if AIDS can be proved or is openly acknowledged — as was ultimately the case with actor Rock Hudson. Or, they posited, should they mention AIDS if it is only widely believed but neither acknowledged nor proved?
At the time, disclosure of HIV-positive status was a very sensitive subject, involving matters of privacy — medical and sexual — since many media consumers automatically assumed someone was gay if he had AIDS.
But many close to Ellis, including top industry professionals, already knew the fashion designer was ill.
“What really, truly, abruptly woke up the entire fashion industry was Perry walking out at the end of his last fashion show,” fashion designer Michael Kors recalled. “He barely could walk, and here was someone young, talented, great-looking, full of charm and life, and suddenly this was a shell of a human being.”
The show took place on May 8, and afterward Ellis checked himself into New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where he died 22 days later.
Way Bandy, one of the fashion world’s best-known makeup artists and a best-selling author, died of AIDS-related illness at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center at the age of 45.Learn More.
Prior to his death, Bandy requested that media outlets report his death as AIDS-related, which was then uncommon.
Born in 1941 in Birmingham, Alabama, Bandy pursued childhood interests that included sewing, music, painting and movie magazines. His family moved to Tennessee, where he graduated from high school. He returned to Birmingham to attend college for two years and then dropped out to model for department stores. He later earned a degree in education at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, and became an English teacher in Alabama. He married, but separated from his wife shortly after visiting New York City for the first time in 1965.
Bandy moved to New York, changed his name (from Ronald Duane Wright) and enrolled at Christine Valmy’s makeup school. Within a few months, he was heading the salon there.
Considered the “greatest makeup artist in the world” by Vogue fashion editor Polly Allen Mellen, Bandy was in high demand throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. He worked with hundreds of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch, Catherine Deneuve, Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Cher.
He worked closely with top photographers, such as Scavullo, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Horst, Hiro and Victor Skrebneski. In 1977, he authored a bestselling makeup manual entitled Designing Your Face, and followed this in 1981 with another manual, Styling Your Face.
Bandy was one of the first to use color and texture innovatively. For example, he recommended blending moisturizer with a little water and “red-colored fluid” and “spreading all over the face for a rosy glow.” This was decades before the use of red liquid cheek stains became popular.
A pioneer of contouring, Bandy instructed his subjects to “reveal to our mirror only our best angles and most flattering illusions of reality, as seen through blurred vision and whatever other tricks we have at our disposal.”
Bandy’s techniques sought to create what he referred to as a “Personal Sculpture Portrait” through contouring with “light and dark.”
The opening paragraph of Designing Your Face contains this piece of advice: “I was bored for most of my youth because I tried to do not only what was expected of me, but also many other things I did not enjoy. One day I realized that when you do something with your whole being simply because you love to do it, you experience life as it should be lived. It was then I decided to be free and to do something I loved doing – creating beauty.”
Bandy’s makeup techniques continue to inspire generations of beauty pros and consumers.
Charles “Chaz” Watson, who acted in stage productions in the Bay Area, dies at the age of 37. Watson was also a drum major for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band.
Transportation historian Anthony Herschel Perles — author of Tours of Discovery, co-author of The People’s Railway and Inside MUNI — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 50.
Raymond Tasco, an actor and director with Oakland Ensemble Theatre and Black Repertory Group, dies of AID-related illness at the age of 40.Learn More.
Tasco directed several works at Theatre Rhinoceros and Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. He also co-founded the Bay Area Black Artists’ Connection support group.
Marcelino Sánchez, best known for his starring role as Rembrandt in the 1979 cult classic, The Warriors, dies of AIDS-related illness in his Hollywood home at the age of 28.Learn More.
Born in Puerto Rico, Sánchez began acting in the late 1970s, according to the Los Angeles Blade. He played Ricardo on The Bloodhound Gang mystery vignettes featured on the 1980s children’s educational television show 3-2-1 Contact. He also appeared in TV shows CHiPs, Hill Street Blues and the film 48 Hrs.
In an interview with Noblemania.com, Bloodhound Gang co-star Nan-Lynn Nelson recalled:
“Marcelino had actually contacted me months prior to his passing to let me know that he was sick. We met and spent an entire day together while he was here in NYC, basically to say good-bye. I still think of Marcelino often.”
In 1986, Sánchez’s health would decline quickly. His sister and brother would come to Los Angeles to take care of him until his death just a two weeks shy of his 28th birthday, according to the tribute to him on Gran Varones, a website dedicated to pop culture, queer history & storytelling through a Afro-Latinx Queer lens.
LGBT leaders sound the alarm against the increase in violence targeted toward members of the community.Learn More.
In a New York Times article reporting on the three-year increase in anti-gay violence, LGBT organization leaders cite studies and provide anecdotes that reflect the disturbing trend, linking it to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The article largely re-caps the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice hearing on anti-gay violence held more than a month before.
Also included in the article, written by William R. Greer, is the account of a Brooklyn man who was attacked outside his home on a Saturday morning. The man, who is identified as an employee in the Office of Mayor Ed Koch, said three assailants struck him repeatedly while yelling homophobic slurs at him and accusing him of spreading AIDS.
”What I find frightening is these groups don’t seem to have any fear of verbally or physically assaulting people in the middle of the day, in a shopping center, in front of businesses, with hundreds of people around,” he told the NYT reporter. ”Somehow they’ve gotten the message that their action will be condoned or at least ignored.”
A breakthrough book that dared to explore the experiences of gay Black men, In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology hits bookshelves to little fanfare.Learn More.
In the Life was the first collection of writings about being gay in the age of AIDS written by 29 Black, gay authors. The collection includes stories, verses, works of art, and theater pieces, all voicing the point of view of “an often silent minority.”
Editor Joseph Beam began collecting this material in 1984 after years of frustration with gay literature that overlooked the experience of Black gay men.
“The bottom line,” Beam wrote, “is this: We are Black men who are proudly gay. What we offer is our lives, our love, our visions… We are coming home with our heads held up high.”
The book received little mainstream attention at publication, but goes down in history as a watershed moment in gay literature. A showcase for new literary talent, a source of inspiration for its readers, and a literary and cultural milestone for the gay community, In the Life advanced the visibility of gay Black men in a lasting way.
“For the first time,” wrote James Charles Roberts, a contributor, “Black gay men got to tell about their lives and experiences in their own words.”
Charles Stephens, co-editor of Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, recalled coming across In the Life at a pivotal moment.
“I lacked the language to describe what I was longing for, and perhaps in a sense Beam, and his stunning vision of community, provided that language for me,” said Stephens in an interview for Lambda Literary. “I absorbed his words, and found a home in them. In the Life became a compass for me, to first locate myself, and then others that shared my commitments.”
Beam would die of AIDS-related illness in December 1988, three days before his 34th birthday. His unfinished manuscript for a second anthology would be completed by his friend Essex Hemphill and published in 1991 as Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men.
Arthur Conrad — director of more than 200 productions for the Marin Opera, West Bay Opera, Oakland Opera, Sacramento Opera and the Lamplighters — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 51.
Founder of the Gay Men’s Theater Collective and co-creator of its pioneering production Crimes Against Nature, Chuck Solomon dies of AID-related illness at the age of 40.Learn More.
As an actor and director, Solomon worked with several local companies, including the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Theatre Rhinoceros.
He is immortalized in Marc Huestis’ 1987 documentary “Chuck Solomon: Coming of Age,” which received the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. In the film, Solomon is celebrated by members of his family and about 350 friends on his 40th birthday.
Emmy-Award winning pianist and mainstay of the Las Vegas entertainment scene Liberace dies at his Palm Springs, California home at the age of 67.Learn More.
Liberace’s doctor claims that the man called “Mr. Showmanship” died of a heart attack caused by an underlying brain infection. But an autopsy by the county coroner reveals that Liberace died of AIDS-related illness.
Just weeks before his death, Liberace was treated at Eisenhower Medical Center for what his staff called “the effects of a watermelon diet.” Hundreds of friends and tourists kept vigil outside of his Palm Springs home as rumors of his real illness became rampant.
When death seemed imminent, his attorney would tell reporters that Liberace chose his Palm Springs home to die because, “I think he wanted to rest in the place he loves. He’s always thinking about his fans. He wants to be remembered as he was — an entertainer. I think it’s nice that fans are here and supporting him.”
The news of Liberace’s death demonstrates the powerful stigma of AIDS and leads to a national discussion about the rights of people living with AIDS to privacy, both before and after death.
Neal Lo Monaco, the pincipal cellist of the Sacramento Symphony and a member of the Sacramento String Quartet, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.
Antonio Lopez, whose drawings appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Interview, dies of AIDS-related illness at the UCLA Medical Center at the age of 44.Learn More.
Based in New York, Lopez had come to Los Angeles for a showing of his drawings at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica when he became ill and was hospitalized, according to fashion model Susan Baraz.
Lopez is credited with launching the careers of Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, Tina Chow and Grace Jones, and he also was the first artist to use black models in his work, which was seen in the top fashion magazines in the mid-1960s.
He also was credited with being the first artist to draw not only the inanimate creations of the haute couture but to idealize the models behind them.
His family migrated to New York City when Lopez was seven and he attended P.S. 77 on East 104th Street. To keep her son preoccupied and away from street violence, Lopez’s mother, a seamstress, would ask him to draw flowers for her embroideries, according to the tribute to Lopez on the Visual AIDS website.
While a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, he received a work-study assignment at Women’s Wear Daily, where his talent was immediately recognized. WWD put him on staff and he left FIT.
At the time of his death, Lopez had been in California for an exhibition of his fashion drawings and personality portraits at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica. An exhibition of his drawings was also taking place in Munich, West Germany.
Lopez’ creative partner, Juan Eugene Ramos, would die of AIDS-related illness eight years later, on Nov. 3, 1995, at the age of 53.
In 2016, a retrospective of Lopez’ and Ramos’ work was exhibited at El Museo del Barrio in New York. The exhibit, “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion,” was curated to evoke serious discourse on gender, sexuality, race, and heritage, and simultaneously invited viewers to revel in Lopez’ and Ramos’ legacy.
Fashion star Willi Smith dies in New York at the age of 39.
Smith was apparently unaware that he had contracted the virus and had shown no symptoms.Learn More.
Thinking he was suffering from an attack of shigella, a form of dysentery, acquired on a textile-buying trip to India, Smith admitted himself to the hospital, where tests showed he was HIV positive.
At the time of his death, Smith was regarded as one of the most successful African-American designers in the fashion industry. His company, WilliWear Limited, launched in 1976 and by 1986 was grossing over $25 million in sales.
“Smith was, in the truest sense of the word, a streetwear designer, long before anyone used the term,” writes Jenny Comita in W magazine. “Even as he was collaborating with some of the most avant-garde artists of the day and staging fashion shows that doubled as performances, he was taking his cues as a designer from the women he saw on the sidewalks of midtown.”
Smith was born in Philadelphia, the son of an ironworker and a homemaker. He studied drawing at Mastbaum technical school and, later, fashion illustration at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art.
His big break came through his grandmother Gladys, who worked as a housekeeper. One of her clients had a connection to the famed couturier Arnold Scaasi and secured an internship for Willi.
Smith’s first major role, in 1969, was as head designer of the sportswear label Digits, where he quickly made a name for himself with bright, bold prints; flowy high-waisted pants; and an ahead-of-its-time marketing campaign featuring women on the gritty streets of New York. Two years later, he became the youngest designer to be nominated for a Coty Award, then the fashion equivalent of an Oscar.
In 1976, he and his former assistant Laurie Mallet founded WilliWear; she handled the business side and he the design. WilliWear’s affordable, wearable clothes were picked up by Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and eventually hundreds of stores.
Smith designed the costumes for “Secret Pastures,” a 1984 work by dance pioneers Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane; Keith Haring created the sets. Smith also contributed to Spike Lee’s 1988 musical comedy-drama School Daze, making the gowns for the homecoming court.
Many of his friends wonder what would have happened if Smith had lived.
“We’ve been told that he wanted to move to India permanently, a place he visited constantly. He might have gone to Hollywood to produce films full-time after making a short film called Expedition.”
Smith’s legacy is the streetwear that lives on in menswear season after season.
Princess Diana makes international headlines when she is photographed shaking the hand of an HIV-positive patient in a London hospital. She goes on to become a passionate advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS.Learn More.
The 26-year-old Princess of Wales reportedly was living with the specter of AIDS every day. In the loneliness of her failing marriage to Prince Charles, gay men arere the bedrock of her private world: fashion designers, ballet dancers, art dealers and numerous members of the palace staff. They sympathize with her, escort her, lighten her load. It pains her to watch them sicken and die.
When London’s Middlesex Hospital invited Princess Diana to open the Broderip Ward, the U.K.’s first dedicated ward for AIDS and HIV-related diseases, she agrees to do it. She is intensely nervous, but she knows it is the chance to dispel the stigma surrounding the disease.
“With her instinctive understanding of the power of gesture, she resolved not only to open the new ward but to shake the hands of 12 male patients without gloves,” writes Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles.
In a time when fear and misinformation runs rampant surrounding the transmission of a disease widely associated with gay men, the simple act of shaking an ill patient’s hand was a headline-making moment that helped educate the public.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Princess Diana would go on to use her platform to bust myths about how HIV/AIDS could be contracted, and spends time with people affected by the virus around the world.
She would become an official patron for the National AIDs Trust, and spoke of the impact on mothers and children, further dispelling the myth that it was purely a problem for the gay community.
Even after her death, her legacy continues with her sons, who would continue to help fight the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDs. Prince Harry would take an HIV test on live TV to show how easy it is, and Prince William would appear on the cover of Attitude Magazine to discuss the mental health issues faced by victims of homophobia and transphobia.
Charles Ludlam, whose Ridiculous Theatrical Company had become one of New York City’s more popular attractions, dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.Learn More.
An actor, writer and director, Ludlam was one of the more prolific artists on the off-Broadway scene. His productions in a small basement theater Greenwich Village included such parodies as Bluebeard, Galas (a spoof on operatic diva Maria Callas) and Reverse Psychology.
Jeremy Gerard of The New York Times memorialized Ludlam, calling him was one of the most prolific and flamboyant artists in the theater avant-garde.
“He was a master of travesty, creating in a tiny grotto theater on Sheridan Square critically and popularly acclaimed parodies of such familiar genres as the dime novel (The Mystery of Irma Vep), film noir (The Artificial Jungle) and opera (Camille, Der Ring Gott Farblonjet),” Gerard wrote.
Ludlam’s productions received a Drama Desk award and six Obie awards. The Ridiculous Theatrical Company has toured extensively in the United States and Europe.
Recently, he was retained by producer Joseph Papp to direct the production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus for the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. However, the play was postponed when Ludlam was admitted to the hospital on April 30.
”We lost an extraordinary artist who was just on his way to a tremendous breakthrough in theater and opera,” Mr. Papp said of Ludlam’s untimely death.
At a July 13 memorial event for Ludlam, about 1,000 people crowded the Second Avenue Theater to pay tribute to the king — and sometimes queen — of downtown theater and celebrate his work.
The most moving remembrance was offered by Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s longtime partner and his successor as artistic director of the company.
”I’ve never felt so alone in my life, but it’s going to be all right,” Quinton said. ”We’re going to continue to do wild theater and wonderful theater.”
Wife of Larry Flynt and publisher of Hustler magazine, Althea Flynt drowns in a bathtub in her Bel-Air mansion in Los Angeles at the age of 33. Her husband says she was diagnosed with AIDS four years ago and likely fell asleep while bathing.Learn More.
Althea is Larry Flynt’s fourth wife, and because she married him in 1976, she is the only partner who joins him in his rise to celebrity. She would meet Flynt in Ohio, while working in one of his clubs as a go-go dancer.
Born in poverty in a Kentucky mining town, Althea Flynt was orphaned at eight years old, when her father murdered her mother and her grandfather and her mother’s best friend, and then killed himself. Flynt recounted her childhood ordeal in a 1978 interview with New York magazine:
“They put you in a bare room with dirty floors and a single mattress that was stained and filthy and stank,” she said. “I still remember the smell. They put a pot and a roll of toilet paper in the room. Then they locked you in.”
In the late 1960s, she and Larry Flynt started a relationship that would last until the rest of her life. As partner in her husband’s publishing business, she would be known to come to work in outrageous attire, including in leather dog collars and bangled chains that ran from her ear to her nostril.
As documented on video from Flynt’s library, Althea’s style was complex and highly unusual, particularly once she came into money and moved to Los Angeles. Her attraction to drug culture, Sunset Strip clubs and punk rock led her to patronize Hollywood shops like North Beach Leather and Trashy Lingerie.
In March 1978, her husband would be shot by a religious extremist, leaving him paralyzed and in pain, and she would remain with him, for better and for worse.
In a 1983 magazine article by the Washington writer Rudy Maxa, the Flynts would descibe how Larry tried to manage the pain with methadone, marijuana, cocaine, sleeping pills, morphine, and Dilaudid. Althea would experiment with drugs with her husband, and soon both would become addicted to narcotics.
She would be diagnosed with HIV in 1983, reportedly from a blood transfusion while undergoing a hysterectomy. Larry Flynt explained that Althea “always used clean needles when using drugs.”
The cause of Althea’s death is a perscription drug overdose-induced drowning, according to the coronor’s report. Her husband, however, states that she was in the advanced stages of AIDS and would have died within that year, regardless.
Flynt’s body is buried in Saylersville, Ky., where her husband keeps a family burial plot.
In 1997, Althea would be portrayed by singer-actress Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt; Love’s performance with garner her a Golden Globe Award nomination.
Director and choreographer Michael Bennett, the mastermind behind A Chorus Line, dies at his home in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 44.Learn More.
Bennett was the ultimate Broadway ″gypsy,″ a dancer in the chorus who went on to become a successful choreographer, director and producer, associated with such hit shows as Promises, Promises; Company; Follies; Dreamgirls; and of course, A Chorus Line.
″I went from dancer to choreographer to director to producer to sometime writer,″ he once said. ″But I never had to deviate from my ambition, which was to work in theater.″
Born Michael Bennett DiFiglia in Buffalo, New York, Bennett started dance lessons as the age of 3. As a teen-ager, Bennett studied dance during the summer in New York with Aubrey Hitchins, Matt Maddox and others.
He dropped out of high school at age 16 to perform in a European tour of West Side Story, directed by Jerome Robbins, one of Bennett’s dance idols. Upon his return to New York, he found work dancing in several Broadway shows, as well as TV shows like The Dean Martin Show.
Bennett made his debut as a choreographer in 1966 with A Joyful Noise. Two years later, he had his first Broadway success with the choreography for Promises, Promises, the Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical based on the film The Apartment. This was quickly followed by more hits: Coco starring Katharine Hepburn, and then Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
In 1971, he both choreographed and co-directed Follies, another Sondheim show, and won Tony Awards in both categories. In 1975, he directed, choreographed, and wrote A Chorus Line, which became the longest running musical on Broadway up to that time.
Compared with his contemporary Bob Fosse, Bennett did not have an immediately recognizable choreographic style, according to Masterworks Broadway’s tribute to Bennett.
“Like Jerome Robbins, whom he endeavored to emulate, he strove for unity of style within each separate work, shaped by the story and the characters in it,” Masterworks’ tribute states. “Thus the movement might be jazzy or balletic, romantic or angular, athletic or even a little bumbling, depending on the circumstances. Even in A Chorus Line, the dancers’ execution becomes progressively more polished as the ‘show within the show’ crystallizes.”
Michael Riedel, theater columnist for the New York Post, said A Chorus Line came at a privotal time for Broadway.
“By the mid-1970s Broadway was starting to flounder and so was the city,” Riedel said. “The 1960s rock revolution had changed everything, and new musicals were mostly doing mediocre business or they simply tanked. Times Square had become the preserve of pimps and prostitutes and drug-pushers.”
When A Chorus Line moved to Broadway from its original downtown location of the Joseph Papp Theater, many of the surrounding theaters were dark. But that soon changed.
“Somehow it caught the moment, and when it transferred to the Shubert Theatre on Broadway people started to flock back to Times Square,” said Riedel. “It was the Hamilton of its day. I don’t think any show has ever been so vital to the New York economy.”
In 1986, Bennett determined he was too sick to work, sold his New York property, and moved to Tucson, where he stayed until his death.
Donna McKechnie, an original star of A Chorus Line who was briefly married to Bennett, thinks that if he survived, he could have gone on to even greater things.
“But I learned on Chorus Line to relish the moment you’re in as a performer, because it can end any moment – especially for a dancer,” McKechnie said.
Bennett’s striking panel was among the first to be included in the original display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Dancer Sean O’Neill, who performed with the Pacific Ballet and also edited the San Francisco Ballet program, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 29.
Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 49.Learn More.
Waddell was a superior athlete, good enough to take sixth in the world in the decathlon in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, writes Mart Dobrow of ESPN. He was a paratrooper in the Army, and a doctor with a sense of adventure — working in Africa on patients with tropical diseases and becoming the physician for the Saudi Arabian Olympic team in 1976.
“To Waddell, the symbolism of the Games spoke to his highest ideals: the five interlocking rings, the parade of nations, the torch being lit,” writes Dobrow. “In some ways, this felt like sports at its most pure. It brought people of the world together.”
After his athletic career, Waddell would worked for years as a medical consultant for Whittaker Corp., enjoying the opulence of the Saudi royal family in Riyadh. When he wasn’t in the Middle East, he settled in San Francisco.
There, in the hub of American gay life, Waddell embraced the bacchanal fully, its drug use and promiscuity, before finding what he hoped was true and lasting love with Charles Deaton, a 50-year-old former CIA operative.
Then Waddell had a grand vision; it started out as the “Gay Olympic Games.” Waddell was aware that for many gay people, sports had meant a door slamming shut. His goal was to open the door of completitive sports wide open to the LGBTQ community.
He modeled the Gay Olympic Games after what he considered to be the true principles of the Olympics: equality, fairness, human dignity. Except that the U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t see it that way.
Just 19 days before the games were to begin, the USOC persuaded a federal court to issue an injunction prohibiting Waddell and his group, San Francisco Arts & Athletics, from using the word “Olympic” because of copyright infringement.
Waddell was incredulous and wounded to the core. He pointed out that in the past there had been no opposition to multiple other uses of the term (e.g., the Special Olympics).
With no legal recourse, Waddell and the SFAA scrambled to remove the offending word from a slew of merchandise and promotional material. The hastily rechristened “Gay Games” played out nevertheless in the summer of 1982 with some 1,300 athletes from 12 countries participating.
By the next summer, as Gay Games 2 came to a now-besieged San Francisco, Waddell knew his days were numbered. He checked himself out of the hospital, marched in the opening ceremonies, and delivered a stirring opening address as part of the Games, which attracted some 3,500 athletes from 17 countries.
In one final feat of athletic strength, Waddell managed to win the gold medal in the javelin. Within a year, he was gone.
Today, the Gay Games live on and are help in locations all around the world, including Amsterdam, Sydney, Paris and Hong Kong. Since 1986, The Federation of Gay Games Scholarship Fund has awarded more than 1,000 scholarships to underfunded LGBTQ+ individuals from 70 countries around the world, where the daily struggle for equality is harsh and often dangerous.
Tom Waddell’s core principles of Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best continue to bring thousands of athletes together to compete.
Every four years in conjuntion with the Gay Games, the Tom Waddell Award is presented to a person or organization involved in the Gay Games that embodies the standards of commitment, selflessness, and love of humanity, and inspires pride through leadership and excellence in sports, culture, or volunteerism.
Arthur J. Bressan Jr., best known for his devastating 1985 AIDS drama Buddies, dies of AIDS-related illness in New York City at the age of 44.Learn More.
A pioneer of independent gay cinema in the 1970s and ’80s, Bressan is best known for his 1985 drama Buddies, the first feature film about the AIDS pandemic. He also directed the largely influential Gay USA, the first documentary by and about LGBT people, and the feature film Abuse (1983).
“If you want to submit one director as the auteur for the post-Stonewall, pre-New Queer Cinema era of Gay Liberation, Arthur J. Bressan Jr. is that director,” writes film critic Caden Mark Gardner.
Bressan’s first credited film work is that of a documentary short called Coming Out, about the first official San Francisco Pride march in 1972. Shot in 16mm and in color, it offers a snapshot of many people who made the pilgrimage to San Francisco.
Bressan would expand this cinematic approach for his 1978 feature-length documentary, Gay USA, made during the National Gay Freedom marches across the country in 1977, the year Harvey Milk became America’s first openly gay elected official.
“Many of the interviewers and testimonies in Gay USA are not just talking about the pleasantness of seeing themselves and being out at this Pride parade, but are speaking with righteous indignation about homophobic violence and systemic homophobia,” Gardner writes.
Bressan’s 1983 film Abuse, a drama with an intensely provocative portrayal of child abuse, is hailed by film critic Rex Reed as “a film of astonishing power and emotional impact.”
“Artie loved butch men and women, drag queens, black, brown and white,” writes Emmy Award-winning director Greta Schiller. “Artie was exceptional in that he loved women. He had none of the misogyny that was (and still is) rampant in our culture, even in the LGBT community. He knew who and what he was, and he was not threatened by women.”
Schiller, who met Bressan in 1983 through activist Vito Russo at a screening of Abuse, said she went to the event “angry that it was a film about a man in authority sleeping with an abused teen.”
After watching the film, she emerged “with my mind blown by the complexity of what I’d seen.”
Russo convinced Schiller to share her reaction to Abuse with Bressan.
“I told him it was a brilliant film that made me realize not all older men who fall in love with a younger man are predators,” she recalled. “The story and acting made me think of Italian postwar neorealist films.”
Schiller says that when Bressan became sick, he was determined to complete Buddies.
“He cut the film on a flatbed in his tiny apartment. He poured his heart and soul into making one last film,” she writes. “I lived a few blocks away from him [in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City], and I would come get him for a walk around the block. Soon, he could only make it to the corner of 18th Street and 8th Avenue, a block from his home. He would gaze at the high-school boys and talk about the ones he fancied, and how those who were gay would have a better, freer life.”
About 10 years after Bressan’s death, his sister Roe Bressan and LGBT film historian Jenni Olson would launch The Bressan Project to preserve and promote Bressan’s films.
In a 16-page special section, the Los Angeles Times attempts to present the latest data reflecting the magnitude of the global AIDS epidemic.Learn More.
William F. Thomas, editor of The Times, was reportedly pleased with the section, titled “AIDS: A Global Assessment,” but commented: “Even after you read it, you’ve got your hands full of smoke … Everything is still so inconclusive. It’s hard to decide what to do (with AIDS) in the paper. All you can do is chase the bouncing ball.”
The Times estimated the number of people infected with the AIDS virus worldwide as somewhere between 5 million and 10 million.
The report provided the following estimates for “individuals considered AIDS virus carriers”:
United States 1-2 million
Brazil up to 238,000
Italy more than 100,000
West Germany up to 100,000
About two months later, on October 13, 1987, The New York Times would publish editorial writer Phillip Boffey’s examination of the nation’s initial reponse to the AIDS crisis. He would dedicate much of his article to addressing the charges laid out by Randy Shilts, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, in his just-released book And the Band Played On: People, Politics and the AIDS Epidemic.
As if to continue the conversation, Los Angeles Times reporter David Shaw would suggest in December 1987 that the press and other outlets of journalism played an outsized role in the failure of the U.S. to appropriately address the early AIDS crisis.
“Most critics say the biggest shortcoming of the press on the AIDS story, especially in the first few years, was not medical/scientific coverage but political coverage; the press didn’t aggressively pursue the public policy and funding aspects of the story,” Shaw writes.
He goes on to point out that during the early years, the press reported various Reagan Administration statements about AIDS largely without question or investigation. This included the administration’s statement that the nation’s blood supply was “100% safe” at a time when HIV-tainted blood was being circulated to hospitals and clinics in many cities.
The media also reported the administration’s promise to start trials of an AIDS vaccine within two years, but failed to hold it to account when the first clinical tests did not start for another three years. (Decades later, a successful vaccine still has not been developed.)
Shaw cites the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the very few papers to report on federal AIDS policy in the early years, largely due to the dedication of reporter Randy Shilts. Most major media outlets did not dedicate a full-time reporter to cover AIDS until about 1987.
The media “went to sleep on the story,” Shilts told Shaw. “I’m not God’s gift to journalism. I’m a good reporter, but I didn’t get [stories] because I’m a brilliant reporter. I just did … the work that any reporter could have done.”
The CDC launches its PSA campaign, America Responds to AIDS, to kick off October as the newly designated AIDS Awareness Month.Learn More.
Reaching millions, the campaign is the first to be produced on the subject of AIDS prevention, and becomes a central prong in the “everyone is at risk” strategy of AIDS prevention. From 1987 to 1996, the America Responds to AIDS campaign reaches a wide range of audiences variously defined by identity or behavior, from heterosexual single mothers, to teenagers of all races, to young adult African Americans, to people who live in rural areas.
The five-phase campaign releases materials to the general public in various mediums, including a national mailer. The themes of the five phases were:
- General Awareness: Humanizing AIDS, October 1987
- Understanding AIDS, the national mailout, April 1988
- Women at Risk/Multiple Partner, Sexually Active Adults, October 1988
- Parents and Youth, May 1989, and
- Preventing HIV Infection and AIDS: Taking The Next Steps, July 1990
The campaign suggests that the best way to respond to HIV/AIDS is to engage in honest conversations about risk behaviors, including the potential consequences of multiple partners, unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, or any activities that compromise the ability to make a sound, safe judgment.
Not all applaud the effort. Service providers working with groups with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS (most notably young men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users) see the campaign as ignoring the particular needs of these communities in favor of supporting low-risk individuals.
While the CDC claims to be engaging with all Americans, critics argued that the campaign failed to provide adequate outreach and education to those who needed it most.
Journalist Randy Shilts’ book about the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, is published.Learn More.
When Shilts joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981 he was the publication’s first openly gay journalist. He had been hired to cover issues in the gay community, though he also reported other stories. As part of his beat, he wrote about the growing number of immune system-related diseases occurring in gay men in San Francisco.
In the early 1980s, he persuaded The Chronicle to let him report on AIDS full time. “And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic,” a history of the first five years of the epidemic, is largely the result of his newspaper work.
In the book, Shilts charges the Reagan Administration, the medical establishment and even some gay organizations with indifference to the disease.
The book would make Shilts a trusted commentator on AIDS, to the point that he becomes the closing speaker at the Fifth International AIDS Conference in Montreal in 1989.
Shilts also wrote The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982) and the bestselling Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (1993).
Shilts would die of AIDS-related illness on Feb. 17, 1994 at his ranch in the Sonoma County redwoods, at the age of 42.
Goh Choo San, a Chinese ballet dancer and choreographer with the Washington Ballet, dies of AIDS-related illness at his New York City home. He was 39 years old.Learn More.
As the Washington Ballet’s first resident choreographer, Goh worked with the company from its 1976 founding until his death. Goh’s distinct style emphasized technique and musicality over plot and blended Eastern movement with classical ballet technique, showcasing the dancers’ strengths that company founder Mary Day had cultivated in her studio.
“Those of us in Washington who witnessed his artistic blossoming over the past 11 years … have an enormous legacy to be grateful for,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic Alan M. Kriegsman in his tribute to Goh in The Washington Post. “And his works — 34 ballets created since 1973, 14 of them expressly for the Washington Ballet — will live on and transmit his genius to posterity.”
Raised in Singapore with eight older siblings, Goh followed in the path of an older brother and sister who were training in the art of dance. After graduating from the University of Singapore with a degree in bio-chemistry, Goh travelled to Europe and joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, where he was eventually promoted to soloist.
While still a dancer with the company, Goh created his first ballets and began drawing the attention of dance aficionados, including that of Mary Day, who was starting a new ballet company in Washington, DC. Day offered him a position in 1976 with her newly founded Washington Ballet.
“It is no exaggeration to call [Goh’s] choreographic ascent meteoric,” wrote Kriegsman. “Within two years of his arrival, he had choreographed six ballets for the Washington company. He had also attracted the attention of Mikhail Baryshnikov, who met with Goh in Washington, watched him work and laid the groundwork for a major commission for American Ballet Theatre.”
The commissioned work became the 1981 ballet Configurations, which was danced by Baryshnikov and a contingent of ABT dancers at Lisner Auditorium as part of the Washington Ballet’s historic “Golden Gala.” The creation and performance of the work were documented by London Weekend Television and is now available as Baryshnikov: The Dancer and the Dance.
Goh’s choreography for Configurations is considered a concrete example of his command of the classical dance vocabulary and his ingenuity in creating striking imagery. The ballet is set to Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Piano Concerto, a score that is difficult to play and even more difficult to dance to.
”He is intensely musical, and his ballets are all marked by a first-rate command of structure and fluency,” Anna Kisselgoff, chief dance critic of The New York Times, wrote in 1980. ”He concentrates on speed, intricacies of movement, difficult toe work and streamlined partnering. His base is strongly neo-Classical with a sleek contemporary look, incorporating modern-dance idioms and unexpected gestures, wrist rotations, interpolated academic steps that burst out of the usual flow of movement, acrobatic tumbling within a partnering technique and subtle nuances.”
In 1982, he would choreograph In the Glow of the Night, a ballet set to music by Bohuslav Martinu that would be praised as Goh’s most perfectly realized work. In 1986, Unknown Territory — his last completed ballet — was touted as an important work for both Goh and the Washington Ballet.
“Every two years since his arrival in Washington in 1976, he’s come up with a breakthrough of sorts: the propulsive abstraction Fives in 1978; the distilled romanticism of Lament in 1980; a fusion of these contrary impulses in the 1982 In the Glow of the Night; his first full-length narrative work, Romeo and Juliet, in 1984 (for the Boston Ballet); and now the richly exotic Unknown Territory,” wrote Kriegsman in 1986, not realizing that this work would be Goh’s last.
In 1992, five years after Goh’s death, the Choo San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation was formed to provide annual scholarships and grants for new dance works in an effort to further develop choreographic talent. The foundation also oversees the licensing of Goh’s ballets in performances by dance companies throughout the world.
In 1997, the Singapore Dance Theatre commissioned a monograph on Goh entitled Goh Choo San, Master Craftsman in Dance. It contains a detailed overview of Goh’s life in written text and photos of his ballets. The company also added to their repertoire twelve of Goh’s works, bringing his identity as a Singaporean choreographer back to his homeland.
Lyle Loder, member of the congregation of the Hollywood United Methodist Church, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 37.Learn More.
Loder was a key leader in development of an LGBT witness among United Methodists in southern California during the early 1980s, recalls his friend Morris Floyd.
Feeling called to the United Methodist ministry, Loder studied philosophy and religion and served as a student pastorate while at Kansas Wesleyan University in the early 1970s, according to Floyd. However, Loder chose to not hide his identity, and by the time of his graduation from KWU, the denomination had incorporated into its Discipline the language describing same-sex relationships as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“Lyle’s dream of serving as a United Methodist clergyman was never realized,” writes Floyd in the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.
Instead, Loder would go on to help build a local congregation that would welcome lesbian and gay United Methodists in the Hollywood area. By 1986, Loder would be an active member of HUMC and he would share with the congregation that he was living with AIDS.
In October 1987, the Health and Welfare Ministries Division of the Board of Global Ministries hosted a consultation conference on AIDS at a hotel near the San Francisco airport. Loder was invited to help plan the conference and participate in a panel discussion about the needs of people living with AIDS.
“Lyle’s participation on a panel, sharing his story, and in the midst of it, despite everything, his love for God and his refusal to give up on the United Methodist Church,” recalls Floyd. “He was frail and only a few weeks from death, though he did not know it at the time. If ever God’s Spirit was present anywhere, it shone in Lyle in those hours.”
On November 29, 1987, the day before his birthday, Loder was admitted to the hospital, where he was visited by his brother. When Loder died a few days later, many friends came to his hospital room, spread rose petals on his bed, and sang hymns
Memorial services were held at HUMC and again at Loder’s home church in Kansas. Loder was the first of the HUMC family to die of complications of HIV/AIDS, but he wouldn’t be the last.
A memorial plaque inside the church narthex carries the names of Loder and 34 additional members of the congregation who died in the early years of the pandemic. On World AIDS Day in 1993, members of HUMC fashioned two giant red ribbons and attached them to the tower of the church. In 1996, more permanent ribbons replaced them and remain today.
Loder’s life is also memorialized by three panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of them made by church and community worker Donna Kay Campbell.
The offices of Capital Gay, a London free weekly newspaper serving the LGBT community, are firebombed. No one is ever charged for the crime.Learn More.
The offices were throught to be targeted, because of the strong stance Capital Gay editors took against Section 28, “the most serious legal attack on our rights since male homosexuality was outlawed more than 100 years ago.”
But aside from their strong editorials opposing Section 28, the editors also sponsored the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and involved itself in events in the wider gay community in London.
Capital Gay was among the first publications to feature a regular column on HIV/AIDS, which was started in 1982 by Julian Meldrum. Meldrum was also the archivist for the Gay Monitoring and Archive Project, which collected evidence of discrimination and police arrests.
Editor and founder Michael Mason would later recall that local police did not appear to undertake a serious investigation of the arson. Local officials were also less than sympathetic.
Elaine Kellett-Bowman, a conservative Member of Parliament, publicly supported the firebombing, saying she was “quite prepared to affirm that it is quite right that there should be an intolerance of evil.”
Capital Gay would resurrect itself following the fire and continue publishing until June 1995, becoming Britain’s longest-running gay newspaper.
Dancer and dance teacher Joah Lowe dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 34.Learn More.
Lowe performed in the San Francisco area and taught dance classes, including one titled, “Lessons in the Art of Flying.”
In 2004, dancer Keith Hennessy was asked to write about Lowe, his first dance teacher.
“Joah taught a weekly class, an introduction to contemporary dance that involved technique and improvisation,” Hennessy writes. “Joah, thanks a lot. Thanks for welcoming me, for steering me into the future and away from the past…. You were my first authentically intuitive man.”
The Joah Lowe collection — which includes theater, performance and dance ephemera, performance and dance production notes, and related art and artifacts from Lowe’s work — is stored at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. The collection includes material collected by Charlie Halloran, a dancer who worked with Lowe and who subsequently died in 1993, also from AIDS-related illness.
After a long-time Hollywood resident leases his single-family home to a non-profit AIDS hospice, neighbors begin to mobilize to force its closure.Learn More.
On this day, Hospice Los Angeles/Long Beach announced the opening of its location on the 1300 block of Ogden neighborhood of Los Angeles, bordering West Hollywood.
Called Hughes House after Shawn Hughes, the first City of West Hollywood employee to die of AIDS, the hospice was one of only two in Los Angeles available exclusively for AIDS patients, although additional AIDS hospices were in the works to open later in 1988 and 1989. Shawn Hughes’ mother attended the event to show her support of the hospice, along with media representatives and AIDS activists.
Disgruntled neighbors also attended the event, according to the Los Angeles Times, “milling around the fringes of the press conference.”
Opposed to Hughes House opening in their neighborhood and angry with the facility’s plan to care for a total of six AIDS patients in the three-bedroom home, the neighbors provided the Times reporter with a litany of complaints, ranging from alleged zoning violations to the possibility of lowered property values.
“Our problem has nothing to do with AIDS,” one neighbor said. “It has to do with R-1 (single-family zoning) conformity … It’s the same as if somebody put in a body-and-fender shop in your neighborhood.”
Los Angeles City Councilperson Michael Woo, who attended the hospice opening event, would become the target of of much of the residents’ anger.
Woo, however, defended the hospice location, saying he had obtained an opinion from the city attorney’s office stating that hospices could be operated in residential zones as long as they are no larger than six beds.
“A hospice is not a hospital,” Woo told the LA Times. “It is a place where (AIDS patients) can die with respect and dignity.”
LA Times reporter Bob Baker pointed out, “The conflict is symptomatic of why Los Angeles County has so few AIDS hospices, where patients can die in an environment far more sympathetic and less expensive than a hospital. In addition to a lack of governmental assistance — it was only late last year that the county Board of Supervisors voted to release $1.5 million to support alternative-care AIDS programs — the few existing hospices created with private funds or contributions have been placed in commercial areas or low-income neighborhoods.”
This marked the beginning of a long fight between Hughes House and its neighbors, the latter who would ask the city’s Zoning Board to close down the hospice. In its first year, Hughes House would provide hospice care to numerous people, including famous television performer Wayland Flowers.
Community artist Chuck Arnett dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 60.Learn More.
Formerly a dancer with the National Ballet in New York, Arnett relocated to San Francisco in the 1960s and established himself as an artist and a central figure in the early leather scene. His murals covering the walls of local leather bars like The Stud and the Tool Box (pictured) inspired observers to compare Arnett to Toulouse-Lautrec.
Arnett’s interior murals at the Tool Box were the establishment’s best-known calling card. According to the LGBT Historical Society in San Francisco, one set of Arnett’s murals were located along the south-facing, Harrison Street walls, and two additional mural panels were painted on the glass storefront windows on the west-facing, 4th Street walls.
The Harrison Street murals became internationally known in June 1964 when photographs of the interior of the Tool Box were featured in Life Magazine in a feature article entitled “Homosexuality in America.” The article described San Francisco as “The Gay Capital of America” and inspired many gay leathermen to move there, according to the Leather History Timeline.
Unfortunately, Arnett’s Tool Box artwork was on display for only a brief time. The Tool Box closed in 1971 and the building (along with the Harrison Street murals) was torn down in 1975. The panel that is pictured here was painted on wood and was able to be removed prior to the destruction of the building. A San Francisco couple purchased the panel at a garage sale in the 1990s, and it was donated to the GLBT Historical Society in 2021.
The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of works of art along Ringold Alley honoring leather culture. One of the works of art is a black granite stone etched with a narrative by Gayle Rubin and a reproduction of Arnett’s Tool Box mural. Another of the works of art is bronze bootprints along the curb which honor Arnett and 27 other icons of the leather community.
Arnie Zane, the co-artistic director of Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company, a leading postmodernist dance troupe, died of AIDS-related illness at his home in Valley Cottage, New York. He was 39 years old.Learn More.
Zane was born in the Bronx and attended public schools in New York City, receiving an undergraduate degree from the State University at Binghamton. Zane began working with Bill T. Jones in 1971, and they formed the American Dance Asylum with Lois Welk in 1973 in Binghamton, New York.
“They made an unlikely team: Jones is tall and muscular and his dancing expansive, while Zane, short and wiry, leaped about the stage in bursts of nervous energy,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
After touring together in the U.S. and abroad, the two choreographer-dancers formed the Jones-Zane company in 1982 and appeared in that year’s Next Wave festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Through much of the 1980s, the company drew critical acclaim for its stylish, punchy dance that incorporated narrative and text set to music by noted post-modernist composers. Zane and Jones’ choreography often explored issues such as racism, religion, sexism, and the nuclear age.
Zane held two Creative Artists Public Service Fellowships: for photography in 1973 and for choreography in 1981. He also was awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 and 1984.
In 1986, he and Jones were recipients of New York’s Dance Performance Award (the “Bessie”) for their 1985 season.
Following Zane’s death, Jones kept the name of the company the same. Published in 1990, Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane is a collaboration by the two men, examining their work together.
“The reader of Body Against Body is left to contemplate the toll the disease is taking in the arts community and to reflect on what the premature death of so many young artists means to the performing arts, to their audience and to humanity,” wrote Charles Solomon in the LA Times.
Also in 1990, Jones (who was also diagnosed as HIV-positive) created the now canonical work, D-Man in the Waters, which explored the grief, loss and existential fear shared by many in the dance community at that time.
Russian-born pianist Youri Egorov dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Amsterdam at the age of 33.Learn More.
Egorov made his mark on the performance of classical music in his own highly individual way. Between the ages of 6 and 17, he studied music at the Kazan Music School and then studied for six years at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1976, at the age of 22, Egorov defected from Russia to Amsterdam. applying for asylum just before a concert in Italy.
The year following his defection, Egorov participated in the Cliburn music competition in Fort Forth, Texas and became an audience favorite. When he was not chosen by judges as a finalist, a group of patrons and Cliburn board members formed an ad-hoc committee to raise money equal to the top prize of $10,000 to further Egorov’s career.
In 1978, Egorov had his New York recital debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center at the age of 24, and his career took off. By the end of the year, Egorov would give a performance at Carnegie Hall, which was recorded live. The same year, he performed for the Schumann Carnaval, a recital for German TV.
”Mr. Egorov plays in a free, romantic style, and his approach is quite different from that of so many competition winners,” wrote Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times after Egorov’s New York debut.
Egorov’s dramatic style can be heard (and seen) in this abbreviated recording of a concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam in June 1979.
In the book Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves compiled by Elyse Mach, Egorov spoke candidly on the topics of rehearsal, pre-concert nervousness, artistic restrictions in Russia, and homosexuality. In Amsterdam, Egorov met Jan Brouwer, who became his long-term partner.
Although he took an apartment in Manhattan in the late 1970s, and he and Brouwer established a residence in Monte Carlo for tax purposes, Egorov counted Amsterdam as his home throughout his 12 years in the West.
When Egorov died in 1988, he had recordings of several performances awaiting release. His partner died about four months after Egorov, and both their remains are interred at Driehuis Velsen Crematorium, Noord-Holland, Netherlands.
Nationally known flamenco dancer Cruz Luna dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 50.
A native of Spain, Luna learned flamenco dancing in cafes there and studied later in Mexico and Los Angeles. He launched his career at the age of 17 with appearances on the Ed Sullivan and Dave Garroway television shows.
Luna danced in an international tour with the Ballet Nacional of Spain and in a Broadway show titled Ole! Ole! He moved to San Francisco in 1959 and performed with the Smothers Brothers and Phyllis Diller. From 1960 to 1974, he operated Cafe Madrid in North Beach and presented flamenco dancers from around the world.
A Los Angeles zoning administrator rules that Hughes House, one of just a few AIDS hospices in the county, is in violation of zoning laws and cannot remain in the neighborhood where it has operated for five months.Learn More.
Likening the hospice to a hospital, Chief Zoning Administrator Franklin P. Eberhard ruled that Hughes House is not allowed to operate in the three-bedroom house on the 1300 block of Ogden, a neighborhood of single-family homes.
Previously, Los Angeles building and safety officials said the hospice could operate in its location, because the six-bed facility observes state and city laws which allow up to six unrelated people to share a single-family home. The city has no zoning code that applies specifically to where hospices can be located.
Hughes House responded by filing an appeal to Eberhard’s decision. Ron Wolff, executive director of Hospice Los Angeles/Long Beach, which runs Hughes House, told the Los Angeles Times that he was confident that they would win their appeal on grounds that Hughes House is not a medical facility.
“We feel that, No. 1, it’s a legal use,” Wolff told the Times. “No. 2, the moral imperative is so overwhelming. There needs to be a place for these people to be cared for in the final stages of life.”
Andrew Meltzer, resident conductor with the San Francisco Opera, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 40.Learn More.
At age 39, Meltzer entered a blind test for AZT, but he was one of the participants given a placebo. He was switched to AZT at age 40, but it was too late.
Meltzer made his West Coast conducting debut with the Spring Opera Theater’s 1974 production of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo. He made his company debut during the 1982 summer season with The Barber of Seville, and followed up with Cosi fan Tutte in the summer of 1983, La Gioconda during the 1983 fall season and Die Fledermaus in 1984.
His conducting credits with other companies include productions for Michigan Opera Theater, Edmonton Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Spoleto Festival USA. He was a rising star.
Kurt Raab, best remembered for his work with German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dies of AIDS-related illness in Hamburg at the age of 46.Learn More.
Born in 1941 in the Bohemian town of Bergreichenstein (now part of the Czek Republic), Raab started life as the son of a farm hand. While attending high school at Straubing, he would befriend Peer Raben, the future composer for many Fassbinder films, and the two would move to Munich together.
Raab would play his first role in Raben’s staging of Antigone, where they both would meet Fassbinder. In 1969, Raab would play the lead role in Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and then go on to perform in numerous other Fassbinder films and TV productions.
Raab is considered one of the most versatile members of Fassbinder’s stock company, and he would work on more than 30 of the director’s films, on and behind the screen.
Before he died, he worked to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in Germany. In 1987, he discussed his illness in Herbert Achternbusch’s Wohin?, a film about AIDS hysteria. Shortly before his death in 1988, he made Mitten im Leben, a documentary about AIDS, for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen.
Raab’s tragic death in 1988 played out publicly and painfully in Germany, where understanding of the illness was poor at best.
The actor was practically quarantined in the Hamburg Tropical Institute, and following his death, his body was frefused burial in Steinbeißen, the Bavarian town where his family had settled in 1945.
His body would be shipped to Hamburg, where he would be buried in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery.
Raab’s last days were recorded for Yearning for Sodom, which he codirected with Hanno Baethe and his former Fassbinder colleague Hirschmüller, and for which Raab would be posthumously awarded the Adolf Grimme Award.
Actor Anthony Holland, whose health was declining due to infection with HIV, commits suicide in his Manhattan apartment; he was 60 years old.Learn More.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Holland had been a member of the original Second City comedy troupe, where he met Joan Rivers, with whom he remained friends until his death.
He made his Broadway debut in 1963 in Lillian Hellman’s comedy My Mother, My Father and Me. His half-dozen subsequent Broadway roles included Division Street and We Bombed in New Haven. He appeared in many regional-theater productions, as well as Off Broadway productions of Brendan Behan’s ‘Quare Fellow, Eugene Ionesco’s Victims of Duty and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
He gave one of his best performances in The Hunger Artist, Martha Clarke’s 1987 adaptation of several stories by Franz Kafka.
“His soft voice, unpretentiously conversational in tone yet mesmerizingly grave, could be Kafka’s,” Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times.
In 1979, he gives a standout performance in the film All That Jazz as Broadway songwriter Paul Dann, and appears in scores of other films between 1964-1986.
Holland took his own life just as he was entering the final stages of the disease “in what can only be called an act of sheer bravado,” writes friend David Ehrenstein. He had saved enough medication to facilitate a lethal overdoes.
“Tony had elected to make his exit on a day when he was in a good mood,” Ehrenstein recalled. “He was in New York at that time and friends recall seeing him around town at his usual haunts in high spirits.
Holland had left instructions for the paramedics and even rubber gloves in case they were concerned about handling an “AIDS corpse.”
Tommy Pace, a member of the pioneering Gay Men’s Theater Collective, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 39. Pace was known locally as a brilliant comic actor with the Angels of Light.
Colin Higgins — acclaimed screenwriter, director, and producer of films such as Harold and Maude and 9 to 5 — dies of AIDS-related illness at his Beverly Hills home. He was 47.Learn More.
Best known for writing the screenplay for the 1971 cult movie Harold and Maude and for directing the films Foul Play (1978) and 9 to 5 (1980), Higgins’ last project was co-writing and co-producing with Shirley MacLaine a 1986 television mini-series based on her book, Out on a Limb.
Born on the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia, Colin Higgins lived in Australia until his family migrated to California. He attended Stanford University on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue acting in New York, according to The Legacy Project in Chicago. From there, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and worked overseas for the newspaper Stars and Stripes. Returning to the U.S. in 1965, he re-entered Stanford, where he wrote a rough treatment for the story of Harold and Maude as part of his Master’s thesis.
Harold and Maude was the story of an unlikely romance between a suicidal teenager, played by Bud Cort, and an eccentric 80-year-old woman, portrayed by Ruth Gordon. The film drew scant attention when it was released in 1971, but went on to become a revival-house and college campus classic.
Higgins, who was openly gay, wrote the TV movie The Devil’s Daughter (1972), followed by a stage version of Harold and Maude, which ran in Paris for seven years. His Hollywood breakthrough occured with his screenplay for the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder movie Silver Streak (1976). Higgins followed this by writing and directing Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase in Foul Play (1978) and then Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin in the smash hit 9 to 5 (1980). In 1982, he directed the film version of the stage musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.
Following his diagnosis with HIV in 1985, Higgins founded the Colin Higgins Foundation to provide support for LGBT youth. The foundation supports numerous LGBTQ organizations, ranging from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach and AIDS prevention programs.
Since 1988, the Foundation has awarded over 660 grants totaling over $5.8 million dollars to further the humanitarian vision of its founder, Colin Higgins.
Jesse Hollis, the resident set designer at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 39. Hollis’ designs were seen at theater and opera companies throughout the country, including Berkeley Rep, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Magic Theatre.
Rodney Price, co-founder of the wildly creative Angels of Light performance troupe in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.Learn More.
Reversing a decision by the City of Los Angeles’ zoning administrator, the zoning board voted to allow Hughes House to remain at its location in a Hollywood residential neighborhood.Learn More.
Following the zoning board’s decision, supporters of the hospice declared the ruling a victory for the rights of the terminally ill. Many of them wore pink buttons bearing the words “There’s no place like home.”
Ron Wolff, executive director of Hospice Los Angeles-Long Beach, the nonprofit group that runs Hughes House, said the hospice acts as a surrogate family for dying patients during the last three or four weeks of their lives.
The ruling of the zoning board ended a months-long attempt by residents to remove the hospice from their neighborhood.
Area residents filed complaints with the city, accusing Hughes House of operating a medical facility. In response, city inspectors visited the hospice three times and concluded that the facility was not violating zoning laws.
Then neighbors began to keep detailed logs of activity at Hughes House, according to the Los Angeles Times, and they reported to the city every occasion they observed of medical supply trucks making deliveries and new patients arriving. In June 1988, the chief zoning administrator sided with the neighbors, agreeing with their portrayal of the hospice as a medical facility, and ruled that Hughes House could not continue to operate in its location.
In the end, however, the zoning board found the residents’ complaints to be lacking in substance when compared to the needs of the people staying — and dying — at Hughes House. Ultimately, members of the zoning board were won over by the fact that Hughes House was providing a service — care for those dying of AIDS — that sadly was much in demand and that few other organizations in Los Angeles could provide.
Leonard Frey, an actor admired for his vivid and often flamboyant performances, dies of AIDS-related illness at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 49.Learn More.
In 1968, Frey received critical acclaim for his performance as Harold, a bitter, bitchy, gay man who dreads his upcoming birthday, in off-Broadway’s The Boys in the Band. He, along with the rest of the original cast, appeared in the 1970 film version, directed by William Friedkin, as well.
Frey was nominated for a 1975 Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in The National Health. For his role in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof, Frey earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Motel the tailor.
Frey also had a number of screen credits to his name, including films The Magic Christian, Where the Buffalo Roam and Tattoo and the television series’ Mission Impossible, Quincy, M.E. and Barney Miller.
David Anthony Keith, Bay Area concert pianist, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.
Wayland Flowers, best known for creating and voicing the sassy puppet Madame, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.Learn More.
Wayland Flowers was one of the first openly gay entertainers to find acceptance in mainstream America.
“In an era when even Paul Lynde was still in the closet, Flowers hid nothing,” says Kevin Phinney in his article “This is How Wayland Flowers and Madame Made the ’80s so Gay” in MetroSource.
After refining his act, Flowers’ made a national splash on The Andy Williams Show. From there, Flowers became a regular presence on network TV — although it was not unusual for Madame to get more closeups.
He is best known for the TV series Madame’s Place (1982) and The Hollywood Squares, and also performed in scores of live shows.
Other puppets populated Flowers’ act, but none earned Madame’s notoriety. Among them were a Harlem harlot known as Jiffy, a cranky vaudeville vet named Macklehoney and Crazy Mary, a Bellevue mental hospital escapee.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, Flowers was diagnosed with HIV. He continued to perform until he collapsed onstage during a show at Harrah’s casino in Las Vegas. Eventually, he developed Kaposi’s sarcoma. He made one last visit to his home town in Georgia and then checked into an AIDS treatment facility, the Hughes House hospice center in Los Angeles, where he remained until his death.
The New York Times publishes the results of a poll that suggests that people are sympathetic toward people with AIDS — but not if they are sexually active gay men or use IV drugs.Learn More.
Of the 1,600 respondents interviewed by NYT/CBS, 75% stated they had ”a lot” or ”some” sympathy for people who have AIDS and 19% said they had ”not much” or ”no” sympathy. (The poll had a margin of sampling error of +/- 3%.)
The level of sympathy declined dramatically, however, when the two groups at highest risk of exposure to the disease were mentioned: 36% with “a lot” or “some” sympathy for “people who get AIDS from homosexual activity,” and 26% for ”people who get AIDS from sharing needles while using illegal drugs.”
NYT reporter Michael R. Kagay wrote: “The most recent poll made it clear that public attitudes toward these high-risk groups are linked to support or opposition to steps that might help to slow the spread of AIDS.”
Kagay then presented the example of the belief of 52% of those interviewed that drug addiction was “more an illness,” compared with 34% who believed that addiction was “more a crime.”
“These views about the nature of drug addiction appeared to influence how respondents reacted to a proposal to give free sterilized needles to intravenous drug users as a public health measure,” Kagay wrote.
The respondents viewing addiction as an illness were more likely to favor free distribution of sterilized needles to drug users, with 52% of these respondents supporting this as a way to slow the spread of AIDS. Only 26% of those who viewed addiction as a crime supported the proposal.
Dancer Peter Childers, who performed with the San Francisco Opera Ballet, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.
John Morris, frontman of the Los Angeles punk band Black Randy and The Metrosquad, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 36.Learn More.
After two gay men are murdered in Reverchon Park in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas, a Texas judge rejects the recommended life sentence for one of the killers, instead imposing the more lenient sentence of 30 years in prison.Learn More.
In a demonstration of the bigotry and homophobia faced by gay men in America, Judge Jack Hampton of State District Court told The Dallas Times Herald that he gave an 18-year-old murderer a more lenient sentence than prosecutors had sought because the two victims were gay and, the judge said, they would not have been killed ”if they hadn’t been cruising the streets picking up teenage boys.”
Tommy Lee Trimble, 34, and John Lloyd Griffin, 27, were driving through the Oak Lawn section of Dallas on a night in May 1988 when they were distracted by a group of young men shouting at them from the street corner. Not realizing that the group, which included students from North Mesquite High School, had come to the neighborhood to ”pester the homosexuals,” Trimble and Griffin invited the young men into their car.
Witnesses testifed that 18-year-old Richard Lee Bednarski and a friend entered the car with the intent of assaulting them. After the car reached a secluded area of Reverchon Park, Bednarski ordered Trimble and Griffin to remove their clothes and, when they refused, Bednarski drew a pistol and began firing at them. Trimble died immediately, and Griffin died five days later.
A jury found Bednarski guilty of the double homicide. Since Texas law allowed the defendant to choose whether the judge or the jury set the penalty, Bednarski chose the judge at the advice of his lawyer, who said he thought the judge would be more sympathetic.
Judge Hampton said that in determining the sentence, he considered that the guilty party had no criminal record, was attending college and was “reared in a good home by a father who is a police officer.”
In explaining the Nov. 19 sentence to The Times Herald, Judge Hampton said, ”I don’t care much for queers cruising the streets. I’ve got a teenage boy.”
Timothy Patrick Murphy, best known for this role on the prime-time soap opera Dallas during the 1982-83 season, dies of AIDS-related illness in Sherman Oaks, California at the age of 29.Learn More.
On Dallas, Murphy played the part of “Mickey Trotter.” He started his acting career as an adolescent in several television commercials and from there he went on to act in a mini-series called Centennial.
He soon would land more substantial work, including a part in the 1984 inspirational feature film Sam’s Son, the film biography of the life of actor Michael Landon.
Volunteer caregiver Brian Smith recalls visiting with Murphy in 1988 at the Sherman Oaks Medical Center in California.
Smith and Murphy had met in the summer of 1984, and they would talk about “the old times.”
“Sometimes, we would just sit quietly, holding hands, nothing needed to be said,” Smith recalled. “I was blessed with good timing; Tim rarely had other visitors when I was there. Even as his health deteriorated, he kept his winning smile and personality.”
On December 6, 1988, Smith would arrive at the hospital to visit his friend and be informed by “a teary-eyed nursing staff” that Murphy had died that day.
On September 11, 2001, Murphy’s younger brother, Patrick Sean Murphy, would be killed in the World Trade Center attacks.
Singer Sylvester dies of AIDS-related illness at age 41. Born Sylvester James, Jr., the black performer is known internationally as “the Queen of Disco.”Learn More.
Famous for his song “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” Sylvester is the lead singer and co-creator of one of the all-time top LGBTQ anthems.
Born in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, Sylvester had been a member of the ’60s group the Disquotays — which was “somewhere between a street gang and a sorority house,” as one former member puts it.
He moved to San Francisco in 1970 at the age of 22 and joined the Cockettes, a “cross-dressing hippy performance art troupe,” and sang blues and jazz standards in his gospel-trained voice in solo segments of the show, writes Alexis Petrides in The Guardian. In the early 70s, he made a bid for mainstream success fronting the Hot Band.
“But the U.S. wasn’t ready for an androgynous black man doing covers of Neil Young songs and A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Petrides writes. “Band members were threatened with violence when they toured in southern states.”
Sylvester’s career was beginning to take hold in 1978, when “Mighty Real” is released on his second solo album and then later as a single. When the song catches fire, he would travel to London to perform to packed clubs and be mobbed by fans. Sylvester would release another 12 albums, many of them featuring top hits and nightclub mainstays. An album containing Sylvester’s final studio recordings, titled Immortal, woud be posthumously released.
Max Robinson, the first African-American network news anchor in the U.S., and a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 49.
Gay rights activist and writer Joseph Beam dies of AIDS-related illness three days before his 34th birthday. He is best known for editing In the Life, the first collection of writings by gay black men on the impact of HIV/AIDS on their community.Learn More.
Today, In the Life is widely regarded as a literary and cultural milestone in gay literature.
A native of Philadelphia, Beam attended Franklin College in Indiana, where he studied journalism and was an active member of the black student union and the Black Power movement.
After earning a his master’s degree in communications, Beam returned to Philadelphia in 1979, and explored literature on gay figures and institutions while working at Giovanni’s Room, an LGBT bookstore. Discouraged by the lack of community for black gay men and lesbians, Beam began writing articles and short stories for gay publications.
In 1984, he received an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist from The Lesbian and Gay Press Association. In 1985, he became the first editor of Black/Out, a journal produced by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.
Beam would continue to collect materials about being black and gay and find ways to increase their reach. In 1986, he produced the first collection written by black gay men, called In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology.
Beam dies from AIDS-related complications at the age of 33 while compiling the sequel, “Brother to Brother.” His mother, Dorothy Beam, and poet Essex Hemphill would go on to complete the work and it is published in 1991.
ABC’s “The Ryan White Story,” based on the true story of a 13-year-old hemophiliac from Indiana who contracts AIDS through a blood transfusion, airs nationwide to an audience of 15 million.Learn More.
The TV drama depicts a young Ryan White (portrayed by Lukas Haas) fighting back after being barred from attending school due to his AIDS diagnosis.
With Judith Light starring as single mother Jeanne White, the show has a significant impact on how the public perceives issues around HIV/AIDS.
Ryan White is featured in a cameo as another hemophiliac with AIDS.
Claude Duvall, a Bay Area patron of the arts who personally commissioned works with local composers and artists, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 47.Learn More.
A resident of San Francisco since 1973, Duvall founded the Noh Oratorio Society in 1981 to present little-heard musical compositions set to literary works, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
“Unique is the way to describe him,” wrote the Reporter. “No one ever spoke in those tones, dressed as he did, thought along his lines, or carved in the world so special a niche.”
The Noh Oratorio Society flourished in San Francisco during the 1980s, largely due to the dedication and creative direction of Duvall. Not only did he personally commission works for the Society, he served as calligrapher, actor, stage director, and litterateur for various productions. The Society’s wide range of artistic interests was grounded in the importance of the human voice and the use of language.
Among the Society’s productions were Michael McClure’s !The Feast! (1982), Chaucer’s Parlement of Fowles (1987), Edith Sitwell and William Walton’s Façade (1987), and Robert Duncan’s Faust Foutu in 1989. The musical-literary productions were presented in various venues in the Bay Area over the course of 15 years.
In 1987, the Society commissioned a concert of Ladies Voices, an opera set to words by Gertrude Stein with music by Charles Shere. Ladies Voices premeired at the Berkeley Art Center with sopranos Judy Ruth Hubbell and Anna Carol Dudley, and mezzo-soprano Marcia Gronewold.
On behalf of the Society, Duvall also published Noh Quarrter, a short-lived and highly admired literary magazine that promoted poetry, essays, short fiction, and experimental prose that was intended to be read aloud.
John Duka, a journalist who wrote with humor and grace about fashion and style, dies of AIDS-related illness in his Manhattan home at the age of 39.Learn More.
According to his wife, Kezia, Duka died of complications stemming from major abdominal surgery in November 1988. He was diagnosed with AIDS the previous year, she said.
Duka began his journalism career in the research department of Esquire magazine. He also worked for Simon and Schuster, Home Furnishings Daily and New York magazine before becoming a columnist at The New York Times.
As a NYT style reporter from 1979 to 1985, he brought a sharp eye and a leveling wit to the world of fashion. His weekly column, “Notes on Fashion,” documented the parallel rise of downtown chic and uptown hauteur, as well as the grand presentations of Paris and Milan. He treated fashion as ”an international sport,” from the punk parade on London’s King’s Road to the retro chic of Republican Washington.
A May 1984 column began: ”One of the requisite skills for sitting at a fashion show is being able to roll your eyes, talk to the person behind you, chew mints and say, ‘Yves Saint Laurent did it better years ago’ all at once.”
Ruth La Ferla, fashion reporter for The New York Times, recalled: “The son of a Greek waiter, he had, in the course of a two-decade career as a reporter, ad man and public relations guru, fashioned a character, a wry, roguish admixture of Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor. He was the devil in pinstripes, peppering his columns with the lacerating barbs and dishy mots that made them a must-read for the glitter set.”
Duka left The Times in 1985 to become a founding partner at Keeble Cavaco & Duka, a public relations and advertising agency specializing in life style and fashion. He continued to write for magazines like Vanity Fair, Elle and Interview. He wrote a column, ”Duka’s Diary,” for HG magazine and later became a contributing editor of Vogue.
It has been speculated that the character of Felix Turner in Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart was inspired by Duka, who knew Kramer.
“Larry never said to me, ‘This play is about John Duka,’ but some people did,” said Richard Kornberg, the publicist for the original Public Theater production in 1985. “And some of us just thought it.”
La Ferla, Duka’s former colleague at The Times, observed, “He retained a capacity for self-deprecation — much like Felix in the play.”
Just as in The Normal Heart, as Felix lies dying, he quips, “I should be wearing something white … It should be something Perry Ellis ran up for me personally.”
Dancer, singer and choreographer James Tyler — who soloed with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and the Arnie Zane Company — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48. Tyler also co-founded the men’s dance company Mangrove, and worked with Blake Street Hawkeyes and Ruth Zaporah.
Wearing sunglasses, a black jacket, a white tee shirt adorned with a huge cross, and denim shorts, iconic performer Madonna dances with the crowd and lesbian friend Sandra Bernhard at AIDS Project LA’s Dance-A-Thon at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
AIDS activist and singer Michael Callen releases his album, “Purple Heart.”Learn More.
The album features the song “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” an AIDS anthem Callen co-writes with Marsha Malamet and Peter Allen.
“I feel compelled to get the message out: AIDS is not an excuse to give up on love,” Callen tells Gay LA Times health reporter Victor Zonana.
* * * *
What a normal heart should do
If you always play a part
Instead of being who you really are
The one who’s standing there
So instead of passing by
Show him that you care
Why me? And why you?
Why not we two?
And love is all we have for now
What we don’t have is time
Never questioning the rules
Then we’re living lies we bought so long ago
How are they to know?
It’s just another way
And I don’t wanna fight
But know I’m gonna stay with you till the end
With you my friend
Love don’t always rhyme
And love is all we have for now
What we don’t have is time
Time can’t tear us apart
Forever, I will stand by you
We’ve got to start with the beat of one heart
Together, we will see this through
Love’s never a crime
And love is all we have for now
What we don’t have
What we don’t have is time
Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, known for his erotic, sometimes controversial works, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.Learn More.
In the mid-1970s, as the NYC music scene gave rise to New Wave, Mapplethorpe created austere black-and-white album covers for Patti Smith and the group Television.
He credited his close friend Smith with helping embolden the homosexuality of his early photographic images that dealt with sexual audacity — from sadomasochistic scenes with chains and black leather to an oversized image of male genitals resting atop a pedestal — and that were produced on a large scale.
Soon he would join Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine as a staff photographer, and draw attention for his flattering celebrity portraits.
Despite his diagnosis in 1986 with AIDS, he accelerates his creative efforts, broadens the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepts increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art would mount Mapplethorpe’s first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death.
The tragic news that Mapplethorpe is ill coincides with the zenith of his critical acclaim as a photographer.
“In my experience, even the most optimistic artists are unable to keep the pain and sadness of AIDS from occasionally surfacing in their art,” writes Paul Martineau, associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
“Mapplethorpe was no exception,” Martineau continues. “While studying his photographs, I noticed a perceptible shift in the emotional tone of his self-portraits occurred in 1986: the year he was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1988, while the disease wreaked havoc on his body, Mapplethorpe used the camera as a means of taking artistic control over what was happening to him.”
In February 1989, Mapplethorpe would speak openly to Vanity Fair contributor Dominick Dunne.
“I’m quite frustrated I’m not going to be around to enjoy [my success],” Mapplethorpe tells Dunne. “The money’s coming in, though. I’m making more money now than I’ve ever made before.”
In his feature on Mapplethorpe, Dunne writes about how the photographer’s health status had become the topic of speculation in January 1987, when New York aristocrat and art collector Sam Wagstaff died of AIDS-related illness.
“Mapplethorpe, the principal inheritor of Sam Wagstaff’s fortune, had once been Wagstaff’s lover and later, for years, his great and good friend,” Dunne writes.
Mapplethorpe tells Dunne that he has two nurses on twelve-hour shifts that cost him $1,000 a day and he has been on AZT for two years. He expresses concern about friends who are facing the same illness with fewer financial resources, specifically his black friends.
“Most of the blacks don’t have insurance and therefore can’t afford AZT,” he says. “They all died quickly, the blacks. If I go through my Black Book, half of them are dead.”
The year before his death, Mapplethorpe establishes the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to protect his work, to advance his creative vision, and to fund HIV/AIDS research. In its early years, the Foundation created medical facilities and programs, including the Robert Mapplethorpe Laboratory for AIDS Research at Harvard Medical School in Boston, the Robert Mapplethorpe Residential Treatment Facility at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and the Robert Mapplethorpe Center for HIV Research at St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York.
Serving as the first president on its board of trustees, he established mandates of furthering the recognition of photography as an art form having the same respect as painting and sculpture and supporting AIDS and HIV medical research.
In late winter 1989, Mapplethorpe is in Boston for a medical treatment when his condition worsens, according to Susan Arthur of the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City, which represents the artist.
He dies at New England Deaconess Hospital at the age of 42. His body was cremated and his ashes are interred at St. John’s Cemetery, Queens in New York City, at his mother’s grave-site, etched “Maxey.”
In 2011, the Mapplethorpe Foundation would donate its archive to the Getty Research Institute and give a collection of artworks to the J. Paul Getty Museum in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
‘Star Trek’ film actor Merritt Butrick dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 29.
A native of Gainesville, Florida who grew up in the San Fransisco area, Butrick portrayed Dr. David Marcus, son of James T. Kirk and Dr. Carol Marcus, in two movies: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
“I’m part of a legend,” said Butrick about his work on the Star Trek films. “I gave what I had to give at the right time and place for my own personal gratification. I look at my resume at this point and it reminds me of how well I’ve done in the few years I’ve done it.”
Butrick had just been cast in ST II after starting work as a regular on the short-lived but critical and cult favorite 1982 “new wave” high school series Square Pegs, playing Johnny “Slash” Ulasewicz opposite an equally young Sarah Jessica Parker and Jamie Gertz.
At the time of his death, he had recently received critical praise on stage for his role as a male prostitute in the play Kingfish.
William Olander, the senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, dies of AIDS-related illness in Minneapolis at the age of 38.Learn More.
Olander arrived at the New Museum in 1985, and specialized in performance art and video, especially post-modernist language and theory.
Olander’s 1986 exhibition “Homovideo: Where We are Now” included several videos responding to the spreading of the AIDS virus. In 1987, he invited the group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to present an installation in the museum’s window on Broadway near Prince Street.
ACT UP’s artist group, Gran Fury, responded to the opportunity with “Let the Record Show.” The exhibit juxtaposed information and statistics on AIDS with indifferent, callous or manipulative responses to the epidemic from national figures, all bathed in the glow of a neon sign that proclaimed “SILENCE = DEATH.”
The neon piece became part of the New Museum’s permanent collection, and the SILENCE = DEATH graphic was widely disseminated through t-shirts, wheatpastes, and other printed materials.
In 1988, Olander and three friends founded Visual AIDS, the only contemporary arts organization dedicated to raising AIDS awareness by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS. Visual AIDS was one of the first national initiatives to record the impact of the AIDS pandemic on the artistic community.
Olander lived in New York but had returned to Minneapolis to be with his family during the last months of his life. His longtime companion, Christopher Cox, would die 18 months later, on September 7, 1990.
Olander’s name on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt reads: “Let the record show that there are many in the community of art and artists who choose not to be silent in the 1980s.”
To honor Olander’s ongoing legacy, Visual AIDS presents the “Bill Olander Award” anually to artists living with HIV.
Elwood Thornton, a baritone who performed with Oakland Symphony, San Jose Symphony, Midsummer Mozart Festival and other Bay Area organizations, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 45.
Winner of the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the Broadway hit A Chorus Line, James Kirkwood Jr. dies in his Manhattan apartment of AIDS-related illness at the age of 64.Learn More.
Born in 1924 to a Hollywood acting family, Kirkwood followed his parents into show business at the age of 14. He appeared in dozens of plays and films, pausing only to serve a three-year stint in the U.S. Coast Guard. He performed on stage in Panama Hattie and Wonderful Town, and played opposite Tallulah Bankhead in Welcome Darlings. He also had roles in the films Mommie Dearest, Oh, God, Book II, and The Supernaturals.
Together with Nicholas Dante, Kirkwood wrote the text for A Chorus Line (1975), which became one of the longest-running musicals in the history of Broadway. He also wrote the comedy, Legends, in which Mary Martin and Carol Channing toured in 1986 and 1987.
Just before his death, he had finished a nonfiction book about his experiences, entitled Diary of a Mad Playwright.
A memorial service was held for Kirkwood at the Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street, on June 1, 1989.
Geoff Mains — author of Urban Originals, a ground-breaking book about the leather community — dies of AIDS-related illness at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco at the age of 42.Learn More.
Mains drew on his extensive knowledge of anthropology and human psychology, as well as his own sexual and social experiences, to present a sex-positive and intimate look at the leather community.
“Urban Aboriginals was an instant classic the moment it appeared in the spirng of 1984,” wrote Mark Thompson of Daedalus Publishing, which issued the third edition of book in 2002.
“Its author was a little known Canadian writer, Geoff Mains, who wove an audacious mix of theory and lived experience to explain the gay male leather scene. Mains introduced the notion of endorphins, recently discovered opium-like chemicals in the central nervous system, as a critical component of S/M sexuality. He furthered his insight by linking the social behaviors of this little understood subculture to the tribal rites of indigenous societies around the world. parts biochemistry lesson, anthropological study, and candid journalism, the book opened a gateway of revelation that is still being felt to this day.”
Mains’ prose was illustrated by photographs by Robert Pruzan, who would die on May 29, 1992 of AIDS-related illness at Ralph K. Davies Hospital in San Francisco. Pruzan’s work documented much of the history of San Francisco and its gay life during the idyllic 1970s and the dark years of the 1980s.
After completing Urban Aboriginals in 1984, Mains settled in San Francisco and wrote stories and articles for Drummer magazine. His 1989 novel, Gentle Warriors, would be his final work.
“Mains shed bright and positive light on areas of human experience previously kept in the dark by society’s sexual taboos,” wrote the Bay Area Reporter. “His message has done much to combat the ignorance and fear that cloud issues of radical sexuality, and has brought self-respect, hope and a sense of community to leather-identified people worldwide.”
Prior to settling in San Francisco, he was a faculty member in the Forestry Department of the University of British Columbia. There, he worked closely with environmental groups in Canada and the U.S. He received a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Toronto.
Steve Rubell, co-founder of the Studio 54 discotheque, dies at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York at the age of 45.Learn More.
Owning and operating the enormously popular Studio 54 on West 54th Street in Manhattan from 1977 until 1979, Rubell and his business partner Ian Schrager hosted celebrities, society figures and crowds of clubbers.
Rubell often worked the club’s front door, selectively admitting celebrities and spurning others queued outside. In January 1980, Mr. Rubell and Schrager would be sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for tax evasion, but they would reduce their sentences by turning in several other club owners and be released from prison in January 1981.
They would sell Studio 54 a short time later and rebound with a new club, the Palladium, which would become just as popular.
In the film Studio 54 The Documentary, Rubell’s brother, Dr. Donald Rubell, says, ““I was the one who told him he had AIDS.”
Dr. Rubell recalls that his brother had “vague symptoms” of HIV infection, and so he administered the test.
“You have to remember at that time AIDS wasn’t a disease,” he says. “It was a condemnation. So he wouldn’t let me tell our parents.”
Held two days after Rubell’s death at the Riverside Chapel on Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street, the private funeral would be attended by numerous Studio 54 regulars, including Bianca Jagger, Calvin Klein and Keith Haring. His body is buried at Beth Moses Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.
Race car driver Tim Richmond dies of AID-related illness at the age of 34.Learn More.
One of auto racing’s brightest stars, Richmond is the inspiration behind much of the film Days of Thunder, starring Tom Cruise.
The 1980 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, Richmond was involved in an Indy car crash where his car was sliced in two at Michigan International Speedway, and was persuaded to switch to stock cars. By 1986, Richmond would win seven races in three months.
Shortly after his most victorious season, Richmond would suffer a near-fatal bout of pneumonia and receive a diagnosis of HIV-positive. Still, Richmond would regain his health enough in 1987 to return to NASCAR for an eight-race run that brought him wins at Pocono and Riverside, California.
Unaware of his illness, other drivers accused Richmond of being a drug user and persuaded NASCAR to test him. When drug tests were inconclusive, NASCAR asked to see Richmond’s medical records. Richmond refused and filed a defamation suit against NASCAR that was settled out of court when it was ruled that his medical records were relevant to the case.
In 1988, NASCAR would suspend Richmond for what the organization said was violation of its drug policy. Although NASCAR later lifted the ban, Richmond would never drive again.
According to the film Tim Richmond: To the Limit, Richmond spent his final days in seclusion.
After Richmond’s death, numerous women would claim that he infected them with the AIDS virus.
Actress Amanda Blake, best known for the TV role of the red-haired saloon proprietress “Miss Kitty Russell” on Gunsmoke, dies of AIDS-related illness at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento. She was 60.Learn More.
Blake, who was born Beverly Louise Neill in 1929, had suffered from AIDS symptoms for about a year. Her doctor, Lou Nishimura, M.D., told the New York Times that he did not know how she had contracted the disease.
Although Dr. Nishimura listed AIDS as the cause of Blake’s death, it was not made public. When when Blake’s will declared her entire estate, $400,000, be given to the non-profit organization PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society), members of Blake’s family contested the will in court and tried to prove Blake was mentally incompetent.
Pat Derby, who oversaw the PAWS preserve in Sacramento for unwanted performing animals, feared that the legal fight would cause the true circumstances of Blake’s death to be twisted in the media, so she released the AIDS story herself to People magazine.
The year before her death, Blake moved to the 20-acre animal preserve to live with Derby and devote her life to working with their animals.
Angel Estrada, a Spanish-born designer whose label featured glamorous gowns, dies of AIDS-related illness in Manhattan at the age of 31.Learn More.
Estrada started his clothing label in 1983, after his designs for his sister became covetted items in the NYC nightlife scene,
Estrada’s aesthetic was to combine a simple, form-fitting silhouete with bold details. His clothes were sold in stores such as Bergdorfs and Saks at prices ranging from $800 to $2,000. His first collection appeared on the cover of the November 1986 issue of Vogue.
Born in Barcelona, Estrada moved to New York with his family when he was three years old. He attended the Parsons School of Design and worked part time as a hair and make-up designer until he was able to set up his own business.
After Estrada’s death, his sister Virginia took over his business, assumed the design responsibilities. The Angel Estrada brand, which had focused on custom-made evening dresses, transitioned to a sportswear line and also entered a licensing arrangement with a Japanese company, Kindwear, to make clothing in Japan.
Kenneth J. Lackey, film critic for Drummer magazine, dies of AIDS-related illness at San Francisco’s Hospice By The Bay at the age of 35.Learn More.
By day, Lackey was on the editorial staff of Desmodus Inc., publishers of Drummer. By night, he was the star server at Church Street Station, charming the after-bar crowds and taking dozens of meal orders without writing anything down and never making a mistake.
Lackey also had an amazing memory for film trivia, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
“If you ever had a question about a film, a star, a producer or director (including Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winners), Ken was the man to ask, including a biographical sketch thrown in for good measure!” wrote the Bay Area Reporter.
Prior to moving to San Francisco, Lackey attended George Washington University, where he studied theater, and worked as a model in New York.
Paul Shenar, best remembered for his performance as the drug lord Alejandro Sosa in Scarface, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 53.Learn More.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Shenar moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. He debuts on Broadway in Tiny Alice as Brother Julian, and continues to work on the NYC stage for several years.
In 1965, Shenar would move to Philadelphia to help found the American Conservatory Theater, where he is not only a regular performer throughout his career, but a teacher and advisor as well.
From there, roles on television and the big screen would follow. In 1975, Shenar portrays Orson Welles in the television movie The Night That Panicked America, receiving received some of the best reviews of his career. He continues working steadily on television through the end of the decade, and in the early 1980s starts receiving feature film roles.
In 1983, Shenar delivers a memorable performance as the diabolical Colombian drug lord Alejandro Sosa in Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Other notable roles are Dr. Lawrence in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988), Joshua Adams in Deadly Force (1983), Paulo Rocca in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Raw Deal (1986), and Ben Gardner, the father of a troubled Kristy McNichol, in Alan J. Pakula’s Dream Lover (1986).
Shenar would die in West Hollywood.
Critically acclaimed actor Michael Carmine dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Manhattan. He was 30 years old.Learn More.
Born in Brooklyn, Carmine graduated at the age of 16 from the High School for the Performing Arts in 1975, and then attended the California Institute for the Arts.
Carmine won critics’ praise for his performance in Off Broadway and Broadway productions of Reinaldo Povod’s play Cuba and His Teddy Bear. He created the role of Papo in another Povod play, La Puta Vida.
Among his screen credits are Batteries Not Included, Scarface and Turk 182; on television, he appeared in episodes of Search for Tomorrow, Hill Street Blues, M*A*S*H, and Miami Vice. His final TV appearance was in 1988’s Tour of Duty, and his final film role in Longtime Companion was released nearly a year after his death.
Cynthia Slater, co-founder of the leather/SM organization Society of Janus, dies of AIDS-related illness at Pacific Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco. She was 44 years old.Learn More.
A few months before she died, Slater received an award from Shanti Project, which recognized her for her AIDS activism on behalf of women with AIDS/HIV specifically and all people with AIDS generally.
Before Slater became an AIDS activist, she stirred up controversary as the founder of Society of Janus, the still-active leather/BDSM organization that often rattled anti-pornography feminists and the religious right during the 1970s and early 1980s.
While working as a dominatrix in the early ’70s, a client’s spouse asked Slater for more information about her husband’s interest in BDSM. Sensing that there might be a widespread interest in such things, Slater and her partner, Larry Olsen, started the first version of the Society of Janus in 1972 by running a classified ad in the back of a counter-culture newspaper, The Berkeley Barb.
Ten people showed up for the first meeting of what would become the Society of Janus, and Slater said she was excited about connecting with others who shared interests that until then had been kept secret.
“There was this isolation pressing in on me, and I felt the need to get together with people with whom I could exchange information, and get a little support from besides,” said Slater in an 1983 interview.
According to the Leather Hall of Fame, Slater did almost all of the work in the first phase of the organization. She published out a newsletter, held meetings at her home, provided food, and cleaned up after. As Janus took shape, Slater developed an approach to the theory and practice of SM.
As an early proponent of SM safety, she hosted Janus Society safety demonstrations during the late ’70s, cultivating a space for women within the male-dominated scene established within the leather/kink/fetish culture. According a tribute to Slater in Living in Leather’s website, Slater coined the term “SM 101,” referring to the safety demonstrations and classes she presented.
While most of her activities were local, Slater influenced many people who became active safer-sex education. Slater’s teachings, ideas, and lessons were re-created by others at regional and national organizations, especially in the late 1980s as the AIDS epidemic spread.
Slater was well-known in many of the Bay Area’s fringe communities, and in 1980, she was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe. When safe sex education was being developed by gay communities in the early 1980s, Slater and bisexual activist David Lourea visited presented bathhouses and sex clubs in San Francisco to present safer-sex education workshops.
In 1985, Slater learned she was HIV+ and she was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. During this period, she became more involved with Shanti Project and began attending support groups. She wrote an article for Shanti’s newsletter encouraging PWAs to not remain isolated or seek “sameness” when it came to getting support.
In her article, Slater noted that while not faulting PWAs for doing so, there is a risk of eliminating others “until we end up an association of one.”
Even when tending to her declining health, Slater continued to advocate for other PWAs to connect across difference and find commonality among people with diverging agendas. She also fought to bring attention to the lack of resources for women living with AIDS/HIV in San Francisco. Despite the city’s reputation for being the leading place for compassionate care for PWAs, women were often overlooked by outreach efforts and service programs.
In an 1989 television interview about her award from Shanti Project, Slater told reporters: “The numbers [of women with AIDS] are changing … and it’s a discounting the value of individuals. How many women have to die before we start to count?”
In her article for the Shanti PWA newsletter, Slater wrote:
“We who are facing life-threatening illness also find ourselves examining issues that most folks don’t readily look at: ‘What is death?’ ‘What does my life mean?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘What do I really need and is that different from what I want?’
“In our support group, it’s not so much that the questions we ask are the same as it is that we share an awareness that we don’t seem to have forever for the exploration. These bonds are the earth of our common meeting ground … We have no basis on which to stigmatize each other, for when we do so we are oppressing ourselves.”
In 2014, Slater was posthumously inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame. In 2017, Slater was honored at the San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley, where her bootprints are immortalized alongside 27 other important figures in San Francisco alternative culture history.
Cookie Mueller, a key member of film director John Waters’ Dreamlanders ensemble, dies from AIDS-related causes in New York City at age 40.Learn More.
Mueller would meet John Waters at the premiere of his 1969 film Mondo Trasho. Cookie went on to join Waters’ Dreamlanders ensemble and would act in five movies for Waters.
Moving to New York City in 1976, she became a cocaine dealer and writer. She wrote the health column “Ask Dr. Mueller” for the East Village Eye, was an art critic for Details magazine, and wrote the novella Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls, the memoir Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, and several collections of short prose.
Mueller became a muse to many of the photographers and directors of the NYC art/music/film scene. She would have her portrait taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, and appear in Amos Poe’s Subway Riders, Edo Bertoglio’s Downtown ’81 and Michel Auder’s A Coupla White Faggots Sitting Around Talking. She also would be featured prominently in her friend Nan Goldin’s iconic The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
Goldin would later recall that she was with Mueller on Fire Island in New York when they first learned of AIDS in 1981, referred to as a “gay cancer” at the time. “Cookie just started reading this item out loud from The New York Times about this new illness… we all kind of laughed it off.”
By 1985, many of Golden’s close friends and acquaintances would be diagnosed with the virus, including Mueller.
Goldin would write in ASX: “We were very obsessed with what caused it: There were all kinds of rumors, everything from amyl nitrate to bacon. I was in denial that people were going to die. I thought people could beat it. And then people started dying.”
In 1986, Goldin would photograph Mueller’s wedding to Vittorio Scarpati. An artist who was an HIV-positive heroin addict, Scarpati would create a heartbreaking series of whimsical deathbed drawings of himself and Mueller.
Scarpati would die in 1988, and Goldin would photograph Mueller, by that time walking with a cane, beside her husband’s casket. After Scarpati’s death, Mueller’s health would begin a steep decline.
“When I went to see Cookie in Provincetown, she had lost her voice,” recalls Goldin. “Her laughter and her verbal wit had been so much of her personality. The fact that she couldn’t talk, the fact that she couldn’t walk without a cane was so devastating that I was calling every doctor, screaming at the impotence I felt.”
Shortly before her dealth, Mueller would write in her final column for the East Village Eye:
“Fortunately I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die. You simply lose your body. You will be the same, except you won’t have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. You will be released from sexual obsessions. You will not have drug addictions. You will not need alcohol. You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease. You will be free.”
La Cage aux Folles actor Rémi Laurent dies of AIDS-related illness in Paris at the age of 32.Learn More.
Alvin Ailey, the African American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Ailey School in New York City, dies of AIDS-related illness.Learn More.
Ailey’s early childhood would be spent in Texas during the Jim Crow era, a time and place that would inspire some of his most iconic choreography. He discovered dance after moving to Los Angeles but didn’t fully commit to the art form at first.
Then, in the mid-1950s, Ailey would join the Lester Horton Dancers, later becoming a choreographer and then director of the company. In 1958, he decided to open his own dance company, establishing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City.
Ailey and a group of young, black modern dancers perform for the first time on March 30, 1958 at New York’s 92nd Street YM-YWHA. In its first years, the Company would travel to booked performances on what Alvin Ailey called “the station wagon tours” in a vehicle driven by a longtime friend of the Company, Mickey Board.
In 1960, he would choreograph his classic masterpiece Revelations, which brings the Company international acclaim.
Over the next 30 years, Ailey would create ballets for many notable companies, including the American Ballet Theatre, Royal Danish Ballet, London Festival Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, and Paris Opera Ballet.
“As common practice at the time, Ailey maintained a closeted persona regarding his sexuality but would utilize his art as an outlet for it,” writes Smithsonian in the website for the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“His choreographed ballets for AAADT exhibited imagery reminiscent with male and female homosexuality such as juxtaposing same-sex partnering with religious and hypermasculine archetypes.”
Although Ailey dated intermittently, he wouldn’t find long-term companionship while trying to conceal his sexuality from much of the world. And when he dies amid the AIDS epidemic, his doctor reports the cause of his death as a rare blood disease.
Among the many posthumous accolades for Ailey, President Barack Obama would award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the highest civilian honor, in recognition of his contributions and commitments to civil rights and dance in America.
“Ailey’s work was groundbreaking in its exploration of the African American experience and the enrichment of the modern dance tradition, including his beloved American masterpiece Revelations,” the award description would state.
The Ailey company continues to perform at the New York City Center and tours cities around the world. Ailey’s masterpiece, Revelations, is currently streaming on the dance company’s website.
Patrick Kelly, the first American designer to be admitted to Paris’ Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, dies at the Hotel Dieu, a hospital near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, at the age of 35.Learn More.
Kelly was part of a generation of Black designers who introduced a new energy and perspective into the fashion industry in the 1980s.
“Patrick’s particular contribution was a quirky, surrealist take on design accented by the subversion of racist imagery as an act of Black empowerment and reclamation,” writes Darnell-Jamal Lisby in i-D.
Celebrated for his designs that incorporated references to pop culture and Black folklore, Kelly moved to Paris after becoming frustrated by the lack of support from the fashion industry in New York. Black supermodel Pat Cleveland recalled how she and Kelly first met through a mutual friend:
“[Kelly] made this banana costume for me because he knew I liked to dance like Josephine Baker. So we went out that night, and I did this hair show in Columbus Circle, and I sang like Josephine Baker in that outfit.”
When Kelly told Cleveland about his struggles with the fashion industry, Cleveland said she told him, “You better go to Paris, because there’s no room for Black boys in New York. They’re not going to give you the break you’re going to get in Paris.”
Once in Paris, Kelly’s popularity quickly grew. With a perspective rooted in his experience as a Black man from the South, Kelly incorporated details into his work, such as mismatched buttons, which his grandmother had employed while mending clothes.
As Kelly’s reputation in Paris rose, his popularity among the Black American media grew, too. Ebony magazine published a feature on Kelly’s journey to success in Paris, and Jet magazine regularly covered him, as they did other notable Black designers in America and internationally.
Kelly also incorpated his racial perspective in many elements of his runway shows. At the start of his shows, he would walk onto the runway and spray-paint a large heart on the stage set.
In the gift bags given to the attendees, Kelly would include a “Love List” of items ranging from his favourite foods, like fried chicken, and music from hip-hop to gospel. He would also give everyone a tiny brown doll with molded black hair.
The designer was always seen in outsize overalls — even if the occasion was formal. He wore a bike messenger’s cap, its brim flipped up to reveal “Paris” embroidered on the underside. Kelly acknowledged most every stereotype attributed to Southern blacks.
“It was Patrick’s way of subtly giving his typically predominantly white audiences a brief education on his design process while simultaneously outlining aspects of various Black experiences in the hope of expanding their purview,” writes Lisby in his tribute to Kelly.
In 1985, the first “Patrick Kelly Paris” commercial collection was featured in a six-page spread in French Elle magazine.
Kelly would make history, becoming the first American admitted to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, France’s prestigious organization of fashion designers. In doing so, he was canonized among the likes of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior.
He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where his epitaph states “Nothing Is Impossible.”
Leland Moss, a theater director known for The AIDS Show, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco at the age of 41.Learn More.
With a group of writers, Moss helped create The AIDS Show, an acclaimed series of songs, monologues and short scenes that he directed in San Francisco in 1984. The production, which was updated with the new title, Unfinished Business, was also presented in other cities. A documentary about the play was made for public television and shown in November 1986.
During his nine years in the Bay Area, Moss worked principally with the Theater Rhinocerous, and was active in the city’s LGBTQ movement. His own play, Quisbies, as well as other works that he directed, explored the effects of AIDS on the gay community.
Moss studied at Harvard University and the London Academy of Music and the Dramatic Arts, and then moved to New York City, where he was a resident director at LaMama and Playwrights Horizons. He was also an advisor to the New York Shakespeare Festival and an assistant director to Andrei Serban in New York. His acting credits included playing five characters in the Broadway production of ”Yentl.”
Bill Sherwood, a promising filmmaker whose career was just taking off, dies from AIDS-related illness in New York City at the age of 37.Learn More.
Sherwood is known for his 1986 film — and his only film — Parting Glances, for which he was Director, Editor and Screenwriter. Made for $310,000, the film is a bittersweet romantic comedy that spans a 24-hour period in the upwardly mobile New York gay community.
With its realistic look at urban gay life in the Ronald Reagan era and at the height of the AIDS crisis, many film critics consider it an important film in the history of gay cinema. It was also one of the first American films to address the AIDS pandemic.
In 2007, as a part of the Outfest Legacy Project, a restored print of Parting Glances received its world premiere at the Director’s Guild of America in Los Angeles. The four major stars of the film, Richard Ganoung, John Bolger, Steve Buscemi and Kathy Kinney, were in attendance and participated in a panel discussion after the viewing. Parting Glances was Buscemi’s feature film debut.
In 2014, the Advocate released its “top 175 essential films of all time for LGBT viewers,” placing Parting Glances at #10.
Pop artist Keith Haring dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31 at his LaGuardia Place apartment in Greenwich Village.Learn More.
Between 1980 and 1989, Haring achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York was held at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981, according to the Keith Haring Foundation.
Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages.
Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images.
Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery, which has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.
Since his death, Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. The work of Keith Haring can be seen today in the exhibitions and collections of major museums around the world.
Stephan W. Burns, an actor known for playing Pete Stancheck in Herbie Goes Bananas and Jack Cleary in the TV miniseries The Thorn Birds, dies in Santa Barbara of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.Learn More.
In 1984, Burns reportedly received an emergency blood transfusion after being seriously injured in a car accident. Various reports contend that the blood was contaminated and infected Burns with HIV.
Burns wanted to be an actor all his life. At an early age, he began staying up late to watch old musicals on television from his small-town home of Chews Landing, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Burns moved to New York to study theater while working odd jobs during to pay for his rent and acting classes.
At 6’3″ tall, handsome and naturally athletic, Burns commanded attention at auditions and eventually was cast in the lead role in the national touring production of the Broadway musical Grease. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles, where he faced much stiffer competition for acting roles. But in 1978, after six months in Hollywood, Burns was offered the title role in the TV special Li’l Abner in Dogpatch Today.
But his breakthrough role would come two years later, with the lead in Herbie Goes Bananas, the fourth in Walt Disney Productions’ Love Bug series. Working alongside veteran actors Vito Scotti, Harvey Korman, Charles Martin Smith, and Cloris Leachman, Burns caught the attention of ABC executives and was cast in the TV drama 240-Robert as a second-season replacement for Mark Harmon.
Pop culture magaine 16, known for introducing hunky entertainers to its young readers, published a profile on Burns as one of “three new and special guys to look out for on your TV screen.” According to the article, Burns was living in Silver Lake with a black and white cat named Svatch and enjoyed riding horses in the Hollywood hills.
Unfortunately, an actors’ strike delayed the start of the season and 240-Robert was cancelled after only three more episodes due to poor ratings. But ABC had Burns in mind for another project – The Thorn Birds, a mini-series based on the 1977 best-selling novel by Colleen McCullough featuring a forbidden love story set in the Australian outback. In the drama’s first three parts, Burns played Jack Cleary, an older brother of the lead character Meggie Cleary. The drama would go on to receive several Emmys and Golden Globe Awards.
In 1984, Burns reportedly received a blood transfusion which was contaminated with the AIDS virus while reeiving emergency medical treatment following a car accident. [It should be noted that, other than on Wikipedia and a 240-Robert fan page, information about the car accident and the source of Burns’ subsequent infection could not be verified.]
Burns would have only a handful of acting roles in 1986 and 1987, before succumbing to AIDS-related illnesses and dying in early 1990. A rock musical he was writing called Terminal Hotel would never be completed.
Halston, one of the most successful fashion entrepeneurs in history, dies of AIDS-related illness at Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco at the age of 57.Learn More.
Born Roy Frowick Halston in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston led a classic heartland childhood playing in soap box derby races, fishing, visiting farms, and the like. He took an interest in sewing from his mother, and from an early age he showed a special interest in making hats.
His family moved in 1952 to Chicago, where Halston enrolled in a night course at the Chicago Art Institute and took a day job as a window dresser. Halston continued to design hats and finally obtained his break when a small story on his fashionable creations appeared in the Chicago Daily News.
It was at this time that he would take his middle name Halston as his professional moniker. His hat sales took off, and in 1959, Halston left Chicago for New York City to work for the famed French milliner Lilly Daché.
Following that Halston accepted a position at the fashionable store Bergdorf Goodman, where he charmed his clients and made a grand name for himself. In 1962 he designed the famous pill box hat worn by Jackie Kennedy at the President’s Inaugural, making the Halston name a household word.
Later that year he was bestowed the Coty’s Fashion Critics Award. In 1966, Halston designed his first ready-to-wear collection for Bergdorf Goodman and continued creating magic with his hat creations. Women’s Wear Daily heralded him as “New York’s Top Milliner.”
He quickly became the toast of fashion society, including Liza Minnelli, Martha Graham, Lauren Bacall, and Elizabeth Taylor among his close circle of friends and clients.
Halston’s career sky-rocketed during the 1970’s and his designs set the standard for American designers. The Halston name became synonymous with classically cut, simple, spare and elegant designs, a phenomenally successful fragrance line Halston by Halston for women X12 and Z14 for men, and the fabric known as “Ultra suede.” Throughout most of the seventies he epitomized the glamour, as well as the decadence of the era, becoming a central figure in the nightlife scene of New York’s Studio 54 disco.
By 1988, the designer had effectively retired and retreated from the limelight — and it wasn’t long after until he was diagnosed with HIV, according to AP News. After learning of his diagnosis, Halston moved to San Francisco to be cared for by his family, where he reportedly spent his last days touring the California coastline in his Rolls Royce car — which Halston asked his family to auction off after his death in order to donate the proceeds to AIDS research.
Despite his tragic death, there’s no doubt that Halston’s legacy still lives on today, with his dazzling life story becoming the focus of many films and biopics, including the Netflix miniseries, Halston.
John “Jack” Winkler, who taught classics at Yale and Stanford, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 46.Learn More.
Winkler’s 1989 book Auctor and Actor — which treats the Latin novel The Golden Ass as a detective story — was named best work of classical scholarship by the American Philological Association. In addition to being a classical scholar, Winkler was also a queer theorist and political activist.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1943, Winkler attended a Jesuit high school, where he first learned Greek. From 1960 to 1963, he studied at St. Louis University, also a Jesuit institution. Upon graduating, he joined the Benedictine religious order, living first at St. Lawrence’s Abbey in Ampleforth, England, and then continuing at the St. Louis priory.
In 1970, Winkler left the Benedictines and decided to pursue a career in classics and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1974. For the next five years, Winkler taught classics at Yale, where he became an advocate for feminist, gay, and minority causes. He helped to found Yale’s women’s studies program, openly supported the university’s Gay Alliance, and co-produced an LGBT-themed radio show called Come Out Tonight.
In 1977, Winkler was the sole faculty member to help organize Yale’s first Gay Rights Week. That same year, he was the only faculty member to join a class-action lawsuit brought by women students against Yale for its tolerance of sexual harassment of students by faculty. Jack left Yale for Stanford in 1979, and continued to be a leading voice for gay students and faculty.
Upon being diagnosed with AIDS in August 1987, he announced a two-year sabbatical. He spent the last years of his life co-editing essay collections, translating fragments from Greek novels, and publishing his most influential work, Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. He donated half of the book’s income to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
He was the author of three books and 19 articles, many of them reinterpreting classical works.
Franklyn Seales, best known for playing the finicky business manager Dexter Stuffins on the sit-com Silver Spoons, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 37.Learn More.
Born on the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent, Seales studied at John Houseman’s Acting Company in New York in the early 1970s. The 1978 PBS drama, ″Trial of the Moke,″ proved to be Seales’ first big break.
Between 1982 and 1986, Seales played business manager Dexter Stuffins on the NBC-TV sitcom Silver Spoons, in which Houseman played a stoic grandfather. His other television appearances included Hill Street Blues and Amen.
Among his motion picture credits are The Onion Field and Southern Comfort. A versatile performer, Seales took on stage roles in productions that ranged from Shakespeare to the theater of the absurd.
A member of L.A. Classic Theatre Works, Seales performed in unconventional productions, such as Conversation at Night With a Despised Character, in which Los Angeles Times critic Lawrence Christon found him “one of America’s most compelling stage actors.”
Dan Turner, author of several plays at Theatre Rhinoceros and other Bay Area theaters, dies in San Francisco of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.Learn More.
Turner was one of the first two patients diagnosed with AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital in 1982. At the time, doctors told him that he had a rare cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Turner was born in 1947 in Bloomington, Illinois, where his father managed the Hotel Rogers. When he was a teenager, his family moved to Cheboygan, Wisconsin, and he began acting in high school drama productions. In college at Fairfield University in Connecticut, he spent a year abroad at Exeter College in England and traveled throughout Europe. After earning his Bachelor’s degree, he volunteered to work in Malawi with the Peace Corps and then in Alabama with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. He was in Alabama when he wrote and produced his early play Cottonmouth.
In the early 1970s, he studied playwriting with Kenneth Cameron at the University of Iowa, writing and producing the play Light Years. He moved to Texas to accept an internship with the Dallas Theater, but quickly found that the program’s leaders didn’t approve of Turner’s openly gay identity and progressive political views.
San Francisco became Turner’s next destination. He joined the productions of both regional and gay theater companies and collectives, and taught a playwriting course at the Eureka Theatre, birthplace of Angels in America. He occasionally traveled to Los Angeles for acting opportunities. A prolific artist, Turner also wrote essays and critical articles for local gay papers, as well as poetry, novels, and short stories. Some of his erotica appeared in gay magazines such as In Touch and Blueboy.
In 1976, Turner contracted hepatitis, and in the same year, he traveled with Tennessee Williams to New Orleans, New York and Cape Cod. Turner became in awe of Williams, who was in failing health and yet woke at 4:00 a.m. every day to write.
“I had been perpetuating (my hepatitis) through this negative mind trip,” Turner later told the Los Angeles Times. “From then on, when my mind said, ‘You can’t do it,’ I’d say, ‘But that’s just your mind.’”
He returned to San Francisco with renewed hope. He wrote and produced three musical plays, two of which (Cinderella II and Comeback) were in collaboration with playwright-novelist Daniel Curzon. He also directed several plays.
In February 1982, Turner was diagnosed wish Kaposi Sarcoma and was one the first patients of Dr. Paul Volberding at San Francisco General Hospital. He befriended AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell and together they laid the groundwork for the organization People with AIDS San Francisco. Both were open about their AIDS diagnosis and began to be sought-after as speakers for community events. In May 1983, Turner and Campbell represented People with AIDS at the second annual AIDS Forum.
Still, Turner continued to be involved in San Francisco theater, and his work began to incorporate his AIDS activism. In 1984, he wrote parts of The AIDS Show at the Theatre Rhinoceros. In 1987, Turner was featured in the televison documentary The Fighting Edge, which addressed how people with AIDS could continue to lead productive lives.
With an eight-year-long illness, Turner was the longest-living known person with AIDS by the time of his death. He outlived his friend Campbell by almost six years.
“He was a shining symbol,” longtime friend Maura Nolan told the Los Angeles Times. “When Dan would walk into the hospital room of some person afflicted with AIDS, it was as if hope walked though the door.”
Demian Acquavella, a dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Brooklyn. He was 32 years old.Learn More.
A popular figure in post-modernist dance in New York, Acquavella was the inspiration for the 1989 work D-Man in the Waters, a celebration of Acquavella’s determination to fight his illness.
Born in Brooklyn, Acquavella moved to California when he was twenty to major in dance at Santa Monica Community College. He trained with Marjorie Mussman, Cindi Green, Ernie Pagnano and Phil Black, and also studied at the Nat Horne Musical Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He danced with Lillo Way, Elisa Monte, Miss Mussmann, the Rush Dance company, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before joining the Jones-Zane troupe.
He became the central figure in Bill T. Jones’ pivotal work when the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra commissioned Jones to choreograph a dance set to the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-Flat Major. By then Acquavella was so sick, he had stopped dancing but he continued to stay close to the dance company.
“At first, Bill was going to call it just Waters,” Acquavella recalled. “But then Bill looked over at me, and changed the title. I will never forget Bill saying I would be in it, even though I could hardly walk.”
D-Man in the Waters had its premiere at the Joyce Theatre on March 14, 1989.
“As he could no longer walk by the time of the debut, I carried Demian onstage, offering my legs as he executed the arm movements of what would have been his solo,” Jones wrote.
After he was too ill to perform, he was known to attend performances and loudly cheer the dancers from his seat.
The work finds new life in the 2020 documentary Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters, directed by Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz.
When codirector LeBlanc was 16, she tells us on-screen in the documentary, she saw D-Man performed. The experience inspired her to become a dancer — and to join Jones’ company.
Now on the dance faculty at Loyola Marymount University in California, LeBlanc chronicles in the film a production of D-Man that she staged with her undergraduate students.
In the documentary, Jones meditates on what the work means now. In 1989, “It was a place to grieve,” he says.
But he believes D-Man is more than “a response to the plague”; it’s an enduring statement about survival and community.
Paul Giovanni — a playwright, actor, director, singer and musician best known for writing the music for the 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man — dies of AIDS-related illness at Cabrini Medical Center in New York. He was 57.Learn More.
Giovanni wrote the music for the The Wicker Man‘s soundtrack, and also wrote the lyrics and performed in the songs “Landlord’s Daughter” and “Gently Johnny. The music was played by a group of six musicians, using a combination of traditional and modern instruments.
The New York Times considered a highlight of Giovanni’s career to be his 1978 Broadway play, The Crucifer of Blood, a Sherlock Holmes drama. He wrote and staged the play, which received a Tony Award nomination for best director. The play would be turned into a movie for TV in 1991, shortly after Giovanni’s death.
But many fans of cult films credit Giovanni with crafting one of the most memorable and haunting musical accompaniments to a film with his soundtrack for The Wicker Man.
“Haunting and warm in both measures, Paul Giovanni’s rustic folk soundtrack for The Wicker Man is the perfect compliment to a dark fairytale,” writes reviewer Laura Thomas. “His enchanting score and its thorough integration within the film’s narrative mean that The Wicker Man oscillates between folk musical and horror.”
He also worked on several films as producer and production manager, according to Turner Classic Movies.
Jim Samuels, winner of the 1982 San Francisco Comedy Competition, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.Learn More.
Born in Oakland, Samuels was a popular comedian and sometime comedy teacher. In the mid-1970, Samuels and then-comedy-partner Marty Cohen were regulars on Merv Griffin’s television show and several other variety programs. In 1977, Samuels performed solo in a comedy skit on the TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and would embark on a solo career officially in the early 1980s.
Dubbed San Francisco’s Dean of Comedy by his friends and competitors, Samuels was also part owner of the Holy City Zoo club, a small but influential comedy club located at 408 Clement Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in San Francisco.
Samuels died at Garden Sullivan Hospital in San Francisco.
Brazilian rock legend and heartthrob Cazuza dies from AIDS-related illness at his parents’ Ipanema home at the age of 32.Learn More.
“Cazuza was forced to navigate his way through the trying social and medical realities of living with AIDS in Brazil during the 1980s,” according to Brazil: Five Centuries of Change by Thomas E. Skidmore.
Prior to the arrival of AIDS in Brazil in 1983, a sexual liberation had taken hold in the country’s major cities. Because the first reported AIDS cases were that of gay men, it would be commonly referred to by Brazilians as a “gay cancer” or “gay plague,” and would cause widespread panic and fear.
“Cazuza would come to embody much of the conversation around (homo)sexuality and AIDS that would consume Brazil in the late 1980s,” Skidmore writes. “Cazuza had relationships with both men and women. He made easy references to kissing girls and having girlfriends, but he neither ascribed to being gay per sé nor denied his interest in men… He would be able to defy the notion that AIDS was purely a gay man’s disease; though he slept with men, he was not necessarily identified, by himself or others, as gay.”
Mixing Bossa Nova music with 1960s British and American rock, he composed and recorded ″Cazuza,″ his first solo album in 1985, a record known for its biting, sarcastic tone and lyrics.
Changing the ways in which HIV/AIDS were discussed and understood in Brazil, Cazuza demonstrated that people with AIDS could continue to be productive. According to author and literary critic Marcelo Secron Bessa, Cazuza had become the “face” of AIDS in Brazil.
Cazuza dies in his sleep in his parents’ home in the beachfront neighborhood of Ipanema.
″Fortunately, he died without pain, sleeping,″ his father, Joao Araujo, director of one of the largest record companies in Brazil, would say on television.
Cazuza’s funeral at Sao Joao Batista Church in Rio’s Botofogo neighborhood would draw hundres of fans.
Flamboyant actor Ethyl Eichelberger, who turned theatrical conventions upside down in their career as a performance artist, playwright and director, committs suicide. Eichelberger was 45 years old.Learn More.
Eichelberger was diagnosed with AIDS and chose to end their life on their own terms. Their body was discovered in their Staten Island home by friends Lola Pashalinski and Linda Chapman.
They wrote more than 30 plays, many of them marked by such Eichelberger trademarks as fire-eating, cartwheels and impromptu accordion concerts.
Eichelberger was born to Amish parents on July 17, 1945, and was named James Roy. After studying theater at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, they attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and worked with Charles Ludlam and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.
It was here where they perfected their flair for comedy and their craftmanship as a wig maker. In 1975, they legally changed their first name to Ethyl.
As their reputation grew, they began making forays into mainstream theater, doubling as the courtesan and the abbess in the Flying Karamazov Brothers production of ”The Comedy of Errors” at Lincoln Center.
Eichelberger played themself in Oliver Stone’s movie, ”The Doors.”
James K. Heady, owner of Male Image barbershop and Image Leather shop, dies of AIDS-related illness at San Francisco’s Hospice By The Bay at the age of 45.Learn More.
With the two businesses that he co-owned with his partner, Gary Mootz, Heady worked long hours but still found time to travel and pursue hobbies, according to the Bay Area Reporter. He and Gary often spent time sailing their boat, “The Crisco Kid,” on San Francisco Bay.
Born and raised in Ohio, Heady joined the U.S. Navy in 1964 and served as the launch director for the USS Independence. After the service, he moved to London and worked as a cab driver, and then returned to the U.S. to study architecture. Heady moved from Phoenix to San Francisco in 1977.
Tom Fogerty, member of Creedence Clearwater Revival and older brother of frontman John Fogerty, dies of AIDS-related illness in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 48.Learn More.
Born November 9, 1941 in Berkeley, California, Fogerty holds a significant place in rock history. As the rhythm guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, he played on plenty of rock classics and had a solo career.
In the four years the band was together, they never had a #1 single in the U.S. However, the band holds the record for the most number of No.2 chart hits without ever having had a No.1. They also had a U.K. #1 hit with Bad Moon Rising.
At some point in the 1980s, after moving to Scottsdale, Arizona, Fogerty underwent surgery for his back and an unscreened blood transfusion caused him to be infected with AIDS virus. The cause of his death was initially reported as tuberculosis.
In the eulogy that John Fogerty made at his brother’s funeral, he said: “We wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock ‘n roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up.”
When Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Tom Fogerty’s widow brought his ashes in an urn.
Ray Stephens, best known for his starring role in the 1980s TV series The Great Space Coaster, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.Learn More.
Stephens became the lead singer of The Village People in 1985, recorded with the group for their album, Sex Over the Phone, and acted in the movie Village People: New York City.
He was an actor, known for in roles in The Runaways (1975) and Cat’s Eye (1985). He is also heard singing the tune Cat’s Eye during the closing credits of the 1985 Stephen King movie.
Stephens reportedly became infected with the HIV virus ‘ death through the intravenous use of drugs.
Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.Learn More.
A film historian whose work was the first to examine the portrayal of LGBT people in film, television, and other media, Russo wrote The Celluloid Closet, the consummate reference book on homosexuality in the U.S. film industry. Russo also was a key voice in the creation of both ACT UP-New York and the influential gay and lesbian media watchdog, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.
Russo’s 1981 book chronicles the history of depictions of gay people in film, and it was made into an award-winning documentary (1995). The book found its origins in movie nights Russo organized in the 1970s, when he combined the things he loved — community and cinema.
At the time, with the Stonewall riots a fresh memory, such gatherings were political acts. Russo would screen a beloved movie and invite friends to watch — and soon the attendance grew to hundreds of gay people who would applaud favorite lines of dialogue and revel in queer subtext. For many, these precursors of LGBTQIA+ film festivals were a first involvement in queer community.
Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet was published just as AIDS began its devastating march into the lives of many in the community. Seeing entire circles of friends die, Russo returned to his activist roots and devoted himself to education, support and making as much noise as possible.
“Vito participated in every significant milestone in the gay liberation movement, from Stonewall to ACT UP,” said Jeffrey Schwarz, director of the documentary Vito (2011). “He was right in the middle of everything, every step of the way.”
Among the many protests he helped stage that made headlines was one in which Russo and a group of activists descended on New York City officials for a mass marriage, complete with cakes topped by figures of same-sex couples — decades before gay marriage became a national issue and, in some states, legal.
In an homage to Russo, GLAAD recently developed the “Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria to analyze how LGBTQ characters are included within a film. To pass the Vito Russo Test, the following must be true:
- The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender;
- That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity, i.e., they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another; and
- The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or set up a punchline. The character should “matter.”
DIVA TV founder and Chicano activist Ray Navarro dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 26.Learn More.
An active member of ACT UP, Navarro famously dressed as Jesus during a protest held on December 10, 1989 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The demonstration called out the Roman Catholic Church’s position on abortion rights, gay rights, and safe sex education.
Already visibly sick, Navarro led protestors in chants (“We’re here to say, we want to go to heaven, too!”) and became the “camp superstar” of the documentary Like a Prayer, which covered the demonstration. Navarro’s activism was also featured in the documentary How to Survive a Plague.
In 1989, Navarro was one of several ACT UP-New York members who founded DIVA TV, a gay and lesbian video activist collective that preserved some of ACT UP’s public displays of civil disobedience. DIVA TV was an acronym for “Damned Interfering Video Activist Television.” Founding members also included Bob Beck, Gregg Bordowitz, Jean Carlomusto, Rob Kurilla, Costa Pappas, George Plagianos, Catherine Saalfield, and Ellen Spiro.
DIVA created three notable video productions:
- Target City Hall, about a March 28, 1989 ACT UP demonstration against New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s inadequate response to the AIDS crisis;
- Pride on the 20th anniversary of the city’s gay and lesbian pride movement; and
- Like A Prayer, five 7-minute perspectives on the ACT UP/WHAM (Women’s Health Action Mobilization) December 10, 1989 demonstration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
In February 1990, Navarro presented an AIDS program at the CineFestival in San Antonio, Texas. Shortly afterward, Navarro lost his vision due to cytomegalovirus retinitis, an AIDS-related complication. Shortly before his death in November 1990, he partnered with artist Zoe Leonard to create Equipped, a series of black-and-white photographs of mobility devices paired with provocative phrases.
Posthumously, Navarro’s art was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and in Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. Navarro’s mother, Patricia, became a member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors HIV/AIDS Committee and speaks publicly about her son’s experiences.
In memory of Ray Navarro and Gerardo Velázquez, Harry Gamboa Jr. wrote the chapter “Light at the End of Tunnel Vision” for the 2018 book Latinx Writing Los Angeles: Nonfiction Dispatches from a Decolonial Rebellion.
Robert Chesley, whose plays were produced by gay theater companies all over the U.S., dies of AIDS-related illness at San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital. He was 47.Learn More.
“There is no one as articulate and passionate about the issues of gay male sexuality as Robert was as a dramatist,” said actor Michael Kearns upon learning of his friend’s death.
Chesley was known for writing the first full-length play about AIDS, Night Sweat (A Romantic Comedy in Two Acts), which was originally produced at New York’s Meridian Gay Theatre Company and received long runs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
He also wrote Jerker, or A Helping Hand (A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in 20 Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty). This play had a reading on Los Angeles’ Pacifica Radio that led to complaints from listeners and a lively censorship debate.
Jerker premiered at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles, and then had an eight-month run in New York.
“Chesley was driven by a fierce dedication to both gay and erotic liberation,” wrote theater historian Noreen C. Barnes.
“There is nothing that I do that is not influenced by [Chelsey’s] audacity,” said actor Michael Kearns.
Dancer and choreographer Antonio Mendes — who performed as principal dancer or guest artist with the Pacific Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Marin Civic Ballet and the National Ballet of Portugal — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.Learn More.
Mendez was also Director of the Redwood Empire Ballet.
Former leading dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, known for his speed, lightness and strong acting ability, Burton Taylor dies of AIDS-related illness in White Plains, New York at the age of 47.Learn More.
Taylor danced such roles as Captain Belaye in John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll and Arthur Saint-Leon in Robert Joffrey’s Pas des Deesses. Taylor made his professional debut with the Eglevsky Ballet in 1959. He joined the American Ballet Theater in 1962 and the Joffrey in 1969, dancing with the company through 1978.
Taylor also wwas a contributing editor of Dance magazine from 1979 to 1983, and wrote several dance articles for The New York Times.
Lou Graydon Sullivan dies at the age of 39, the first transgender man to die of AIDS-related illness.Learn More.
Sullivan was an activist and author known for his work on behalf of trans men. A pioneer of the grassroots female-to-male (FTM) movement, he is largely responsible for the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct, unrelated concepts.
He founded FTM International, and his activism and community work was a significant contributor to the rapid growth of the FTM community during the late 1980s.
Born in 1951 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sullivan was raised in a very religious Catholic family. At age 10, he started keeping a journal, describing his early childhood thoughts of being a boy, confusing adolescence, sexual fantasies of being a gay man, and his involvement in the Milwaukee music scene.
He continued to express confusion about his identity throughout his adolescence, writing at age 15, “I want to look like what I am, but don’t know what someone like me looks like. I mean, when people look at me I want them to think — there’s one of those people … that has their own interpretation of happiness. That’s what I am.”
By 1975, Sullivan identified himself as a “female-to-male transsexual,” and two years later, he moved from Milwaukee to San Francisco in the hopes he could find “more understanding” and access hormones for his transition. He got a job with the Wilson Sporting Good Company, where he was employed as a woman but presented as a man much of the time. In his personal life, Sullivan lived as an out gay man, but he was repeatedly denied gender affirmation surgery because of his sexual orientation. At that time, transgender people were expected to adopt stereotypical heterosexual opposite-sex gender roles. This rejection led Sullivan to start a campaign to remove homosexuality from the list of contraindications for gender affirmation surgery.
In 1979, at the age of 28, Sullivan was finally able to find doctors and therapists who would accept his sexuality. He began taking testosterone and underwent a double mastectomy surgery the following year. He started a new job as an engineering technician so that he could fully embrace his new identity as a man with new co-workers.
Shortly after undergoing genital reconstruction surgery in 1986, Sullivan was diagnosed as HIV positive and told he only had 10 months to live. He wrote, “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.”
In June 2019, Sullivan was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. In August 2019, Sullivan was one of the honorees inducted in the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.
The film Paris is Burning, documenting the Harlem Ballroom scene of the late 1980s, debuts in New York City. The AIDS crisis would come to touch many of the lives seen in the movie.Learn More.
Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning helped shine a light on New York’s ballroom subculture, a vibrant scene where Black and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women competed in competitions involving fashion runways and vogue dancing battles. The contestants often represented various “Houses,” self-organized groups which served as surrogate families for members of a community ostracised from mainstream society.
The documentary — which took Livingston seven years to fund, make and release — was was an immediate hit with critics and fans of independent movies, and since then, it has become a staple of queer cinema. The appeal of the film transcends time in its thematic core of resilience rooted and thriving in a community cast off by society.
“The defiant joy we witness in the ball walkers at so many moments of the film — despite the AIDS pandemic, racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty, homelessness, violence, harassment, addiction, and whatever other hardships they may have been dealing with at any given time — was infectious when the film premiered, and remains so today,” wrote filmmaker Michelle Parkerson on the 30th anniversary of the film’s release.
Yet, almost immediately, the film was met with sharp criticism from some of its subjects, who claimed that the filmmaker and Miramax, the film distributor, made considerable profits while they largely remained in impoverished conditions.
Miramax reported more than $4 million in gross earnings from its U.S. theatrical release — modest for a Hollywood film but representing considerably wealth to Ballroom participants. A legal battle between some of the surviving featured performers and Miramax would ultimately be resolved with a payment of about $55,000, divided among 13 performers based on screen time.
The film also drew criticism from feminist scholar bell hooks, who put forth the idea that Livingston – a middle-class, white, genderqueer lesbian – was an enabler of cultural appropriation.
“Much of the controversy has centered on a perceived appropriation of a Black gay subculture by a privileged white filmmaker,” said Parkerson in her article for The Criterion Collection upon its re-release of the film. “It has also involved the perennial question of who has the right to tell someone else’s story, which, I posit, is the lingering dilemma at the doorstep of any documentary project.”
Upon the 2020 re-release of Paris is Burning, Livingston said in an interview that her perspective as the filmmaker was valid, even though she was not a member of the Ballroom subculture.
“My agenda was to tell a great story while not imposing my view, but that is a struggle,” Livingston told Hyperallergic. “Whenever you tell a story, you have that control. In terms of my race, I felt very welcome. I was honored they trusted me, but as a white Jewish person, I knew that I wasn’t from their world. I tried to be the absolute best listener that I could, and it helped to work with a great editor in Jonathan Oppenheim. We tried to balance what people were saying without imposing our own agendas onto the film.”
Most of the film’s subjects died in the 15 or so years following its theatrical release, due to factors like transphobic violence, poverty, and AIDS. Venus Xtravaganza, who was a sex worker, was murdered in a New York hotel room in 1998. In the TV series Pose, Venus would be the inspiration for character Aphrodite Xtravaganza, created by writer and activist Janet Mock to give Venus “a second life.”
Angie Xtravaganza, the Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, died of AIDS-related illness in 1993, as did Dorian Corey. Pepper Labeija died in 2003 of a heart attack. Willi Ninja, who perfected the art of voguing and trained others in the dance style, died of AIDS-related illness in 2006.
“Existing only in memory, enshrined in celluloid, they are and were stars, but they didn’t get to see the fruits of their culture become mainstream and profitable,” writes Canadian film critic Willow Catelyn Maclay. “Rewatching the movie is a bittersweet experience, because there is deep beauty in the ballroom scene, but the sun always rises and parties always end.”
Howard Ashman, the award-winning lyricist “who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul,” dies at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City at the age of 40.Learn More.
Born in Baltimore in 1950, Ashman would rise to prominence in the musical theater world in 1977, when he became the artistic director of New York City’s WPA Theatre, an off-off-Broadway theater with 99 seats. This is where Ashman’s collaboration with composer Alan Menken began.
Their first musical was Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater in 1979 (which Vonnegut himself approved of). Then in 1982, Ashman went on to conceive, write and direct Little Shop of Horrors, again with music by Alan Menken. The musical, based upon Roger Corman’s 1960s-era horror flick, was immediately successful.
In 1986, Howard wrote and directed the Broadway musical, Smile, which featured music by Marvin Hamlisch. Little appreciated at the time, Smile is now considered a lost gem of musical theater and is performed by high schools and amateur groups around the U.S.
Smile closed after just 48 performances, and Ashman decided to accept an offer from Disney Pictures and moved to Los Angeles.
“Here’s what you need to know about Disney in 1986: it was a total mess,” writes Peter Knegt in his column Queeries. “The 1970s and 1980s are what many refer to the company’s ‘dark period,’ peaking with 1985’s massive financial disaster The Black Cauldron.
Ashman showed up just in time to rescue Disney’s animation department. Of the prospective projects presented to Ashman, one grabbed hold of him right away — an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. He took charge of the project and brought in Alan Menken to help him.
“The animation studio was basically shutting down,” Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, recalled in 2016. “When we did our film, we didn’t even have an animation division over at the lot; they’d been kicked off and in these little cubicles in this run-down place…. It was just unbelievable to think that Walt’s vision was dying.”
It was during production of The Little Mermaid that Howard discovered he was infected with HIV. Despite his illness, he continued to work, giving the story his particular point of view.
In early meetings with Little Mermaid directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker, Ashman made a suggestion that would change cinematic history: What if Sebastian the crab, Ariel’s guardian, was Jamaican?
“Now we can’t imagine hearing ‘Under the Sea’ any other way,” writes Maureen Lee Lenker for Entertainment.
Ashman also steered the animators toward his favorite design option for the sea witch Ursula, one based on drag star Divine.
“And really, to think that an openly gay man inserted a queer icon into the essence of a lead character in a Disney film in the late 1980s is incredibly radical,” writes Peter Knegt. “It would be even today.”
Ashman continued to keep his diagnosis secret, enduring eight-hour days at Disney World doing press. To receive his daily treatments via IV infusion, he had a catheter in his chest. He was expected to go on rides, and was too afraid to tell people that it would be too painful.
Over the next few years, Ashman was pivotal in the renaissance of Disney animated musicals and in the development of The Little Mermaid (Producer and Lyrics), Beauty and the Beast (Executive Producer and Lyrics) and Aladdin (Lyrics), all with music by Alan Menken.
Beauty and the Beast premiered as an unfinished film at the 1991 New York Film Festival, but Ashman wasn’t there to see it and hear the rapturous applause during the closing credits. He had died eight months before its release.
Ashman’s contributions to the revival of classic Disney animated musicals have been acknowledged by many but were perhaps best expressed by his Disney colleagues, who dedicated the film Beauty and the Beast to his memory: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul. He will be forever missed.”
Ashman’s numerous awards include two Oscars, two Golden Globes, four Grammys, a Drama Desk and a London Evening Standard. Ashman won his second Oscar posthumously in 1991, for his work on the title song for Beauty and the Beast, and this became the first Oscar given to someone who had died of AIDS.
In 2001, Disney inducted Ashman into its Legends program, an honor reserved for animators, Imagineers, songwriters, actors, and business leaders who made a significant impact on the Disney legacy.
In 2020, Disney+ released Howard, a documentary about Ashman and his work as an award-winning lyricist. Directed and written by Don Hahn, the film tracks Ashman’s rise from a theater-obsessed kid in Baltimore, to his musical highs and lows, and to his untimely death. His story is told through archival photos, song demos, new interviews with family and friends, and a filmed recording session from Beauty and the Beast.
Kevin Peter Hall, a 7’3″-tall actor known for his TV and film roles as monsters, dies of AIDS-related illness a month short of his 36th birthday.Learn More.
Hall’s enormous stature landed him numerous roles in films and TV as monsters and aliens, most famously as the title role in the 1987 science fiction action film Predator and its 1990 sequel, Predator 2. He is also remembered for playing Harry the Sasquatch in the 1987 film Harry and the Hendersons and in the television series of the same name.
Hall became known in the industry for mastering the technique and art of performing in often-cumbersome masks and costumes.
“When you look at Kevin Peter Hal in that wardrobe, makeup and with that size, and you see him against Arnold [Schwarzenegger] you believe ooh-ooh, Arnie’s in trouble,” Predator co-star Carl Weathers said in The Man Behind the Predator featurette. “He made it work. Kevin Peter Hall really made the thing work.”
When Rick Baker won the 1988 Academy Award for Makeup for his work on Harry and the Hendersons, he thanked Hall for his “brilliant performance.”
In 1990, Hall was reprising his role as Harry for TV when he announced that he had contracted HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion following a car accident. He portrayed Harry for the first sixteen episodes of Harry and the Hendersons before his illness forced him to give up the role.
A monster on the screen, in real life Hall was known as big-hearted and “a sweetheart of a guy.”
Nicholas Dante, who won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award as a co-author of A Chorus Line, died of AIDS in New York City at the age of 49.Learn More.
Dante started his career as a dancer, appearing in the choruses of shows, including Applause, on television shows and in nightclubs. His experiences became one of the prominent stories in A Chorus Line,” which ranks among the top ten longest-running shows in Broadway history.
His own story — about growing up poor in New York City and feeling scorned and lonely because of his homosexuality — was told by Sammy Williams, who won a Tony Award as best supporting actor for his portrayal of the character, Paul.
Dante described his lonely childhood and his illness in a 1991 Jimmy Breslin column.
“I grew up in the Forties, a Puerto Rican kid on 125th and Broadway, and obviously gay,” he told Breslin. “Nobody would hang out with me … I was terrified to go out where anybody could see me.”
Directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett and with music by Marvin Hamlisch, A Chorus Lie was produced by Joseph Papp for the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1975 and then moved to the Shubert Theater, where it had 6,137 performances before closing in April 1990.
By then, three of the show’s five creators had died: Bennett in 1987, lyricist Edward Kleban in 1987, and co-writer James Kirkwood in 1989.
The red ribbon becomes a symbol of compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers.Learn More.
The Visual AIDS Artists Caucus launches the Red Ribbon Project to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers. The red ribbon would become the international symbol of AIDS awareness.
New York artist Patrick O’Connel and other artists band together and started making art in response to AIDS, calling their collective Visual AIDS. The artists, which hold public events and organized gallery shows to raise AIDS awareness, perhaps make their biggest impact with a simple little symbol: the AIDS awareness ribbon.
The idea started with Marc Happel, a costume designer invited to a meeting of the Visual AIDS artist caucus.
After several trips to upstate NY, where he had seen yellow ribbons tied around trees to honor servicement, Marc thought that Visual AIDS could do something similar, to acknowledge the war at home. Marc proposed that the group fold a ribbon and pin it on their lapels; the group decided that the ribbon ought to be red — the color of blood.
A local ribbon supplier donated spools of red grosgrain ribbon, and Visual AIDS began cutting, folding, and pinning. The Visual AIDS Artist Caucus members held what they called “ribbon bees” — like a quilting bee, where a bunch of people gathered to work.
The looped, inverted-V shape came after trying out numerous styles. Visual AIDS would hand-cut, fold, and pin thousands of ribbons, all just to hand out for free, attached to pamphlets.
On Sunday, June 2, Visual AIDS (working with Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS) would launch the Red Ribbon project at the 45th Annual Tony Awards.
The Tonys host, Jeremy Irons, wore the red ribbon, and so did many winners, presenters and guests (Daisey Eagan, Kevin Spacey, Penn and Teller, Tyne Daly, Mercedes Ruehl, Jerry Zaks, Joel Grey, Keith Carradine, and more).
The guests and presenters were asked not to speak directly about what the red ribbon meant. This resulted in media curiosity and the red ribbon became an overnight phenomenon.
Thomas Hannan, co-founder of the first PWA buyers’ club, dies at his Manhattan home of AIDS-related illness. He was 40 years old.Learn More.
In the early 1980s, Hannan was in Europe pursuing a career as an opera singer, but returned to New York City when the AIDS crisis hit. In 1986, he founded the Public Works Administration Health Group with Joseph Sonnabend and Michael Callen.
As the first and largest formally recognised buyers’ club, the PWA Health Group widened access to people with AIDS seeking AIDS therapies not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to Prabook.com.
Hannan also helped to establish the nonprofit Community Research Initiative (CRI, later renamed CRIA, then ACRIA) in New York in 1987, becoming the organization’s administrative director. Frustrated and outraged by the slow pace of government-sponsored and academic HIV/AIDS research, members of CRI created the first-ever activist-led, community-based approach to the study of new treatments for the disease.
One of CRI’s early achievements was a trial that contributed to the approval of inhaled pentamidine for preventing Pneumocystis pneumonia, a common AIDS-related infection. Since then, the organization has contributed to the development of a remarkable 20 medicines that have gone on to receive FDA approval.
More than half of single adults under 45 years old say fear of getting AIDS has caused them to change their sexual behavior, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll.Learn More.
The poll, conducted by telephone with 1,424 randomly selected adults nationwide, also found indications that many people now know someone who is living with AIDS.
Of the respondents who were single and under 45 years of age, 52% said they had changed their sexual behavior as a precaution against HIV and AIDS. Of the behavioral adjustments they had made, respondents most frequently cited using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Of all the people surveyed (including those married and older than 45), 20% reported that they had changed their sexual behavior due to the fear of getting AIDS. The subgroups reporting the highest rates of behavior change are single adults (43%), those aged 18-29 (40%), Blacks (38%), residents of large cities (35%), and Hispanics (32%).
In addition, the survey showed that 21% of respondents either knew “someone who has AIDS” (12%) or knew “someone who has died from AIDS” (17%). In comparison, only 2% said they knew someone with AIDS in the NYT/CBS News’ poll conducted six years before, in 1985.
Many respondents to the 1991 poll — 40% — said they “know a lot” about AIDS, compared with 11% in the 1985 poll. Both polls had an overall margin of sampling error of +/- 3%.
Performer-writer Philip Mills, who performed in drag in San Francisco under the name Doris Fish, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.Learn More.
Co-founder with Miss X and Tippi of the long-lived Sluts-a-Go-Go drag trio, Doris would perform songs and skits based on such cult favorites as The Valley of the Dolls.
Mills would co-write and (as Doris Fish) star in the cult film classic Vegas in Space (1991).
Steven Grossman, the first openly gay music artist to address the concerns and sensibilities of gay life in his work, dies of AIDS-related illness at his San Francisco home at the age of 39.Learn More.
Grossman’s only album, Caravan Tonight (1974), was hailed by Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone as “one of the most auspicious singer/songwriter debuts of the ’70s.”
According to Joseph Dalton of Queer Music Heritage, Caravan Tonight is regarded as a landmark, because it was the first recording for a major label by an openly gay artist whose work addressed gay life. Caravan Tonight was recorded in late 1973 and early 1974, at a time when Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Lou Reed were using androgyny and gender-bending as flamboyant symbols to subvert popular culture.
“Grossman wasn’t interested in pandering to clichés. Instead he offered a painfully honest portrait of a sensitive gay man’s real life,” writes biographer and New York Times writer James Gavin. “Wild promiscuity was the accepted defiant lifestyle, but Grossman’s songs ached with sadness and some disapproval over the frivolity of the new so-called ‘liberation,’ which had made commitment unfashionable.”
“His voice is great and his songs personal and beautiful,” wrote Vito Russo in Gay Magazine. “He is going to be the one to bridge the gap between straight and gay audiences.”
“Grossman’s simple and heartfelt message and persona stood out in sharp contrast to the hypersexual posturings of bigger rock stars of the era,” William Lang said of Caravan Tonight. “Steve isn’t cute about his sexuality like David Bowie; nor does he see sexuality as a spice for an innocent’s view of decadence, as does Alice Cooper; nor does he invent a never-never land to exploit as do the New York Dolls. Steve sings of a gay world that is familiar to most of us.”
Caravan Tonight sold around 15,000 copies — not enough, apparently, for Mercury Records to renew Grossman’s contract.
“If this record appeared today, it would still be relevant, but probably no more successful,” wrote Robert Cochrane in Culture Catch. “Consider this a parable of the poverty attached to the sin of innovation.”
Paul Broussard is beaten and stabbed to death in a gay-bashing attack outside a Houston nightclub. He was 26 years old.Learn More.
In actions indicative of the homophobia-fueled violence in many parts of the country, ten youths drove from the northern Houston suburb of The Woodlands to the heavily gay area of Montrose to “beat up some queers,” in the words of one of the convicted teens.
Paul Broussard, Clay Anderson, and Richard Delaunay were walking home just after 2:00 a.m. when they were approached by Jaime Aguirre, Javier Aguirre, Derrick Attard, Jon Buice, Paul Dillon, Raphael Gonzalez, Gayland Randall, Leandro Ramirez, Brian Spake, and Jeffrey Valentine.
The large group of youths had already spent hours on an alcohol-fueled drive through Montrose, harassing men they presumed to be gay. They identified their targets by asking directions to Heaven, an area gay bar, and threw rocks at men who answered with directions. All but three of them were under 17 years old, and the oldest of them – Brian Spake – was 22.
Upon seeing Broussard, Anderson, and Delaunay, the carloads of men stopped and asked how to get to Heaven. Upon receiving directions, they jumped out of their cars and attacked the three men with a variety of weapons, including steel-toed boots, nail-studded two-by-fours, and a Buck knife wielded by Jon Buice. They also pummelled them with their fists. Anderson and Delaunay managed to flee their attackers, but Broussard became trapped, and immediately he was surrounded and fatally beaten.
Broussard, a young banker and graduate of Texas A&M, suffered abrasions, puncture wounds, a broken rib, bruised testicles, and three stab woulds. As he lay dying, blood poured onto the pavement from a chest wound 17-year-old Buice had inflicted with his knife. That didn’t stop two of his attackers from rifling through his pockets and taking a comb as a souvenir. The attackers returned to their cars and drove off.
Broussard was treated by EMS and then airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he died shortly after. His mother, Nancy Rodriguez, flew into Houston from Atlanta, Georgia, and met with city police as well as with Anderson and Delaunay.
Initially, Houston newspapers did not report Broussard’s murder as a hate crime. As a result, gay activists like Ray Hill organized large public protests, some with Broussard’s mother Nancy participating. The resulting media attention led to a girlfriend of one of the assailants calling the police. All ten were soon arrested.
Hill, who coined the phrase “The Woodlands Ten,” lobbied the prosecutor and District attorney for “meaningful sentences.”
Derrick Attard received probation for agreeing to identify the other nine. Four more also received probation, and Broussard’s mother Nancy – aided by the Houston Crime Victim’s Office – worked with the D.A. to set the terms (which included the order for them to pay for Anderson’s hospital bill and Broussard’s funeral).
Buice confessed to inflicting the stab wound that the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office said caused Broussard’s death, and received a 45-year sentence. Dillon received a 20-year sentence for attempted murder and aggravated attempted murder. The three remaining assailants received sentences of 15-years-and-one-day, for their admitted participation in the beatings. Their sentences were criticized by Broussard’s mother Nancy as being too light.
Over the years, Nancy Rodriguez travelled from her home near Macon, Georgia to Texas to attend more than 20 parole hearings in her efforts to keep her son’s assailants in prison.
Erik Mead, who performed in San Francisco venues under the drag name Tippi, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 39.Learn More.
With drag queens Miss X and Doris Fish, Tippi created the performance group Sluts-a-Go-Go in San Francisco. They would create and perform drag shows for 10 years in Bay Area venues like Club 181.
Tippi would also perform in a featured role in the camp cult film Vegas in Space (1991), written by Philip Mills (who performed in drag as Doris Fish). Favorites of the Castro district drag scene, Doris and Tippi produced a weekly cable news show in 1986 about the gay community.
Mead and Mills were roommates, and Mills would precede Mead in death by two months.
Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson announces that he is HIV-positive.
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer-songwriter for the rock band Queen, dies at the age of 45 of AIDS-related illness at his home in west London one day after he publicly announces he is HIV positive.Learn More.
Regarded by fans and critics alike as a consummate showman, Mercury was openly bisexual and enjoyed a colourful rock-star lifestyle.
Born Frederick Bulsara on the East African island of Zanzibar on September 5, 1946, Mercury studied piano in boarding school in India, then befriended numerous musicians at London’s Ealing College of Art.
Mercury would become famous for being one of the rock world’s most versatile and engaging performers and for his mock operatic masterpiece, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Released in 1975, the six-minute song was nearly never released due to its length and unusual style.
But Mercury insisted to his bandmates and music executives that it be included in their album “A Night at the Opera” and the song would go on to be a worldwide hit and timeless rock anthem.
When members of the music community began to become sick and die from AIDS, Mercury would express fear about becoming infected with HIV, recalls friend Peter Freestone, who believes the singer first suspected he was ill as early as 1987.
For the final two years of his life, Mercury would keep his illness secret from everyone, except those he was closest to, according to his bandmates, and he would live in almost total seclusion.
Only Freddie’s close family and friends were invited to his funeral.
Ten years later, Mercury and Queen would be recognized for their contributions to American music history when they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Paul Martin Heltsley, a writer for Drummer and other leather-related magazines, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco. He was 29 years old.Learn More.
Heltsley, who wrote under the name Paul Martin, was an assistant editor at Drummer magazine and often led workshops at QSM and San Francisco State Unviversity. He was one of the founders of San Francisco Leather Bears and a member of the National Leather Association and the Phoenix Uniform Club.
Heltsley also composed music in a variety of genres, including jazz, punk and electronica. Prior to moving to San Francisco in 1988, he performed in a punk band in Seattle.
“He cared passionately about the physical , psychological and spiritual implications of Leather and SM,” Heltsley’s partner, Roy Cameron, told the Bay Area Reporter.
“As an expression of his deep personal love of the people in his life, and his desire not to have his friends worry about him, Paul remained silent, even to the end, as to the seriousness of his illness,” Camerson said.
A tree was planted in the AIDS Memorial Grove at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as a permanent tribute to Heltsley.
Robert Wiley Kirk — known as “Cirby” in the Bay Area leather community — dies of AIDS-related illness at a hospice in San Francisco. He was 48.Learn More.
Cirby had a notable talent for erotic and leather-themed art, and his work was featured in gay publications and displayed in bars coast-to-coast. His artwork was also included in The Hun Coloring Book, which was bound in leather. He was also a proud leatherman who competed in various competitions.
Cirby was born in Texas in 1943, and after working in Denver as a model and go-go dancer, he moved in the late 1960s to San Francisco, where he took on a number of jobs, including acting, modeling and bartending. He moved to Los Angeles around 1973 and became a bartender at Griff’s. It was in LA where a friend discovered his artistic talent and helped him set up his first art show.
Cirby achieved sobriety in 1984, and worked as the accountant for the St. James Club. In 1990, he returned to San Francisco, where he made a positive and prolific impact on many in the recovery community.
Richard Hunt, a puppeteer known for his work on The Muppet Show, dies of AIDS-related illness at Cabrini Hospice in Manhattan at the age of 40.Learn More.
Hunt, a native of the Bronx, was a member of Jim Henson Productions for more than 20 years, as the performer behind Scooter, Janice, Forgetful Jones, Junior Gorg and many other characters from the popular television programs The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock.
He directed several episodes of these shows, and was a puppeteer in the Henson films The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan and Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3-D, a Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park attraction.
Hunt was known by his co-workers on Sesame Street and other projects for his accomplished singing voice and his warm backstage personality.
He served as a mentor to newer puppeteers, taking new hires to lunch. He was often observed reading a newspaper as he was performing a character and doing that character’s lines.
“When he is not working on camera, he is apt to have Scooter or Beaker or Janice — anyone — on his arm for the purpose of entertaining visitors to the studio. If there are no visitors around, he will attempt to entertain his co-workers,” wrote Christopher Finch in his book Of Muppets and Men.
Among his last productions were The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, Sesame Street’s Sing, Hoot & Howl, and Muppet Sing Alongs: Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs (the last of which was released in 1993, one year after his death). Several episodes of Sesame Street’s 23rd season featuring new Hunt performances aired posthumously as well.
In the period immediately following his death, few of Hunt’s characters (with the notable exceptions of Beaker, Statler, and Sweetums) were recast with new performers. Scooter was retired and absent as a character in all Muppet productions until 1999 with Muppets from Space. On Sesame Street, characters originated by Hunt usually appear only in background cameos.
The Richard Hunt Spirit Award is presented annually at the Sesame Street wrap party to the cast member who best honors the generosity in spirit and dedicated work of Richard Hunt in their actions on set.
Jewelry designer and activist Tina Chow dies of AIDS-related illness in Pacific Palisades, California at the age of 41.Learn More.
Born Bettina Louise Lutz, the supermodel, jewellery designer and fashion collector, was married to restaurateur Michael Chow in 1972 and became known professionally as Tina Chow. In the 1970s, she was featured prominently in advertising campaigns for the Japanese cosmetic line Shiseido.
“Chow broke the mold of being a model with an androgynous look and a distinctly chic fashion sensibility that gave her notoriety,” writes artist Maxwell N. Burnstein in his tribute to her on the Council of Fashion Designers of America website.
Karl Lagerfeld credits Chow as the inventor of minimal chic, and Kate Moss considers her to be her style icon. Recognized as having a profound influence on the styles of her era, Chow was initiated into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1985.
The same year, Helmut Newton took a portrait photograph of Chow and her husband in which their power dynamics are made evident.
“In the photograph, the two are separated, physically, by the counter of a bar,” writes Cynthia Cruz in The Critical Flame. “He standing in dark glasses, holding a glass in his hand, staring at her while she is on the other side, in a long white dress, her eyes made dark with make-up, tied to the bar with rope.”
In the mid-1980s, Chow began to find the non-stop party lifestyle tiresome, and was encouraged by artist Andy Warhol to turn her attention to jewellery design. She incorporated stones and crystals associated with healing properties into bamboo and used traditional Japanese basket weaving techniques to follow the shapes of uncut stones.
“Chow’s pieces of jewelry are unusual, neither delicate or what one might usually consider ‘beautiful,'” writes Cynthia Cruz in her tribute to Chow. “Instead, the pieces are solid, anchored.”
The piece for which Chow is best known is her Kyoto Bracelet, constructed of black bamboo with seven rose quartz pebbles inside.
Around this time, Chow also deepened her commitment to AIDS charity work. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, she explained, “I lost several friends to AIDS, and I felt my life slipping away while I continued to party.”
She also separated from her husband and embarked on a series of affairs, first with a film star who introduced her to Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, and later with the French aristocrat Kim D’Estainvillle.
In 1989, Chow and her husband divorced. Five months later, she learned that she was HIV positive. Chow refused to take any of the medicine her Western doctors recommended. Instead, she opted for a holistic approach, attempting to heal herself with crystals, macrobiotics, teas, and similar somatic modes of healing.
After Chow had made her illness public, she continued to work with AIDS organizations, including Project Angel Food. She ultimately lost her life from complications from AIDS at her home in Pacific Palisades on January 24, 1992.
Considered one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers in America, Isaac Asimov died in Manhattan of AIDS-related illness at the age of 72.Learn More.
The cause of death was initially reported as heart and kidney failure. In 2002, the Asimov family would correct the record to reflect that Asimov died from AIDS-related illness.
A prolific writer, Asinov was best known for writing science fiction attentive to scientific accuracy and logic. He also wrote mysteries, fantasy, and nonfiction.
His most famous work is the Foundation series, the first three books of which won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966. His other major works include the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series. In addition, he also wrote over 380 short stories, including the social science fiction novelette “Nightfall,” which in 1964 was voted the best short science fiction story of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Asimov’s wife, Janet, would make public the details around Asimov’s HIV-positive status in the last 10 years of his life with the posthumous release of his autobiography It’s Been a Good Life.
Asimov suffered a heart attack in 1977, and six years later, he underwent triple bypass surgery at NYU Medical Center, during which he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. His HIV status was kept secret out of concern that the anti-AIDS prejudice prevelant in the 1980s might extend to his family members.
Robert Reed, who played quintessential family man Mike Brady in the popular sitcom The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974, dies of AIDS-related illness in Pasadena, California at the age of 59.Learn More.
In 1969, Reed was cast as quintessential family man Mike Brady on the enduring sitcom The Brady Bunch. With a superficial and somewhat charming view of suburban family life, the TV show became a cultural icon of the 1970s, against all Reed’s expectations.
Reed kept it a secret that he was gay until he died in 1992. Co-star Florence Henderson said she knew about Reed’s sexual identity, as did others on the set, but it was never discussed.
“He was an unhappy person,” Henderson said. “Had Bob not been forced to live this double life, I think it would have dissipated a lot of that anger and frustration.”
Behind the scenes of the TV show, Reed battled with its creator, Sherwood Schwartz, over its content. In a 1983 interview with The Associated Press, Reed said that he and Schwartz “fought over the scripts,” and that he thought Schwartz filled the show with “just gag lines. That would have been what The Brady Bunch would have been if I hadn’t protested.”
Despite his frustration with the sitcom, Reed developed close connections with his fellow cast members: He established a lifelong friendship with Henderson, and served as a surrogate father figure to his TV children, Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen.
Reed first gained a TV following in The Defenders, a 1960s dramatic series on which he played a progressive-minded young lawyer whose father was portrayed by E.G. Marshall. He also had roles in the television series The Lawman and Mannix. Earlier in 1992, he filmed an episode of Jake and the Fatman.
Born John Robert Rietz Jr. in Highland Park, Illinois, Reed spent his childhood in Muskogee, Oklahoma and then studied drama at Northwestern University, playing the leading man in eight campus productions. He married fellow student Marilyn Rosenberger in 1954, and they had a daughter named Karen; the marriage ended in divorce in 1959.
After more acting study in England, where he studied Shakespearean drama, Reed returned to the U.S. in the late 1950s and joined a young group of Shakespearian players, with whom he performed in Off-Broadway productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. He made his Broadway debut in 1964, succeeding Robert Redford as the star of the Neil Simon hit play Barefoot in the Park.
After The Brady Bunch and Mannix, Reed continued to find success with TV projects, most notably the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), Roots (1977) and Scruples (1980). He received Emmy Award nominations for his work on Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. He was also nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Dr. Pat Caddison, a transgender person, in a 1975 two-part episode of Medical Center, a groundbreaking role for the time.
He also appeared in Brady Buch reunion specials and the popular Brady Bunch Variety Hour, even though he truly loathed the show’s often inane scripts. He did it, because he knew that the other performers would suffer financially if he declined to participate.
At the end of his career, Reed taught Shakespearean-style acting at the University of California, Los Angeles, work which brought Reed great joy. It was short lived however, because of his battle with cancer that was complicated by HIV.
In the last year of his life, Reed called Florence Henderson and asked her to “tell the kids.” She agreed, and said making those phone calls was “the hardest thing I ever had to do.”
His death told America something important: If AIDS could take America’s favorite Dad from The Brady Bunch, the disease was everywhere — and could take anyone.
Robert Pruzan, longtime photographer for the Bay Area Reporter who also created photographic art, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Medical Center in San Francisco. He was 45 years old.Learn More.
Pruzman documented the queer history of San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to Gary Aylesworth of the Bay Area Reporter. His work was published in Drummer, Manifest, Sports Illustrated, and the San Francisco Examiner’s Image magazine, as well as in Geoff Mains’ book Urban Aboriginals.
“Although he worked in photojournalism for years, his fine art photography is brilliant and important,” wrote Aylesworth. “There are, perhaps, a quarter of a million slides in his collection.”
Born in 1946 in Seattle, Pruzman studied mime in Paris with Etienne Decroux in the 1960s. As Decroux’s first assistant, he taught mime to many who would become notable performers, like Bill Irwin , Geoff Hoyle, and Leonard Pitt. He returned to the U.S. and taught mime in New York City.
Pruzman took an interest in floral arranging after taking a class in Japanese ikebana, and in 1973, he moved to San Francisco, where he began working as a horticulturist and photographer. Advancing his parallel interests, he became a member of the California Horticultural Society and photographed the first Haight Street Fair in May 1978. He also photographed the Castro Street Fair, early Pride Parades, and the Folsom and Up Your Alley Fairs through 1991.
In addition to documenting San Francisco’s gay and leather communities, Pruzman regularly photographed opera stars like Pavorotti and drag artists like Divine. Harvey Milk, Wavy Gravy, Nancy Pelosi, Jane Dornacker, Robert Mapplethorpe — all were captured by Purzman’s camera.
Friends told the Bay Area Reporter that Pruzman’s apartment was filled with exotic plants. He curated many gardens throughout the Bay Area, and longtime friend Nancy McNally said Pruzman inspired her to create the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, which would open about a month after Pruzman’s death with a memorial service and planting in his honor.
Concert entertainer and songwriter Peter Allen dies of AIDS-related illness in San Diego at the age of 48.Learn More.
Allen drew audiences in the thousands to his shows at Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and Central Park. Energetic, charismatic and often flamboyant, he once rode onstage on a camel, another time on an elephant.
Starting his career in show business as a child, Allen sang in school shows and neighborhood pubs in his native Tenterfield, Australia, with the encouragement of his mother. After his father committed suicide, he dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help to support his family. To increase his pay as a teenage entertainer, he learned to dance and play piano, and wrote original songs.
He got his break in 1964 when Garland saw him perform in Hong Kong and hired him to be her opening act. He met and then married Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli in 1967. Over the next few years, Minnelli’s movie career took off like a rocket while Allen remained a relatively unknown performer, except on the New York cabaret circuit. After Garland died in 1970, Allen’s marriage to Minnelli deteriorated and they divorced in 1974.
Over the years, he recorded 11 albums and performed live in venues ranging from cabarets and bath houses to Broadway theaters and concert halls. He once gave a special performance for Queen Elizabeth II, and he won an Oscar for writing the theme music to the 1981 film Arthur.
This song, which included a line about being “caught between the moon and New York City,” became a No. 1 hit. He also wrote for other films, including All That Jazz.
Allen never made a public announcement that he had HIV, fearing audiences wouldn’t want to see a performer who was sick. He may also have feared alienating conservative, heterosexual fans: Allen didn’t pretend to be straight after divorcing Minnelli, but he never publicly came out as gay either.
Even many of his friends didn’t know he was sick until January 1992, when he began chemotherapy and radiation treatment for AIDS-related throat cancer.
Allen’s last performance was on January 26, 1992 in Sydney, Australia, where he performed to packed houses. He died less than five month later.
In 1995, music journalist and film writer Stephen MacLean directed The Boy from Oz, an Australian TV documentary on Peter Allen. MacLean’s similarly titled book was published the following year and became the inspiration for a stage musical written by Nick Enright.
With Enright’s book adapted by Martin Sherman, and a revision of the musical content, The Boy from Oz premiered at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway with Hugh Jackman giving a Tony-winning performance as Allen. The show opened in October 2003 and played for a year. A Japanese version followed in June 2005. The Boy from Oz was revamped yet again for an enormously successful Australian arena production with Hugh Jackman in 2006.
Roger James Thompson, who was among the first in San Francisco to be diagnosed with AIDS, dies of AIDS-related illness at Kaiser French Hospital. He was 44 years old.Learn More.
Thompson was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma in 1982, and battled AIDS for ten years. He owned a carpentry business which was known for “exquisite craftmanship,” according to the Bay Area Reporter.
Born in 1948 in Santa Monica, Thompson grew up in Los Angeles’ West Side and attended college at the University of Southern California. He continued his education at Cambridge University as a Fulbright Scholar.
After returning to the U.S., the City of Los Angeles hired him to work in the Department of City Planning. He relocated to New York City and then again to San Fransisco, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Thompson became active in civic affairs, bringing to the public forum his background in architecture and city planning. He worked as a dresser for the San Francisco Opera House, which helped satisfy his appetite for opera. He also was a member of the City Bears Club.
Juan Suárez Botas, illustrator, graphic designer and film maker, dies of AIDS-related illness at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City at the age of 34.Learn More.
Botas’ illustrations appeared on the covers of Time, Fortune, U.S. News & World Report and other magazines. His drawings appeared in The New York Times, Vogue and other publications.
Botas moved to the U.S. from Spain in 1977. At the time of his death, he was directing a documentary about his AIDS treatment group at the time of his death, which was released as One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave: Secrets from the Dolly Madison Room.
A friend of film director Jonathan Demme, Botas was a major influence on Demme’s decision to make the film Philadelphia.
Coulter “Colt” Thomas, winner of numerous leather comptetions, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco at the age of 33.Learn More.
After winning the title of Mr. International Leather at the age of 23, Thomas spent the following year travelling extensively to cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe for promotional appearances, and managed to still maintain above-average grades at the University of Texas, where he was attending medical school.
Upon graduation, Thomas and his partner, Charley Smith, moved to Detroit for his residency in radiology, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
In 1986, Smith was diagnosed with AIDS and broke off the relationship with Thomas, which devastated him. He remained in his residency for another year and then, upon being diagnosed as HIV+, relocated from Detroit to San Francisco. While in San Francisco, Thomas worked for a video producer for gay events as a contractor’s assistant and occasionally made appearances as Mr. Leather at fundraising events.
Allen R. Schindler, a gay man awaiting discharge from the Navy, is followed to a park near his base in Sasebo, Japan and brutally killed. He was 22 years old.Learn More.
One night in September 1992, a little more than a month before, Schindler was serving as radioman aboard the USS Belleau Wood while en route from San Diego to Japan. As a prank, Schindler broadcast an unauthorized message, “2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8” (“too cute to be straight”), which led to a disciplinary hearing.
When he appeared at captain’s mast for the unauthorized radio message, Schindler requested that the hearing be closed. But the captain held an open hearing, with 200-300 people in attendance. Schindler was put on restrictive leave and was unable to leave the ship.
In the month that ensued, Schindler was subjected to anti-gay harassment, according to several of his friends. He was often shoved as he walked the ship’s halls and threatened with comments like “there’s a faggot on this ship and he should die.” Deciding he could no longer survive the homophobic climate aboard the ship, he told his commanding officer that he was gay, knowing that his disclosure would lead to a discharge. Schindler immediately felt a sense of relief: “If you can’t be yourself, then who are you?” he wrote in his diary.
By late October, the Belleau Wood was docked in Japan and Schindler’s confinement had ended. To escape the hostility of his shipmates, he went off-base, where he met a group of gay American entertainers, including dancer Eric Underwood, whom he told about the harassment.
The night of Oct. 27, Schindler was followed into a park bathroom shortly before midnight by two drunken shipmates. Airman Charles Vins watched and occasionally joined in while the other, Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, kneed Schindler in the groin, struck him in the face and then, cradling his head in the crook of his arm, punched him repeatedly.
Once Schindler was on the floor, Helvey began stomping on him with the heel of his boot, causing, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy, in abrasions, contusions and lacerations of the forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver, and penis. As the assailants fled, witnesses arriving on the scene summoned the Shore Patrol, and medics tried to revive Schindler without success.
Helvey and Vins were identified by witnesses and arrested the next morning. As Helvey was being led away, he told a shipmate, “The bastard deserved it.” Vins received a quick court-martial and was sentenced to just four months in exchange for testimony against Helvey.
The incident received little press coverage until Underwood organized a letter-writing campaign to several media outlets, exposing the anti-gay harassment Schindler had faced, according to the Bay Area Reporter. The military newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes printed Underwood’s letter, and a reporter from the paper investigated the story.
In April 1993, just six months after her son’s death, Dorothy Hajdys would be invited by the Human Rights Campaign to speak at a candlelight vigil in honor of her son in Washington, DC. She would tell Wisconsin’s In Step magazine that she hoped President Bill Cllnton would follow through on his proposal to end the ban on gays in the mllltary.
“It’s too late for Allen. But maybe this will save someone else’s life,” she said.
Hajdys, a fundamentalist Christian who initially had trouble accepting that her son was gay, became an unlikely activist for LGBT civil rights.
“If you would have told me I would have been at the March on Washington standing before a million people and being seen all over the world, I would have told you you were nuts,” she later told Esquire magazine.
On May 27, 1993, Helvey’s trial would end with a conviction of murder and a sentence of life imprisonment. At his sentencing, Helvey would cry and apologize to Schindler’s mother, and insist he did not kill her son because he was homosexual. This apology reduced his punishment from death to life, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The apology contrasted sharply with earlier testimony by Navy investigator Kennon F. Privette. He told the jury how Helvey admitted to brutally beating Schindler during interrogation the day after the murder.
“He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them,” said Privette. He quoted Helvey as saying: “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again.”
During his trial, Helvey offered no explanation for why he killed Schindler, nor did he disclose any details of what led up to the killing except to say that he and two other sailors from the Belleau Wood had purchased two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park.
Helvey said he had met Schindler before but did not explain how he knew his shipmate was a homosexual.
In August 1997, Lifetime would broadcast Any Mother’s Son, a movie based on the story of Allen Schindler’s murder. The movie would win the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Made for TV Movie, and Bonnie Bedelia would be nominated for a CableACE Award for her portrayal of Dorothy Hajdys.
Ricky Ray, the eldest of three hemophiliac brothers barred from school in Florida because they carried the AIDS virus, dies at the age of 15 at his home in Orlando.Learn More.
Ricky and and his two younger brothers, Robert and Randy, sparked a national conversation on AIDS in 1987, after their court battle to attend school led to boycotts by local residents and the torching of their home in Arcadia, Florida.
Last month, President-elect Clinton had telephoned the boy to offer his support. Bedridden with AIDS, Rick let it be known that he wanted to talk to then-President-elect Bill Clinton about the deadly disease.
When Ricky was handed the telephone in his room at All Children’s Hospital, Clinton was on the other end.
“Ricky told him, ‘I hope you do everything you said you would to make a difference,'” said Ricky’s mother, Louise. “He said that Clinton told him that he was going to do everything in his power to make things better.”
John Dorr, video artist and founder of EZTV, one of the nation’s first centers devoted to the production and exhibition of video, dies in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.Learn More.
From his two-story, cluttered loft in West Hollywood, Dorr fashioned a self-contained studio with room for filming, editing and exhibiting. He was known to boast that prospective filmmakers just needed enough money for videotape and groceries for their casts.
Dorr became a pioneer in the production of full-length dramatic videos, providing a new opportunity for independent filmmakers to produce inexpensive feature-length movies on video.
Since opening his gallery in 1980, he had a hand in the production of more than 100 video films, among them the Lannen Literary Series, hourlong programs on major poets and writers, and Dorothy and Alan at Norma Place, a film recounting the Hollywood career of the writer Dorothy Parker.
Dorr was a graduate of Yale University and president of the the school’s film society. While at Yale, he provided exhibits of the films of Howard Hawks, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. After becoming a teaching assistant at UCLA, he hit upon the idea for EZTV when he found many young documentary makers using video to make inexpensive films but there was no place to show their their work.
EZTV Founder John Dorr’s openly gay status in the late ’70s and early ’80s was rare, because such a disclosure could quickly end a Hollywood career. Many of EZTV’s earliest participants from AIDS-related illnesses, including Benedict Falvo, Earl Miller, James “Dillinger” Baker, Mark Addy, Wallace Potts, and Victor Davis.
According to the EZTV Online Museum, EZTV served the West Hollywood community during the height of the AIDS pandemic as a place where the friends of those who had died of AIDS could hold memorial services and gatherings in their honor. For several years, it was common for a Saturday afternoon at EZTV to be dedicated to the remembrance of someone who could not afford a service any other way.
After Dorr’s death, EZTV somehow persevered amid seemingly impossible odds. As Michael Kearns (Hollywood’s first openly gay actor) stated, EZTV became an “AIDS survivor.” Now housed at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, EZTV continues to be a pioneer in the media arts.
World-renowned ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 54.Learn More.
Nureyev is born in 1938 aboard the Trans-Siberian express, near Lake Baikal. He spends his childhood and youth in Ufa, capital of the Soviet Republic of Bashkir. His parents are Tartar Muslims.
In 1961, Rudolf Nureyev dances with the Kirov Ballet, which is on tour in Paris. His first appearance on stage is at the Palais Garnier, in Act III from La Bayadère. Days later, he demands political asylum at Le Bourget airport and refuses to board an airplane to the USSR. He joins the Ballets du Marquis de Cuevas the next day.
He becomes internationally famous as a flamboyant performer and a charismatic celebrity who revived the prominence of male ballet roles and significantly widened the audience for ballet.
In 1973 he codirects (with Robert Helpmann) and stars in a filmed version of Don Quixote, and he has acting roles in the films Valentino (1977) and Exposed (1983).
From 1983 to 1989, Nureyev would be artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, the oldest ballet company in the world. He would be diagnosed with HIV in 1984, his second year at the POB.
He continues to choreograph for the American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet even as his health declines from AIDS-related complications.
Nureyev enters the hospital Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours in Levallois-Perret on November 20, 1992 and remained there until his death. His funeral was held in the marble foyer of the Paris Garnier Opera House.
Frank Banks, beloved entertainer at the Mint piano bar on Market Street in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 46.
Gerald “Jerry” Vallaire, vice president of the South of Market Individuals Lifestyles Events, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 41.Learn More.
When Vallaire was diagnosed in 1989 with AIDS, he closed his successful florist business, and dedicated his time to raising funds for AIDS service programs, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
As part of Up Your Alley Productions, Vallaire helped to produce benefits such as the Ringold Alley Fair, Let’s Go Navy, The Charity Bowl, The Military Ball and Art for AIDS. His involvement in the benefits led to thousands of dollars for AIDS causes.
Born in 1951 in New Orleans, Vallaire was born to a family trade of operating wholesale and retail floral businesses. But he was interested in the performance arts, and moved to New York City to pursue dance and theater. There, he performed in productions with Richard Chamberlain, George Maharis, Margaret Hamilton, Ann Miller and George Chakaris.
But when his stage career failed to take off, he moved to San Francisco and opened a florist business, , Styles and Stamens. But when Vallaire began getting involved in fundraising events, his performance background came in handy and he acted as choreographer of many dance productions created for the events.
Tennis star Arthur Ashe dies of complications from AIDS at the age of 49. Ashe’s body is laid in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects to the ground-breaking athlete and social activist.Learn More.
Ashe is celebrated for being the first (and only) African American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon singles titles.
Attending UCLA on a full scholarship in 1965, Ashe wins the individual NCAA tennis championship and helps UCLA win the team championship. He then serves in the U.S. Army for two years.
Ashe begins his career in earnest in 1968, winning the U.S. Open while still an amateur player. He becomes the first black man to win a Grand Slam event.
He becomes a trailblazer in the world of tennis, winning multiple Grand Slam titles in his career. He also becomes known for his commitment to charitable causes and humanitarian work. He establishes tennis programs for inner-city children and campaigns against apartheid in South Africa. He retires from tennis in 1980 after suffering a heart attack.
In 1988, Ashe begins experiencing paralysis in his right arm. After undergoing exploratory brain surgery and a battery of tests, doctors determine he has toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that is commonly found in people infected with HIV. Another set of tests reveals he is HIV positive.
Doctors believe Arthur Ashe contracted HIV from blood transfusions during his second heart surgery. Despite that, Ashe and his wife try to keep his HIV diagnosis private. After a friend that worked at USA Today calls Ashe about his condition, he decides to go public.
Two months before his death, he founds the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery to urban minority populations. He also dedicates time in his last few months to writing “Days of Grace,” his memoir that he finishes only days before his death.
Arthur Ashe dies of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York at the age of 49. His body was laid in state at the Governor’s Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, VA. More than 5,000 people line up to walk past the casket.
His funeral is attended by nearly 6,000 people including NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and Rainbow Coalition chairman Jesse Jackson. Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor who had performed Arthur’s marriage ceremony, delivers the eulogy.
On what would have been Arthur’s 53rd birthday, July 10, 1996, a statue of him was dedicated on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Before this, Monument Avenue had commemorated Confederate war heroes; in fact, as a child Arthur would not even have been able to visit Monument Avenue because of the color of his skin.
Arthur is depicted carrying books in one hand and a tennis racket in the other, symbolizing his love of knowledge and tennis.
In 1997, the USTA announced that the new center stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center would be named Arthur Ashe Stadium, commemorating the life of the first U.S. Open men’s champion in the place where all future U.S. Open champions will be determined.
Richard “Rick” Redewill, owner of the Lone Star Saloon, Cocktails Bar and the PIT, dies of AIDS-related illness at Kaiser French Campus in San Francisco. He was 40 years old.Learn More.
In the summer of 1989, Redewill opened the Lone Star Saloon on the corner of Howard and 7th, serving just beer and wine at first because he didn’t have a liquor license. Redewill sought to foster an atmosphere in the bar that appealed to the neighborhood’s working class men who felt more at home in the city’s South of Market area, than in the Castro.
In October of that year, the bar was rendered structurally unsafe after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. Only six months old, the Lone Star had to be demolished. Redewill relocated the bar to 1354 Harrison Street, where it remains today. The new space appealed to the biker crowd that previously made The Ambush — a leather bar across the street that closed in 1987 — their headquarters. And members of the Bear community also were attracted to the bar, making the Lone Star famous as a “Bear Bar.”
“Bar owners such as Rick Redewill were seen as community leaders,” wrote Ron Suresha in his post “Rainbow MC and the old Lone Star.” “During that time – following the closure of all gay SF baths – the Lone Star functioned as a kind of Bear community center that attracted a wealth of creative gay men’s culture: visual arts, writing, music, sex, even sports. The fact that it served as a nexus for such a plethora of culture at perhaps the height of the onslaught of AIDS deaths is a matter of wonder.”
“Bonsai Pete” Vafiades, who Redewill hired to bartend at the Lone Star, told Suresha:
“Bar life in the City (and elsewhere) was important in the way that gay men form community – which is not so much the case in gay life today – and the earthquake was the adversity out of which this first Bear community was forged.”
Anthony Sabatino, an Emmy-award-winning art director who regularly produced the Soul Train Music Awards, dies of AIDS-related illness at his Los Angeles home at the age of 48.Learn More.
Sabatino became art director of the televised dance show Soul Train in 1971 and produced its awards show for seven years. He also designed other awards shows, including the Golden Globes and the People’s Choice Awards.
Born in Galveston and educated at the University of Houston and Brandeis University, Sabatino also worked on films (Richard Pryor’s Here and Now and Walk on the Wild Side), game shows (Truth or Consequences), television specials (for Bing Crosby, Liberace and George Burns), and talk shows (for Pat Sajak and Joan Rivers).
Nominated eight times for an Emmy, Sabatino won in 1988-89 for Fun House, a children’s game show that aired from 1988 to 1991.
Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, the first installment of Tony Kushner’s two-play epic that uses AIDS as a metaphor for a national spiritual decline in the 1980s, wins four Tony Awards, including best play, best director of a play, and best leading actor and featured actor in a play.Learn More.
Roy London, a Hollywood acting coach who guided many to stardom, dies of AIDs-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 50.Learn More.
London was the premier acting teacher in Hollywood. With his profound influence over those who would become famous for their skill in the dramatic arts, he is credited with having a great impact on contemporary acting in films. Many who needed to prepare for demanding roles sought him out, and he was also known for helping develop and shape film projects.
London was an original member and a resident playwright of Circle Repertory Company in Greenwich Village, according to Variety. In the late 1980s, London debuted as a television director with episodes of Showtime’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. He also directed episodes of Shandling’s HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show, for which he received a Cable Ace Award nomination. In 1992, London’s first feature film as a director, Diary of a Hitman, was released, starring Forest Whitaker, Sherilyn Fenn, Sharon Stone and Lois Chiles.
His knowledge of writing, combined with his experience of having acted in over 150 roles on Broadway, Off-Broadway, The Royal Shakespeare Company, feature films and television, led him to discover how to help actors reveal material in dynamic ways that led to exciting performances. London’s classes began in his living room, and spread by word of mouth. In 1984 he moved to his own studio, but he never put a sign on the door, listed the phone number, advertised the classes nor publicized his teaching. His students have thanked him on the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and more.
A documentary about his work, Special Thanks to Roy London, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. It features interviews with over 50 of his students and friends, including Sharon Stone, Sherilyn Fenn, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Swayze, Patricia Arquette, Hank Azaria, Geena Davis, Famke Janssen, Garry Shandling, Lanford Wilson, Lois Chiles, Elizabeth Berkley, Drew Carey, and Janel Moloney.
Garry Shandling, Sharon Stone’s long-time friend and fellow student of Roy London’s, presented her with the inaugural Roy London Award in 2007 for her tireless efforts and steadfast commitment to the fight against AIDS.
Emile Ardolino, who won an Oscar for the dance documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ and directed the hit movies Dirty Dancing and Sister Act, dies at his Bel Air home of AIDS-related illness at the age of 50.Learn More.
Ardolino gained prominence in the mid-1970s as a producer and director of dance programming on television. In the late ’80s, he made a splash in Hollywood with Dirty Dancing, followed by the hits Three Men and a Little Lady and Sister Act.
Born in New York City, Ardolino performed in several theater productions at New York’s Queens College, and portrayed the character “Boy” in a touring version of The Fantasticks.
Ardolino’s awards mounted through his efforts for the Dance in America series for PBS. He won his first Emmy for directing Choreography by Balanchine IV in the 1978-79 season and a Directors Guild of America award for The Spellbound Child in the 1980-81 season.
Jacques d’Amboise, a principal dancer with New York’s City Ballet, invited him to direct He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’, detailing the dancer’s work with children. The film won Ardolino not only the Oscar but two more Emmys and a Peabody award.
Ardolino also had a long-term relationship with producer Joseph Papp and translated to television such New York Shakespeare Festival works as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Dance and the Railroad.
His first feature film, 1987’s Dirty Dancing, was a huge box-office success, grossing more than $50 million in its initial U.S. release.
“I do love dance,” Ardolino said in a 1987 interview with The New York Times. “I do love music. It was a script in which the dance was used to move the plot along, to reveal character, and the story didn’t stop; in addition to which, I saw a subtext of body language throughout. So I related to all that immediately.”
Rocker Ray Gillen dies from AIDS-related illness in New York at the age of 34.Learn More.
Gillen was best known as the lead singer for Badlands, which was notable for its 1989 self-titled record and 1991’s Voodoo’s Highway. Gillen also performed with Black Sabbath in the mid-1980s and recorded most of the vocals on Phenomena’s Dream Runner album.
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Gillen was still a teenager when he began playing the New Jersey club circuit with various bands, including Quest (1978–80), F-66 (1980–81), Savage, and, most notably, Vendetta and Harlette.
“They were quite good, really, performing a small set of original material sandwiched in between credible renditions of numbers by bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and the like,” said Gillen’s friend Marc Fevre. “But it wasn’t really until 1985, when he joined former Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli’s outfit, ‘Rondinelli,’ that Ray’s career began to take real shape.”
In 1986, Black Sabbath started touring for the Seventh Star album when after only a few shows, singer Glenn Hughes got into a fist-fight and lost his voice due to the related sinus and throat injuries. Gillen stepped in and finished the tour, and then contributed to Black Sabbath’s next album The Eternal Idol. However, Gillen and drummer Eric Singer quit before the album was released.
In 1988, Gillen formed Badlands with Jake E. Lee and Eric Singer and toured until 1992. He first showed HIV symptoms around 1990, when his bandmates began to notice his weight loss.
Lee said he was unaware of Gillen’s diagnosis until a meeting with then-Badlands manager Paul O’Neill, who threatened to tell Atlantic Records about his illness if they fired him. Gillen reportedly said to Lee, “Well, it’s not true, so … fire him.”
“So we did fire him. And he did tell Atlantic Records that,” Lee recounted. “And we got kind of screwed on the second record because of it.”
In 1993, publisher of Metalhammer magazine Wilfried F. Rimensberger invited Gillen to Munich perform in a rock festival that would launch a series of concerts across Europe in 1994. But Gillen would bow out when it became clear that he was too ill to perform. He was hospitalized and died soon after.
In February of 1994, vocalist Glenn Hughes organized a memorial concert in tribute to Gillen with performances by a number of rock luminaries, including singer Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, former Mariah Carey guitarist Paul Pescoe, and Hughes’ own band, Trapeze.
John W. Rowberry, whose career as a writer, editor and critic in gay publishing spanned 20 years, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home near San Diego. He was 45 years old.Learn More.
Rowberry was committed to fighting censorship and championing LGBT rights, according to the Bay Area Reporter. He coined the term “gay porn,” to boldly distinguish erotic gay magazines from the closeted term used at the time, “all male.”
Known for his strong creative touch at gay magazines such as Drummer and The Alternate, Rowberry encouraged writers to break new ground in their prose.
On a trip to Texas in 1969, Rowberry met artist Charles R. Musgrave and the two would remain together until Musgrave’s death in 1987 from AIDS-related illness. Rowberry and Musgrave moved from Houston to West Hollywood in 1972, where Rowberry worked for The Advocate and then became editor of Entertainment West.
In 1975, they moved to San Francisco, and Rowberry became editor of Drummer and launched The Alternate. In 1985, he left Alternate Publications to publish special interest magazines targetted at the gay community. After Musgrave died in 1987, Rowberry moved to San Diego and then Las Vegas. He returned to San Diego when his health began to decline.
The film Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer with AIDS, opens in theaters. Based on a true story, it is the first major Hollywood film on AIDS.Learn More.
Filmed on location, Philadelphia included in its cast about 50 people living with AIDS, most of them clients of the Action Wellness healthcare center.
Earning $200 million at the box office and several Oscar nods,Jonathan Demme’s courtroom drama was a catalyst for conversations, acceptance and other film projects that might never been produced.
AIDS movement pioneer Michael Callen dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 38.Learn More.
Callen was diagnosed early in the epidemic — 1982 — and he responded by becoming involved in every way he could in promoting the self-empowerment of People With AIDS. In fact, Callen is credited with coining the term “People With AIDS,” and insisted on this term instead of the passive and negative-sounding phrase “AIDS victim” commonly used at the time.
Callen was born in Rising Sun, Indiana and raised in Hamilton, Ohio. He graduated in 1977 from Boston University, which he attended on a music scholarship, and then moved to New York, where he sang in cabarets and with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.
He grew into political advocacy after receiving a diagnosis of AIDS in 1982. He became an early proponent of safer-sex practices, writing How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach with Richard Berkowitz, Dr. Joseph A. Sonnabend, and Richard Dworkin in 1983.
Among the very first publications to recommend the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs in men having sex with men, the pamphlet was distributed at gay social establishments throughout New York City — 5,000 copies in its first run.
That same year, Callen was a plaintiff in the nation’s first AIDS discrimination lawsuit, when Dr. Sonnabend, his physician, successfully fought eviction from a Greenwich Village co-op for treating people with AIDS. Also in 1983, Callen was a founding board member of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in Greenwich Village.
On August 1, 1983, Callen was one of three PWAs who testified before a Congressional subcommittee examining the U.S. government’s response to the AIDS crisis. In his statement before Congress, Callen described how he began to feel ill in 1981 and then was diagnosed in the summer of 1982 after being hospitalized with cryptospordiosis.
“It is very difficult when you pick up newspapers or turn on the television, and you hear that no one has fully recovered from this syndrome, and that 80% of those diagnosed with the syndrome are dead after two years,” he said.
A talented writer, Callen became the first editor of the PWA Coalition Newsline and edited the two-volume set Surviving and Thriving with AIDS, published by the Persons With AIDS Coalition in 1988. From 1988-1989, he was editor of AIDS Forum, and his book, Surviving AIDS, published by Harper/Collins in 1990, received honorable mention from the American Medical Writers Association.
Callen wrote extensively on the subject of the politics of sexuality, his essays regularly appearing in magazines, journals, books, and newspapers, including the Village Voice, The New York Native, and Outweek. He was among the first to give AIDS a human face, by making courageous appearances on TV shows such as Nightline, Good Morning America and 20/20. He also appeared on the talk shows Phil Donahue and Geraldo.
Callen moved from New York to West Hollywood to keep up with his busy TV and film schedule. He can be seen in several films and documentaries, including Philadelphia, Zero Patience, and the HBO documentary Why Am I Gay?
Throughout the years of his illness, Callen had a devoted and caring partner in Richard Dworkin, whom he met in June 1982, when Dworkin answered his classified ad seeking gay musicians.
“I called and Michael answered and said, ‘I happen to be getting together with a bass player tonight, do you want to come over?’ So I said OK and went to his house on Jones Street, and there was the bass player, and Michael had made sorbet,” Dworkin told Tim Murphy of The Body. “And we fell in love that night, and I stayed over. He had a piano and books, and to me that was a draw. He moved in with me in the fall of ’82.”
“Michael accomplished so much in the 11 years between his diagnosis and his demise,” Dworkin wrote in his tribute to Callen on Callen-Lorde, the website for the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City (named for Michael Callen and Audre Lorde).
Dworkin listed Callen’s many achievments, including the founding of the People with AIDS Coalition, the Community Research Initiative, and the People with AIDS Health Group. He also mentioned that Callen performed with The Flirtations, “the world’s first gay male politically correct a cappella group,” plus Dworkin helped Callen record and release two solo albums.
Callen also wrote, along with Oscar winner Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet, the song “Love Don’t Need a Reason” Callen would go on to sing this at numerous events, including AIDS walkathons in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights.
Shortly before his death, Callen completed vocal tracks for 48 new songs, 29 of which were released as a double album, Legacy (winner of four Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards).
Randy Shilts, a U.S. journalist who covered the AIDS epidemic and who authored And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 42.Learn More.
Randy Shilts joined the newsroom of The San Francisco Chronicle in 1981 to report on gay politics, making him the first full-time openly gay journalist in the U.S. mainstream press. As one of the earliest people in the media to recognize the importance of AIDS as a national issue, Shilts dedicated his writing career to bringing the epidemic to the attention of the American public.
He authored three books, including The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1980-1985).
Although Shilts had been tested for HIV earlier, Shilts postponed learning the results out of fear the knowledge would compromise his objectivity. He was informed he had tested positive for the virus the day he wrote the final page of And The Band Played On.
When Shilts pitched the book to publishers, he was rejected until St. Martin’s made a modest offer with an advance of $16,000, recalls friend Michael Denneny, who edited the book. And The Band Played On would go on to sell more than 100,000 hardcover copies, and some 600,000 paperbacks.
“He worked four years on that book,” Denneny says. “He went into debt. At one point, literally to pay his rent, he had to empty this huge water jug full of pennies, nickels and dimes.”
He died while planning a fourth book examining homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.
At his memorial service at Glide Memorial Church, his friend and assistant Linda Alband placed his press card on his casket.
Dack Rambo, an actor best remembered for playing Jack Ewing in 51 episodes of the TV show Dallas, dies of AIDS-related illness at Delano Regional Medical Center in California at the age of 52.Learn More.
Rambo had a long list of TV credits spanning four decades and also roles in ten feature films.
Even if you couldn’t name the actor who was born Norman Jay Rambo, his face was beyond familiar to TV viewers of the 1980s, owing to appearances on everything from Charlie’s Angels to Murder, She Wrote. He held a special place in the hearts of soap fans, thanks to his roles on All My Children and Dallas.
He started his TV career with his twin brother in The Loretta Young Show. Both he and his brother played the character Peter Massey, one of seven children being raised by the widowed Christine Massey, played by Loretta Young.
He and his brother later sang as the Rambo Twins, styling themselves after the Everly Brothers, but the act ended in 1967 when his brother was killed at the age of 24 in a car accident.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Rambo made guest appearances on Marcus Welby, M.D.; House Calls; Wonder Woman; Fantasy Island; and The Love Boat. He also acted the lead role in Sword of Justice in 1978-79, and played Wesley Harper on the 1984 TV series Paper Dolls.
He earned the appellation “handsome hunk” during his days as Jack Ewing on “Dallas” and capitalized on it by launching his own line of underwear.
While working on Another World in August 1991, Rambo learned that he was infected with HIV.
He was in his dressing room that morning, preparing for his scenes, when the phone call came. After receiving his diagnosis, he put down the phone, went to the set and proceeded to tape his 40 or 50 pages of lines for the day’s work. Then he walked out of the New York studio that Friday afternoon before Labor Day and never went back.
Rambo then flew home to the San Joaquin town of Earlimart, not far from where he grew up. He broke the news to his sister, Beverly, 48, and his mother, Beatrice, 82, according to People magazine. Both took the news hard.
“At first I was totally devastated,” Beverly told People. “We lost one brother, and I didn’t think I could live with losing another.”
Retreating to his Earlimart ranch, Rambo spent the next three weeks in bed, he says, “wallowing in self-pity.”
“First of all, I was scared,” he told The Washington Post. “I felt a lot of anger and a lot of rage. And actually wanting to die. But all those things were short-lived.”
He took time to determine what he wanted to do next. He decided to go public with his HIV-positive diagnosis and released a statement announcing that he had the AIDS virus and would devote himself to working for the cause of AIDS education and research.
Rambo was among the first well-known actors to disclose his HIV status. In an interview with the Los Angles Times shortly after his announcement, he disclosed that he was bisexual and talked about feeling on the set of Dallas that he was suspected of being gay and vulnerable to AIDS.
“I knew there were whispers going on behind my back,” he said. “Either ‘he’s gay’ or ‘he’s this or ….’ People were just assuming. And people didn’t really know anything about my private life.”
A few months later, in late 1991, Rambo told The Wasington Post, “I feel fabulous, I’ve never felt better.”
He said he adopted a healthier lifestyle and even stopped dying his hair, which had been graying since he was 30 years old.
“I don’t drink anymore … I really baby myself and I’m very selfish with myself,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to interfere with me taking care of myself.”
He said he regularly sought advice on nutrition, read everything he could on AIDS and followed the conventional wisdom of treating the virus before it could become a full-blown disease. He said he had yet to suffer any symptoms of AIDS and was in ongoing discussions with doctors about what medications he should take.
Around that time, Rambo began volunteering with APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles), one of the largest AIDS service providers in the country.
“He’s very committed to this,” said Anthony Sprauve, director of communications for APLA.
Shortly afterward, Rambo developed an AIDS-related cancer and underwent chemotherapy. He also turned to holistic treatment, according to People magazine. In the summer of 1993, he thought he’d halted the virus through prayer.
“There is no disease that cannot be healed,” he said then. “I will believe that until the day I drop.”
Rambo died at Delano Regional Medical Center in Earlimart.
Musician and songwriter Dan Hartman dies of AIDS-related illness at his Westport, Connecticut home at the age of 43.
[photo by Jerry King Musser]Learn More.
Hartman wrote and recorded “Free Ride” (1973) with The Edgar Winter Group and collaborated with scores of the country’s top recording artists from 1976 to 1994.
His song, “I Can Dream About You,” reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984 and No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart in 1985. The James Brown song “Living in America,” which Hartman co-wrote and produced, was even more successful, reaching No. 4 in March 1986.
Hartman worked with veteran singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka, who lived near him in Westport. Hartman would invite Sedaka to his home studio to record.
“I was proud to have recorded two LP’s with him,” Sedaka said. “He was so respected, that he was able to get such luminaries as Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Mary Wilson, Ashford & Simpson, and Gary U.S. Bonds to join me on several duets.”
Hartman’s longtime friend Glenn Ellison told the website Memories of Dan Hartman: “Dan was the genuine article, full of passion and joy for just living. He definitely has a spiritual side, that wasn’t so religious, as it was about the soul, and how to make the most out of the time we have on earth.”
Ellison said he and Hartman met in January 1984 on a plane travelling from New York to Los Angeles. Two months later, Ellison got a job offer in New York, and Hartman invited him to live in his house until he found a place of his own.
“I was in and out of Westport for the next 10 years,” Ellison said.
One of Ellison’s favorite memories was Hartman’s European tour when “I Can Dream About You” was climbing the charts. He noticed that every time Hartman sang the song, crowds would respond by singing and dancing with him.
“When you hear the song today, there is the same response. It is an all-time pop masterpiece,” he said.
Hartman was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980s, and kept his HIV status a secret and supposedly did not seek treatment, even after friend and intermittent collaborator Holly Johnson (formerly of the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood) announced his own HIV status in 1991.
In 1993, Hartman’s health declined and he was in and out of the hospital. Ellison had returned to California a few years before and was able to see Hartman only periodically.
“As fate would have it, in December, I was out of a job so I flew back and spent the entire month at his newly remodelled home. We had the greatest time of our ten-year friendship,” Ellison recalled. “He rallied and seemed to be making a full recovery. We turned the house into a Christmas fantasy, saw all the holiday shows in Manhattan and laughed 24/7. When I flew back to LA on New Year’s Day, I thought he would live forever.”
Hartman would die about four months later.
In his last will and testament, Hartman created the Dan Hartman Arts and Music Foundation (located in the Los Angeles area).
[photo by Jerry King Musser]
Assotto Saint, a Haitian-born poet and performance artist, dies of AIDS-related illness in New York City at the age of 36.Learn More.
Among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, Saint was one of the first poets to include the subject of AIDS in his work. He was also a performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer.
After immigrating from Haiti to New York in 1970 when he was 13 years old, Saint graduated from Jamaica High School and was briefly enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College. Soon, however, he turned his attention to theater and dance, and adopted the name Assotto Saint —“Assotto” for a ceremonial drum used in Haitian vodoo rituals and “Saint” for Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Through the 1970s, Saint’s passions grew to include poetry, music, and fiction.
In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer, and they began to collaborate on a number of theatrical and musical projects. Their relationship would last 14 years, during which time Holmgren would write songs for Saint’s many theater pieces on gay Black life, including including Risin’ to the Love We Need and New Love Song. Saint was the founder and artistic director of Metamorphosis Theater, where many of their collaborative pieces were performed.
Saint founded the publishing house Galiens Press, which published his book of poems Stations and the anthologies Here to Dare and The Road Before Us. With Holmgren, Saint also performed as lead singer in the “techno pop duo” band Xotika, and released the dance song “Forever Gay” on the album Feeding the Flame: Songs by Men to End AIDS.
Saint was dancer with the Martha Graham company, and appeared in Marlon Riggs’ Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret).
“Assotto was always prepared to die,” writes author Victoria Brownworth for Lambda Literary. “If that makes him sound like a fatalist or a Zen master, he was neither. He was just clear about what was going to happen. And he knew the work had to be done and quickly, urgently, before time ran out.”
Here is the beginning of Saint’s final poem for his life-partner, Jan Holmgren, who was dying of AIDS:
A Lover’s Diary
monday, march 29, 1993
vigil on two chairs
iwhisper “hey, good morning”
he doesn’t respond
iwatch his labored breathings
the head nurse suctions him up
“he’s turned for the worse”
dr mcmeeking mumbles
weeks, days, just can’t tell
“hours” insists my mother
furious iescort her out
the oscars come on
the crying game stars don’t win
hoping he can hear
iremind him he’s my light
death rattles my scream for help
the nurse rushes in
mother returns with prayers
icradle him close
pleading “stay, one more day, stay”
eleven twenty, he’s gone
bathe him with my tears
parched lips thirst for a wet
istick my tongue deep
bitter taste of bloody phlegm
moans spat out ishut his eyes
Barry Cundiff, a member of the leather-faerie community in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.Learn More.
Known in the leather-faerie community as “Daddy Bear Rings,” Cundiff helped fuse the local Radical Faerie and leather movements with the group Black Leather Wings. Gay men, lesbians and other leather enthusiasts found the group to be a place where they could combine radical sexuality with spiritual growth.
Cundiff attended his first Radical Faeries meeting in 1982 and also joined the Kathar Sissies, a faerie-inspired group devoted to spiritual healing through erotic ritual. Born in Kansas, Cundiff relocated to San Francisco in the late 1970s after living for a few years in Los Angeles.
Pedro Zamora, an HIV-positive man appearing in MTV’s popular show The Real World, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 22.Learn More.
As one of the first openly gay men with AIDS in media, Zamora brings international attention to HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues and prejudices through his appearance on MTV’s reality television series, The Real World: San Francisco.
Zamora’s commitment ceremony to his partner Sean Sasser, which is filmed for the show, is also the first same-sex ceremony in television history. Zamora dies just hours after the finale of The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV.
Elizabeth Glaser, founder of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.Learn More.
Glaser contracted HIV in a blood transfusion in 1981 while giving birth to her daughter, Ariel. She and her husband, Paul, would learn four years later that she was HIV+ and she had unknowingly passed the virus on to Ariel through breast milk and that their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in utero.
The Glasers pulled their daughter out of school, fearful of media exposure and ostracism imposed by parents of other students. Newspapers in 1985 were filled with stories about the plight of Ryan White in Kokomo, Indiana, and the three Ray brothers in Arcadia, Florida — all hemophiliacs who, having been infected with the AIDS virus by blood transfusions, had been ostracized and barred from their schools.
Ariel Glaser had developed AIDS at a time when the medical community knew very little about the disease, and there were no available treatment options for children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally approved AZT in early 1987 as an effective drug to extend the lives of AIDS patients, but the approval only extended to adults. With their daughter’s condition rapidly deteriorating, the Glasers fought to have her treated with AZT intravenously. However, the treatment came too late, and Ariel died in the summer of 1988, shortly after her seventh birthday.
Elizabeth Glaser went to Washington to do research on AIDS at the National Institutes of Health and found that people in power were willing to listen to her story. She was able to mobilize legislators like Senators Orrin Hatch and Howard Metzenbaum to co-sponsor a fund-raising benefit in Washington for her new organization, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
With the help of her friends Susie Zeegen and Susan De Laurentis, Glaser created the foundation to raise money for basic pediatric research. The foundation also supported additional clinical tests for the medication AZT, which was prescribed for adults years before it was given to children.
In 1994, to honor Glaser’s legacy, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation was renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. EGPAF has become the leading global nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing pediatric HIV infection and eliminating pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs. Another important legacy of Glaser’s is her son, Jake, who is now a healthy adult who advocates for pediatric reserach.
Gary Kalkin, a top executive at Walt Disney Studios who guided the marketing campaigns for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Los Angeles. He was 44.Learn More.
As senior vice president of domestic marketing for Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, Kalkin supervised promotion, advertising and publicity campaigns for Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures as well as Disney. Kalkin also played a creative role in promoting Disney’s Broadway stage version of Beauty and the Beast.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, former chairman of Walt Disney studios, said that Mr. Kalkin also guided the campaigns for the hits Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Good Morning, Vietnam and Pretty Woman. Despite his illness, Kalkin helped supervise the marketing of the Tim Allen comedy The Santa Clause, which emerged as one of the most successful films of 1994.
Record producer and songwriter David Cole dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.Learn More.
Half of the dance-music duo C+C Music Factory, Cole and his musical partner Robert Clivillés produced numerous high-energy dance tracks, such as “Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “Here We Go Let’s Rock & Roll” and “Things That Make You Go Hmmm.”
The New York-based act solidified their white-hot status when they won the 1991 Billboard Award for Best New Pop Artist, beating out Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd, EMF and others. After performing an elaborately choreographed medley of their hits, Cole and Clivillés along with vocalists Zelma Davis and Freedom Williams assembled at the podium to accept their award. It was one of the last appearances C&C Music Factory would ever make together.
Cole and Clivillés met in the mid 80s, when both were DJing at New York City clubs. Before they had their big break with “Make You Sweat,” they worked behind-the-scenes, co-writing and producing songs for artists like Chaka Khan and Grace Jones, co-producing remixes, and acting as managers for various groups. Together, they wrote and produced four songs on Mariah Carey’s 1991 album Emotions, including the smash hit title track.
Cole’s success continued to climb as he continued to produce mega-hits with Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, and many top musical acts of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cole won a Grammy for the soundtrack for the hit movie The Bodyguard (1992) starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.
Cole died on January 24, 1995 from spinal meningitis brought on by HIV at the age of 32.
Mariah Carey wrote the song “One Sweet Day” in memory of Cole.
In a 2018 interview with pitchfork, Carey spoke about Cole:
“He was one of the only people I used to have in the studio when I would sing, because I respected him as a singer. He would push me in different areas where he could actually sing it to me and I would be like, ‘Oh, this is cool. I like that’ … Half the time, I would lose my voice afterwards, because he would just push me.”
The tribute to Cole on thegranvarones reads:
“I remember watching MTV when the news of David’s death broke. The realization that fame and talent could not and would not protect the young and talented knocked the wind out of me. Even now as an adult, I am still saddened by the loss of such a brilliant artist. David Cole, in his all too brief time on this planet, blessed us with a catalog of music that has and will continue to inspire generations. Rest well, David. May you forever dance in peace!”
Paul Monette, author of the award-winning Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, dies at his home in West Hollywood of AIDS-related illness at the age of 49.Learn More.
Borrowed Time chronicles Monette’s experience caring for his partner Roger Horwitz during his fight with AIDS and eventual death from AIDS. The memoir details the final nineteen months of Horwitz’s life, beginning with the day that he was first diagnosed with AIDS, which Monette describtes as “the day we began to live on the moon.”
Born in 1945 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Monette was educated at prestigious schools in New England: Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University, where he received his B.A. in 1967. Soon after graduating from Yale, he began a prolific writing career, and for eight years, he wrote poetry exclusively.
After coming out in his late twenties, he met Roger Horwitz, who was to be his lover for over twenty years. At around this time, he grew disillusioned with poetry and shifted his interest to the novel, not to return to poetry until the 1980s.
In 1977, the couple moved to Los Angeles, and Monette wrote a number of screenplays that, though never produced, provided him the means to be a writer. Monette published four novels between 1978 and 1982 that were enormously successful, including Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll and The Gold Diggers, and established himself as a writer of popular fiction.
“He was a capable writer, but he had not discovered his voice. When AIDS arrived, he found it,” writes Legacy Project Chicago in its tribute to Monette. “On the front lines of the epidemic he picked up his pen and began to capture the horror as it happened.
In the year following Horwitz’s death in 1986, Monette wrote Borrowed Time, and its 1988 release catapulted him into the national arena as a spokesperson for AIDS. Since very few out gay men had the opportunity to address national issues in mainstream venues at any previous time in U.S. history, Monette’s high-visibility profile was one of his most significant achievements.
For Borrowed Time, Monette won PEN Center West literary award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He went on to write two important novels about AIDS, Afterlife (1990) and Halfway Home (1991).
In 1992, Monette released the memoir Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, an uncompromising look at coming to terms with being a gay man. In the book, he wrote: “I can’t conceive the hidden life anymore, don’t think of it as life. When you finally come out, there’s a pain that stops, and you know it will never hurt like that again, no matter how much you lose or how bad you die.”
This would become the first LGBTQ studies title to win the 1992 National Book Award.
He followed Becoming a Man with a book of essays, Last Watch of the Night (1994), which he wrote while being treated for full-blown AIDS, hooked up to three intravenous tubes and taking a daily regimen of numerous oral medications. The book is a collection of essays that move through themes from the painful lives of gay priests to the unending bigotry against gay men.
Monette also wrote an episode for the popular television series Thirtysomething about an advertising executive who learns he has the AIDS virus. The show, written with Richard Kramer, a producer for the series, was one of the first prime-time network series to deal with AIDS.
Olympic gold-medal diver Greg Louganis discloses that he is HIV-positive. The announcement draws criticism from some who believe Louganis should have disclosed his status prior to competing in the 1988 Olympics.Learn More.
In a TV interview with ABC’s 20/20, Louganis says he knew he was HIV-positive before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and was greatly concerned when he hit his head on the board during a dive and shed blood in the pool.
Since the Seoul Games, Louganis’s infection has developed into AIDS, according to the definition established by the Centers for Disease Control.
“According to the CDC, I have AIDS versus HIV,” Louganis told Barbara Walters. “I do have AIDS.”
Louganis, 35, who won four gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, retired from the sport in 1988 and was recently pursuing an acting career. He discloses his homosexuality at the 1994 Gay Games in New York.
Olympic athletes are tested for an array of performance-enhancing drugs, but they are not required to reveal their HIV status. Mike Moran, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, tells the Los Angeles Times that the policy was not likely to change.
Regarding the blood that spilled into Seoul’s Chamshil Pool, the International Olympic Committee and FINA, swimming and diving’s world governing body, issue statements saying that a minuscule amount of blood in chlorinated water poses no threat to anyone.
Louganis, 35, joins two other major athletes who shared their HIV-positive status.. Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 after saying he was infected with HIV. Tennis star Arthur Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS-related causes.
Rapper Eazy-E dies from AIDS-related illness at the age of 31, one month after being diagnosed.Learn More.
As a founding member of the rap group N.W.A. (which stands for Niggaz Wit’ Attitude), Eazy-E was the executive producer of the gangster rap album, Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988. The album’s raps about gunplay, drug dealing, raw sex, gang solidarity and police harassment in a Los Angeles suburb included one song that is a fantasy of violent revenge against racist police officers.
Born Eric Lynn Wright, Eazy-E dies at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after being hospitalized on Feb. 24 for what he thought was asthma. Tests reveal he has AIDS, and on March 16 he would release a statement that he had contracted the disease.
An album that Eazy had been working on would be released posthumously in 1995, and an EP of unreleased tracks would be issued on the seven-year anniversary of his death.
One of his children, singer E.B. Wright, would go on to produce A Ruthless Scandal, a documentary about the final days of her father’s life. His story is also depicted in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray.
Tony Azito, a dancer and character actor celebrated for his ability to accentuate his lanky, hyperextended body, dies of AIDS-related illness at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in New York City. He was 46 years old.Learn More.
Tony Azito, the lanky, loose-limbed Broadway actor who led the Keystone Kops in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s 1981 production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” died yesterday at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 46 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was AIDS, said Bonnie Egan, a friend.
Mr. Azito was born in Manhattan and attended public schools in Manhattan and Queens. He studied drama at the Juilliard School, where he worked with John Houseman in the experimental company that later became the nucleus of the Acting Company. He also studied with the dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow.
He left Juilliard in 1976 to take the role of Mr. Peachum’s assistant in the Shakespeare in the Park production of “The Threepenny Opera.” A year later, he appeared as Dr. Nakamura in the Brecht-Weill musical “Happy End,” which starred Meryl Streep. Both performances were widely praised.
In 1980, he was nominated for a Tony Award and received a Drama Desk Award for his role as the Sergeant in “Pirates.” He also appeared in the film version of the operetta.
Mr. Azito spent four years with the LaMama Experimental Theater Company, appearing in a dozen shows. In the 1970’s, he often performed cabaret at Reno Sweeney and the Ballroom. With the Shakespeare Festival, he appeared as Bardolph in “Henry IV” (1985) and Feste in “Twelfth Night” (1986).
His film credits included “Union City,” “Private Resort” and “Bloodhounds of Broadway,” as well as small roles in “The Addams Family” and “Moonstruck.” In the television series “Miami Vice” he had a recurring role as the drug dealer Manolo.
Glenn Burke, a Dodger and Oakland Athletic outfielder who later became one of the few players in the major league to acknowledge being gay, dies of AIDS-related illness at a Bay Area hospital. He was 42.Learn More.
Burke was born and raised in Oakland, California. He was a playground legend, an athlete who excelled at every sport he tried. His favorite sport in high school was basketball, but it was baseball that offered him a professional contract after graduation.
Described by many scouts as “the next Willie Mays,” Burke played major league ball with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976 to 1978, and with the Oakland A’s in 1978-1979. In the 225 games of his brief career, Burke batted .237, hit two home runs, had 38 RBIs and 35 stolen bases.
In 1977, after Dusty Baker hit a home run, Burke – who was the on-deck batter – gave Baker a high-five as he left the field, and has since been credited with inventing the gesture. Burke is believed to be the first major league ball player to be outed to his teammates and the owners while he was still playing.
Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda was angered by Burke’s friendship with his gay son, and General Manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish honeymoon if Burke would get married (Burke refused), according to The Legacy Project.
The Dodgers then traded Burke to Oakland, where he saw little playing time and was forced to endure manager Billy Martin referring to him as a “faggot” in front of his teammates.
In Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke, author Andrew Maraniss describes how, following a 1979 game at Oakland Coliseum where A’s fans yelled homophobic slurs at Burke in the outfield, he chased down the heckler in the concourse and grabbed him around the neck. In 1980, manager Martin demoted Burke to the A’s minor league affiliate in Utah.
At the age of 27, Burke found that his dream of a being a major league baseball player was over after four short seasons. He later wrote, “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn’t changing.”
The years following Burke’s departure from baseball was rife with drug usage, incarceration, and homelessness, marking a bitter fall from grace. However, in 1982, he won two medals for track in the first Gay Games — the same year his homosexuality was made public in an Inside Sports article.
In the article, Burke said, “It’s harder to be gay in sports than anywhere else, except maybe president. Baseball is probably the hardest sport of all.”
In his last months of his life, Burke received financial assistance from the Oakland A’s (which was under new management) and was cared for in his sister Lutha’s home.
After a few national sportswriters discovered Burke was dying of AIDS, they wrote admiringly of the man who invented the high-five and had been the first Major League baseball player to come out as gay. Soon after, letters began arriving in Lutha’s mailbox and at the Oakland Coliseum.
“There were letters from parents who praised Glenn’s kindness to their kids, letters from adults who had met Glenn as children, and letters from gay men who admired his sacrifices as a pioneer. He’d read the letters and weep,” wrote biographer Andrew Maraniss.
“They make me feel like I was sent to this earth to make certain people happier,” Burke said. “No one can say I didn’t make it. I played in the World Series. I’m in the book, and they can’t take that away from me. Not ever.”
When Burke began to weaken, Lutha arranged for him to be transferred to Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, just south of Oakland. He died the next day.
In 2013, Burke was posthumously honored in the first class of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Before the 2014 All-Star Game in Minnesota, Burke was honored as a gay pioneer.
In 2017, Burke was inducted into the Rainbow Honor Walk, a series of bronze panels embedded in the sidewalks of the Castro District, recognizing some of the most significant lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender figures in history. The occasion was celebrated on April 1, 2017 at the White Horse Inn, the oldest gay bar in the Bay Area.
In June 2021, the Oakland A’s announced that the organization would honor Burke’s legacy by renaming its annual Pride Night after him.
“Glenn Burke was a trailblazer, and we are excited and honored to recognize his legacy and impact on the game of baseball by naming our annual Pride Night after him,” said Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval. “Glenn Burke Pride Night will continue to be a time of celebration and inclusion at our ballpark as we come together with friends and allies.”
In June 2021, Burke’s biographer Andrew Maraniss wrote a Los Angeles Times column proposing that the Dodgers find a way to honor Burke.
“The first openly gay Major League player was a Dodger,” writes Maraniss. “It’s time for the Dodgers to take ownership of the homophobia that prematurely ended Glenn Burke’s days in Los Angeles so that the organization can move beyond it, stake its claim to history by centering Burke’s experience, and lead the way for LGBTQ rights in baseball.”
Steve Silver, the creator and producer of the San Francisco musical revue “Beach Blanket Babylon,” dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco. He was 51.Learn More.
A native of San Francisco who became a fixture in the city’s arts and social scene over the past two decades, Silver was notable not only for the cabaret he created in 1974, but also for his philanthropy and tireless efforts on behalf of many San Francisco charities.
Beach Blanket Babylon, believed to be the nation’s longest-running musical revue, has been seen by more than three million people, including celebrities and dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth and Bob Hope.
The San Francisco Chronicle described the show’s roots as a combination of “Vegas lounge acts, the Follies Bergere, God Rush-era extravaganzas, English music halls, a child’s birthday party gone mad, and dopey beach party movies.”
Silver, who retained creative control of Beach Blanket Babylon until his death, continually updated the show. In one of the newer numbers, actors dressed as Bill and Hillary Clinton are accosted by Newt Gingrich singing “King of the Hill, move over Bill, goodness gracious, Newt is on fire” to the tune of “Great Balls of Fire.”
A former painter, Silver came up with the idea for the show in 1974, naming it after the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon “Beach Blanket” movies.
Silver’s grave stone at Cypress Lawn in Colma, California includes a sketch of Silver done by legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, perhaps the only Hirschfeld work executed in stone.
White Eagle, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 43 at his home with his family in Mission, South Dakota.Learn More.
White Eagle was the first Native American to sing lead roles in American musical theater and opera. It was the voice of the great Mario Lanza that inspired the young White Eagle to become an opera singer.
At the age of five, this minister’s son gave his first public performance in his father’s church. In 1971, he made his professional debut as a soloist at one of the nation’s largest churches, and two years later, began working with the vocal group Re-Generation.
In 1985, He graduated from the prestigious Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera, and performed with the Pennsylvania Opera Theater, Florentine Opera, and Cleveland Opera, among others.
When he wasn’t involved in a production, White Eagle often performed in fundraisers for his father’s home for Native American orphans in South Dakota. On these occasions, he was known to don a Sioux chieftain’s hand-beaded white leather jacket and eagle-feather headdress, and sing “Amazing Grace” while the plate was passed.
In January 1989, White Eagle sang at the inaugural gala for newly elected President George Bush. White Eagle made his debut at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall in September 1993, one month after being diagnosed with AIDS. After he made his illness public, White Eagle became a tireless advocate for AIDS awareness.
“His role as advocate was equal to his role as artist, because through his voice, through his message, he brought people together,” reads a memorial to White Eagle in the U.S. Congressional Record on July 11, 1995, five days after his death.
In the course of his career, White Eagle performed more than 4,000 concerts to some five million people in the U.S. and Canada.
Richard Frank, a critically acclaimed stage actor who portrayed as Jules Bennett on the ABC sit-com Anything but Love, dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 42.Learn More.
In Anything but Love (1989-1992), Frank provided comic moments to the series’ love story involving characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis. Frank also gave a notable performance as Father Vogler in the 1984 movie Amadeus.
On stage, Frank originated the role of infamous lawyer and informal powerbroker Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. The Los Angeles Times’ Myrna Oliver described Frank as “a versatile actor equally comfortable with Shakespeare and modern works.”
He earned the 1991 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance as the homosexual window dresser Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. He also won a Dramalogue award for his portrayal of Herman in Five Easy Pieces at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in 1985.
By 1993, Frank had been public about his affliction with AIDS. In the wake of his public disclosure, Frank was asked to guest-star on the TV show Life Goes On. In the episode “Bedfellows,” Frank played Chester, the hospital roommate of Jesse McKenna (played by Chad Lowe), while both were admitted for illnesses related to their AIDS statuses. Frank’s character lost his battle with AIDS before the episode’s end, but not before passing on wisdom to Jesse for his own dealings with his illness.
Following his landmark appearance on Life Goes On, Frank’s health began a gradual decline, but throughout 1994, he kept up his steady guest turns on series ranging from The Larry Sanders Show to Matlock.
By the beginning of 1995, in order to preserve his health, Frank made the decision to become a television director. That year, an episode of Mad About You he directed became his final work in show business.
In 2006, actor Jamie Lee Curtis told Today that Frank inspired her to participate in the AIDS Walk sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). She also became a member of the advisory board for the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and helped to raise money for children whose lives were impacted by the AIDS crisis.
“I have tried to keep Rick’s incredible life spirit alive in my daily actions and work, both in and out of show business,” Curtis said. “I write books for children to help them understand the secrets that we adults seem to know about life, feelings, and loss. I dedicated my book Where Do Balloons Go? to Rick.”
Essex Hemphill, an openly gay poet and activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 38 years old.Learn More.
From 1981 till his death in 1995, Hemphill was a focal point of the Washington, DC arts scene, which was considered a second Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the few writers to articulate what it meant to be both black and gay.
In 1976, Hemphill left the University of Maryland after his freshman year and spent the following four years in Los Angeles honing his art. When he returned to the District in 1981, his poetry was stronger, sharper, and more elegant and visceral, according Sarah Kaplan in The Washington Post.
He began staging performances of his poetry with artist Wayson Jones, who had been Hemphill’s roommate at U-Md. Their readings soon graduated from cramped coffeehouses to small, alternative theaters, then to the Kennedy Center, then to New York and London.
In 1991, Hemphill received the Lambda Literary Award for editing the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men, the continuation of a project started by Joseph Beam, who died in 1988. Hemphill also received the National Library Association award in 1992 for his own collection of prose and poetry, Ceremonies.
The poems and essays in Ceremonies address the sexual objectification of black men in white culture, relationships among gay black men and non-gay black men, HIV/AIDS in the black community and the meaning of family. He also goes on to critique both the institutionalized patriarchy, and dominant gender identities within society.
Much of Hemphill’s poetry and spoken word was autobiographical, and portrayed his experiences as a minority in both the African-American and LGBT communities. He wrote pieces such as “Family Jewels,” which conveyed his frustrations about white bigotry, specifically within the gay community. In his essay “Does Your Momma Know About me?” Hemphill criticizes photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Black Book, which showcased pictures of the penises of black men and excluded the faces of his subjects.
Hemphill repeatedly invoked loneliness throughout his work. Loneliness in Hemphill’s work is a traumatic feeling, a constant sense of rejection. Many of the men returned home after being rejected by white gay communities, only to be rejected within black communities as well. In Hemphill’s poetry, he portrays loneliness as a collective feeling. He defined loneliness as a sense of being, marked by suffering without public recognition. A sense of separation from the public creates a social longing because even though the journey is lonesome, fighting against that journey not to kill you, as Hemphill said in one of his poems, makes you yearn for community and support
After Hemphill’s death, December 10, 1995 was announced by three organizations to be a National Day of Remembrance for Essex Hemphill at New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. Cheryl Dunye dedicated her 1996 film The Watermelon Woman to Hemphill.
In his essay “(Re)- Recalling Essex Hemphill” in Words to Our Now, Thomas Glave, pays tribute to Hemphill’s life, focusing on the lasting effects of his actions. Glave writes:
In this now, we celebrate your life and language Essex. So celebrating, we know that we re-call you in what is largely, to borrow from another visionary, a ‘giantless time.’ The sheer giantry of your breathing presence has passed. Now present and future warriors—ourselves and others—will be compelled to learn, as you did and made manifest, that all hauls toward truth—toward venality; ardor, not arrogance; forthrightness, not cowardice.
In 2014, Martin Duberman wrote the award-winning book, Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, in which Duberman documents the life of Essex Hemphill, along with author and activist, Michael Callen.
In June 2019, Hemphill was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.
Ilka Tanya Payán, a Dominican-born actress and attorney who later became a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in the U.S., dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 53.Learn More.
Born in 1943 in Santo Domingo, Payán immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13 and became widely recognized for her role in the Spanish-language telenovela Angelica, Mi Vida. From there, Payán moved on to roles in the film Scarface and the TV drama Hill Street Blues. As an advocate of New York’s Latino theater community, she was a founder of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).
Payán studied law at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles and became an attorney in 1981, practicing immigration law. She also wrote a weekly column on immigration issues for El Diario/La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language daily in the U.S. It was around this time she contracted HIV from a former lover, for which she did not test positive until 1986.
She still occassionally performed, such as her 1991 role in the video Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Firehouse as Delores, a kindly neighbor who offers Marge and Mr. Monster a place to stay while their house is repaired.
Payán did not publicly disclose her status until October 1993. Payán’s announcement shocked many in the Hispanic community because she was one of the first Latino celebrities to disclose their HIV-positive status.
“I’m not Magic Johnson or Arthur Ashe,” Payán said at her 1993 press conference to announce her HIV status. “As a public person, I won’t devote myself to being an official spokesperson in the struggle for dignity for people with H.I.V. or AIDS.”
However, Payán scrapped this plan and quickly became “the new darling of AIDS conferences and events,” according to The New York Times. In December 1993, she was a keynote speaker for a United Nations forum on World AIDS Day.
As a spokeswoman for the battle against AIDS, Payán made numerous public appearances and was widely interviewed by Spanish-language news organizations. She also received numerous awards for her work, among them a Medal of Honor presented to her by President Joaquin Balaguer of the Dominican Republic.
Around March 1994, Payán had her first opportunistic infection, and subsequently underwent rounds of PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia), MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex) and streptococcal pneumonia. Within two years, she was hospitalized for three long stays.
”I remind myself that I am still me,“ Payán told POZ magazine in August 1995. ”Besides, think of all the clothes I can fit into now.”
In the 1990s, Payán worked in the legal department for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a non-profit, community-based HIV/AIDS organization.
“Agencies like GMHC came out of white, gay, middle-class activism, because those are the people who know how to function in the system,” Payán said in her POZ interview. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. If this had been a disease which started with women, nothing would have been done.”
Payán died from AIDS-related complications at her Hell’s Kitchen home on April 6, 1996.
Paul Delph, former the keyboardist/vocalist for the Los Angeles-based band Zoo Drive, dies of AIDS-related illness at his parents’ home in Cincinnati at the age of 39.Learn More.
Delph was a Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, and studio musician whose catalog includes work from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s with many well-known recording artists, including Bryan Adams, Sam Harris, The Pointer Sisters, Donna Summer, The Weather Girls, Suzi Quatro, Bernie Taupin, Toni Basil, Alice Cooper, Roberta Flack and Gary Wright.
In 1980, Delph left the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music to jump into the LA music scene to perform with the band Zoo Drive. For the seven years that the band performed and toured, it also provided the rhythm section for many recording artists. The best known of these projects was the Word of Mouth album by Toni Basil (1982), which featured the song “Mickey” with Delph on Farfisa organ.
In 1990, Delph provided the vocals for two tracks on the re-release of the Bloodsport soundtrack, and he was nominated for a Grammy for his work.
Although Delph contracted HIV early in the epidemic, it did not impact his productive life for nearly a decade. He continued to work on his Music for AIDS projects until failing health forced a return to his family home at Cincinnati early in 1996.
In 1996, Delph released his final album, A God That Can Dance, privately to his family and friends shortly before his death. The album drew its title from a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche (“I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.”), and chronicled the Delph’s struggle with HIV/AIDS.
From 1998 to 2018, Delph’s friends teamed up to form Team Delph in Cincinnatti’s annual Walk to Stop AIDS, raising tens of thousands of dollars for Caracole, the city’s largest AIDS service organization. In 1997, the Delph family established the Paul Delph Memorial Scholarship at Delph’s alma mater, Norwood High School.
Under the leadership of Hernando Cortez, the organization Dancers Responding to AIDS starts holding the dance festival “Dancers from the Heart,” which would become an annual event to raise funds for the AIDS cause.Learn More.
Until then, Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) had been producing its benefit performances in various places along the East Coast, including Saratoga Springs, SUNY Purchase, Martha’s Vineyard, and Washington DC, according to the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.
Hernando Cortez and Denise Roberts Hurlin, both dancers with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, founded DRA in 1991, because members of the dance community did not have an AIDS service organization like the music and entertainment (LifeBeat) and design (DIFFA) industries did. Once established, not only did DRA provide direct financial assistance and other services to all dance professionals with HIV/AIDS, but they extended its services to dance companies’ adminstrative personnel, stage crew members and domestic partners with HIV or AIDS.
At the 1991 NYC Pride Parade, Cortez met Rodger McFarlane, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. McFarlane presuaded Cortez to move DRA under the umbrella of BC/EFA, and the association has been a mutually productive one over the years.
By 1995, Cortez had been frequenting the Pines for years and saw the location a potentially good one for a DRA benefit. Jack Schlegel agreed and offered to co-produce an event at The Pines. The first festival raised almost $8,000, and it continues as an annual event today.
Born in Manila, Philippines, Cortez spent his early years in British Columbia, where he began his dance training at Vancouver’s Pacific Ballet Theatre and then graduated from Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in 1985. He was invited to join the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1987.
Cortez was featured in two PBS “Dance in America” specials, and his own choreography was showcased in the Taylor Company’s critically acclaimed hit Funny Papers. He performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in their 1998 national tour. As a choreographer, Cortez has created dances for the American Ballet Theatre, the Williamstown Theater Festival, and the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City.
Six weeks after being diagnosed with AIDS, Oscar-nominated actor Howard Rollins dies at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York at the age of 46, from complications from AIDS-related lymphoma.Learn More.
Rollins was an American stage, film and television actor best known for his roles as Andrew Young in 1978’s King, George Haley in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generations, Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the 1981 film Ragtime, Captain Davenport in the 1984 film A Soldier’s Story, and as Virgil Tibbs on the TV crime drama In the Heat of the Night.
Based on the award-winning 1967 movie about a white Mississippi police chief who teams with a black detective from the North, In the Heat of the Night featured Rollins as Virgil Tibbs for five seasons, opposite Carroll O’Connor as the white southern officer. The show ran from 1988 to 1994, first on NBC, then on CBS.
During the show’s run, Rollins struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was arrested four times for drug- and alcohol-related crimes and spent one month in jail for reckless driving and driving under the influence. Due to his ongoing personal and legal issues, Rollins was dismissed from the series at the end of Season 6. Rollins returned for several guest appearances in the seventh season of the show in 1993–1994.
Rollins was the youngest of four children born to Ruth and Howard Ellsworth Rollins Sr. in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother was a domestic worker, and father was a steelworker who died in 1980. After his high school graduation, Rollins studied theater at Towson University.
On October 25, 2006, a wax statue of Rollins was unveiled at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore. The statue is now at Baltimore’s Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
Musician and activist Fela Kuti, a pioneer of Afrobeat music who was repeatedly arrested and beaten for writing lyrics that questioned the Nigerian government, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 58.Learn More.
Kuti was meant to be a doctor, an upstanding member of Nigeria’s elite like his parents, according to The Guardian. At age 20, he would study in England, where his first cousin, playwright Wole Soyinka, was already making a name for himself.
“Instead, Fela Ransome-Kuti became infamous, an outlaw musician who declared himself president of his own ‘Kalakuta Republic,’ a sprawling compound in the suburbs of Lagos that housed his recording studio and offered sanctuary to the dispossessed,” writes Neil Spencer of The Guardian.
Rebelling against oppressive regimes through his music would come with a heavy cost for Kuti. Over his lifetime, he would be arrested 200 times and endure numerous beatings from government officials.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Kuti’s subversive song lyrics established him as political dissident, resulting in Afrobeat to be associated with making political, social and cultural statements about greed and corruption. One of Kuti’s most popular songs, “Zombie,” questions Nigerian soldiers’ blind obedience to carrying out orders. Another, “V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power),” seeks to empower the disenfranchised masses to rise up against the government.
At his club, the Shrine, his band played until dawn while dozens of singers and dancers writhed and glittered amid drifts of igbo smoke. Here, Nigeria’s corrupt dictators were denounced and ancient Yoruban deities honoured, all to a relentless backdrop of the “Afrobeat” that Fela had distilled from the musical collision of Africa and black America.
At his death from AIDS-related illiness in Lagos, Nigeria, Fela would leave behind seven children, 50-odd albums and a musical legacy that has been kept alive by his sons and former drummer, Tony Allen
Roughly 1 million people would attend his funeral procession, which began at Tafawa Balewa Square and ended at Kuti’s home, Kalakuta, in Ikeja, Nigeria, where he is laid to rest in the front yard. Belatedly, Afrobeat would become a cause célèbre among young European and American music fans.
Murray Salem, screenwriter of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Kindergarten Cop, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.Learn More.
Salem’s desire to succeed as an actor took him to London and Glasgow, where he began acting on the stage before moving to the screen. After attending the Drama Studio London for two years, and staying in an apartment where he slept in the washroom to save money, he received an offer to join the Glasgow Citizen’s Company in 1972, winning one of five slots among a pool of 300 actors.
Salem remained with the Scottish troupe for two years, performing in productions like Eva Peron and Arden of Feversham. He received critical praise from the Financial Times as a “large and graceful man who, astonishingly, emits both the sultry masculinity of a Joe Dallesandro and the petulant transvestism of another Warhol star, Holly Woodlawn,” for his turn as Eva Peron.
From 1975-1977, he acted with the New Shakespeare Company in London where he played roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and Love’s Labour Lost, before his connections led him to the film world of London.
Salem started his film career in British exploitation movies, with a small part as a “heavy” in the sexploitation classic Let’s Get Laid (1979) and a larger supporting role in Hussy (1980), a gritty tale of a prostitute in 1970s London starring Helen Mirren. In the latter, Salem plays a scheming drug runner with an ebullience that provides much needed color and energy to a generally depressing and grinding film. His character is introduced in a crowded bar where he bounds onto the dance floor and commands the attention of the entire audience with over-the-top humor.
“He single-handedly jolts the production to life in its third act,” writes David J. Gary in Scene.
After moving to Los Angeles, he had roles in a number of film and television productions, including memorable turns in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Holocaust (1978), and Riding High (1981), a film built around a motorcycle stunt competition.
Soon he started screenwriting, which provided both financial stability and a modicum of fame. After a bit part as an Arab gold dealer in the pilot of Magnum P.I., Salem gave up being in front of the camera and dedicated his time to screenwriting, eventually crafting Kindergarten Cop in 1988-1989.
In all, Salem wrote nine scripts over 15 years and sold all of them except one. The studios mothballed all the screenplays they purchased, except Kindergarten Cop. His scripts ranged in topics from teenagers in prison to a father-son story about Central American refugees during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s.
While living with AIDS, Salem publicized information on pill exchanges to help others who did not have access to HIV medication.
Knowing he was likely to die of AIDS, he wrote a series of letters to his young niece and nephew that they were to open once a year from 1998-2015. Each letter contained a video he wanted them to watch so they could understand his love of cinema (Funny Girl, Sound of Music, Some Like it Hot, Cabaret, Ghost, Ben Hur, West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Dr. Zhivago, Silence of the Lambs, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, Camille).
After speaking about her HIV-positive status on Zulu-language radio and television, activist Gugu Dlamini is stoned and stabbed to death by men in her South African community.Learn More.
Dlamini, a volunteer for a local HIV/AIDS organization, disclosed her HIV-positive to raise awareness about the prevalence of the disease in her community in an attempt to curtail its spread. She lived in KwaZulu-Natal (now known as Ntuzuma B), a province just outside the city of Durham, South Africa that at the time had the highest incidence of HIV infection (30% of adult residents).
After Dlamini announced her HIV status in the media, neighbors threatened her and told her to stop disparaging their community. A week before she was murdered, Dlamini was physically attacked by a local man who ordered her to “keep quiet” about her illness.
According to a report in a local newspaper, Dlamini reported the assault to police, but they did not respond. Shortly afterward, a group of men broke into her house and beat her in front of her 12-year-old daughter. She died the next day.
News of Dlamini’s death brought worldwide attention to the level of stigma in South Africa and the world in general for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Twelve years later, Dlamini’s daughter, Mandisa Dlamini, founded the Gugu Dlamini Foundation to maintain the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Mandisa Dlamini also returned to KwaZulu-Natal and turned the house where her mother was murdered into an AIDS museum where “women and girls stigmatized and discriminated can find sense of belonging. “
Ofra Haza, an Israeli Yemenite Jewish singer, actress and Grammy Award-nominee recording artist, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.Learn More.
Known in the Western world as the “Israeli Madonna,” Haza was known for combining traditional and commercial music styles, fusing elements of Eastern and Western instrumentation, orchestration and dance-beat. In addition to earning many platinum and gold records, Haza was an influential cultural figure in Israel who helped to popularize Mizrahi culture.
After Haza’s death was announced, Israeli radio stations played non-stop retrospectives of her music. The decision by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to report the cause of her death as AIDS was controversial in her homeland.
The revelation of Haza’s AIDS-related illness caused surprise among fans, and brought debate about whether the media invaded her privacy by reporting it. Many in the media speculated about how she had acquired the virus, some blaming her husband for infecting her with the disease (her husband contended that she became infected from a blood transfusion received following a miscarriage).
Haza is buried in the Artists section of Yarkon Cemetery in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv.
Job Komol, a Cameroon-born footballer training for a Dutch professional football club in the province of Gelderland, tests positive for HIV and his diagnosis is announced to the world by club officials.Learn More.
After officials at Vitesse, the oldest football club in The Netherlands, announce that Komol tested positive for HIV, the Royal Dutch Football Association suspended Komol’s playing license. Komol was the first player in Dutch football to be HIV positive, and this caused a shock. Clubs started routinely testing their players for HIV, and questions arose over whether Komol could transmit the disease to other players.
When research showed that the risk of transmission during the game was less than 0.1%, Komol was granted permission to play again. But Komol’s training regimen was hindered by his HIV treatment and he was unable to regain his standing at the club.
Lance Loud, the eldest son in a family made famous in the 1970s by the groundbreaking cinema vérité series An American Family, dies of hepatitis C and HIV-related illness at the Carl Bean hospice in Los Angeles at the age of 50.Learn More.
On May 30, 1971, the TV documentary An American Family began filming in Santa Barbara, where the Loud family — including then-20-year-old Lance — opened their lives to the world. Considered the first reality TV show, the ground-breaking 12-episode documentary first aired on PBS in January 1973 on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m.
Lance Loud became a gay icon by coming out to an audience of 10 million TV viewers. His sexual orientation became a topic of national controversy, but the positive feedback from the gay community led Loud to embrace this role with passion and often self-deprecating wit.
Almost 30 years later, Loud asked Alan and Susan Raymond, the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of the original An American Family series, to film a final episode in the Loud story. He was dissatisfied with how An American Family ended, and wanted the public to see the Louds as the family he knew them to be. So the Raymonds filmed Loud and his family as he lived out his final days at the Carl Bean hospice in Los Angeles, and this would become a film, Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family.
Loud was the first reality TV star. Although he was initially vilified by the media, the American public loved him and found him to be an inspiration.
In 1973, Loud moved to New York City and performed with his high school friend Kristian Hoffman in their resurrected band, the Mumps. The Mumps flourished for five years in the New York club scene, regularly selling out clubs such as CBGB and Max’s. The band disbanded in 1980 when it became apparent that record labels weren’t interested.
After the breakup of the Mumps, Loud relocated to Los Angeles and became a magazine writer. Over the next 20 years, he wrote articles for publications including Circus, Interview, American Film, Details, and Vanity Fair. Loud also had a regular column in The Advocate, “Out Loud,” in which he wrote about his role as a gay icon.
In an article Loud wrote for The Advocate shortly before his death, he said, “Though for years I had told myself that all my unbridled drinking, drugging, and unsafe sex were going to lead exactly here, I’d never really believed it.”
Former Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby dies at his Hollywood apartment of a heroin overdose and AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.Learn More.
Crosby, who grew up in San Diego and played in various local bands, met Stephen Pearcy, whose band Mickey Ratt also played local venues. In 1981, they moved to Los Angeles and soon started playing under the band name Ratt. The LA music scene welcomed the style of rock n’ roll that Ratt performed, attacting fans of other LA-based bands like Van Halen and Quiet Riot, according to the Rock and Roll True Stories website.
After Atlantic Records signed Ratt to a major recording contract in 1984, the band released their debut album Out of the Cellar. Appearing on the front cover of the band’s first EP and LP was Crosby’s girlfriend, Tawny Kitaen. Out of the Cellar would be the biggest album of the band’s career, going triple Platinum.
As Ratt headed into the studio to record their album Detonator in 1990, Crosby left for rehab. He then joined the band on tour, but found it difficult to stay sober. He played his final gig with the band in 1991 in Osaka, Japan, according to the Rock and Roll True Stories website.
In a June 1999 interview for a Ratt episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, Crosby talked about how drug addiction and his HIV status changed his life.
“When I die, nobody cry at my funeral, in fact let’s all have a party,” he told VH1. “I’ve lived the life of ten men. I lived all my dreams and more.”
After Crosby’s death, his bandmates (who called him “King”) released various tributes on the Ratt website, calling him kind-hearted, compassionate, intelligent, and talented.
Herb Ritts, one of the top photographers to emerge from the 1980s, dies in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at age 50.
(Photo by Richard Gere)Learn More.
A photographer whose subjects ranged from Madonna to the Dalai Lama, Ritts relied on clean, graphic compositions that often portrayed models and celebrities in the visual language of classical Greek sculpture.
”He shot exquisite, iconic photographs,” said Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, a magazine to which Ritts contributed dozens of cover images.
Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Ritts grew up in a prosperous family and graduated in 1975 from Bard College in upstate New York with a degree in economics (he also majored in Art History). He returned to Los Angeles to work for his family’s furniture company but was sidetracked when he started taking photography classes.
In the late 1970s, while waiting for a tire to be changed, he took pictures of a young actor friend who was with him that day. The actor was Richard Gere, and the photographs were ultimately published in various national magazines and served as the catalyst for Ritts’s career as a portraitist.
”His purpose was always to make you look good,” Gere told The New York Times shortly after Ritts’ death. ”He had an extremely elegant aesthetic. Some photographers are working so hard to be elegant that they pummel you with it, but to Herb it came effortlessly.
”Some photographers embalm their subjects, but he enlivened them.”
Unlike many other contemporary commercial photographers, Ritts imposed little of his own sense of artistry onto his pictures. One of Ritts’s most memorable photographs in this vein was a Vanity Fair cover that featured fashion model Cindy Crawford pretending to shave the face of singer K.D. Lang, who was in drag.
Ritts’s work extended beyond celebrity portraiture to fashion photography, artful nudes and the direction of television commercials and music videos. He captured the 1980s era of the supermodel with Amazonian images of Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.
For a year from 1996, his work was showcased in Boston at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that was attended by around 250,000 people or more. In 2003, he was given space for a solo exhibition in Japan’s city Kyoto at the Daimaru Museum.
Ritts directed some music videos. In 1989, he directed Cherish by Madonna. Two years later, he received MTV Video Awards for making videos for Chris Isaak and Janet Jackson.
Ritts was committed to HIV/AIDS-related causes and contributed to many charitable organizations, among them amfAR, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation , Project Angel Food, Focus on AIDS, APLA, Best Buddies, and Special Olympics. He was also a charter member on the Board of Directors for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.
In December 2002, Ritts was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital with pneumonia. According to Ritts’ publicist, “Herb was HIV-positive, but this particular pneumonia was not PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised.”
Prior to his death, Ritts communicated his desire to create a foundation that would carry on his passion for photography and his longstanding charitable support for HIV/AIDS research, advocacy, and care. In 2003, in accordance with his wishes, the Herb Ritts Foundation was established.
Ritts’ photographs continue to be displayed, enjoyed and celebrated across the world. In 2007, Ritts’ photograph, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989, was sold at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Benefit Auction for $190,000. The sale of the photograph set a record price for a Herb Ritts limited edition Silver Gelatin photograph, and raised awareness around the Herb Ritts Foundation’s key role in raising funds for HIV/AIDS research.
In 2011, the Getty Museum acquired from the Herb Ritts Foundation a collection of 69 photographs consisting of nudes, portraits, and images made for high-fashion ad campaigns. The Getty considers this acquisition to be the most significant body of the artist’s work on the West Coast. The museum’s Ritts exhibit in 2012 drew 364,656 visitors.
In 2015, 20 years after The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston showcased the exhibit Herb Ritts: WORK, the museum presented a collection of his major works. Even more recently, Ritts’ images have been incorporated into snowboards and his artwork has been displayed in exhibitions in Berlin, Milan, Seoul, Montreal, Lisbon and London.
Tony award-winning charactor actor Michael Jeter dies of complications following an epileptic seizure at the age of 50.Learn More.
Michael Jeter was a character actor of film, stage, and television. Much of his work specialized in playing eccentric, pretentious, or wimpy characters, and perhaps his most famous role was that of convicted felon Eduard Delacroix in The Green Mile (1999).
Jeter fared well playing extreme characters, such as in his small but scene-stealing role as a homeless cabaret singer with AIDS in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1991). He was nominated for another Emmy for playing an eccentric frog breeder in a 1993 episode of the quirky CBS-TV drama Picket Fences — a part written specially for him.
Jeter was born in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and landed his first film role in Milos Forman’s Hair in 1979. He had small parts in film and television and was a frequent performer Off Broadway during the early 1980s. He appeared onstage in Alice in Concert and G.R. Point, and in 1982 was a cast replacement in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 at the Lucille Lortel Theater, which was directed by Tommy Tune.
In an emotional TV interview with Jann Carl of Entertainment Tonight in July 1997, Jeter disclosed that he had tested positive for HIV. He remained active in the industry, turning in an acclaimed performance in The Green Mile and joining the cast of the sitcom Evening Shade from 1990 until 1994 and then the long-running PBS children’s series Sesame Street from 2000 until 2003.
After a turn in Jurassic Park III (2001), Jeter had a notable supporting turn as one of the loveable losers hoping for a big heist in Welcome to Colinwood (2002) and was tapped by director-star Kevin Costner to appear in the Western Open Range (2003).
In 1998, Jeter performed in a benefit reading of The Boys in the Band, bringing down the house in the role of Emory, the lonely, mischievous, heartbroken man that delights in taunting.
Around the time of that performance, Jeter told POZ magazine that he was infected with the AIDS virus in 1995, a year in which he was “so depressed” that he found himself dating a series of Hollywood parasites and stargazers.
Just before his death, Jeter had completed his work on Robert Zemeckis’ film The Polar Express, starring Tom Hanks. The filming was suspended for a day upon word of Jeter’s death.
He had been in good health for many years, according to his partner Sean Blue, who said Jeter’s death was due to complications following an epileptic seizure.
Gene Anthony Ray, who starred as Leroy in the 1980 movie Fame and the later television series, dies of AIDS-related illness in Manhattan at the age of 41.Learn More.
Ray was cast as a character in Fame that was a natural fit. Like Leroy, Ray grew up on the streets, in the rough, urban center of New York during the 1960s and 1970s. And like Leroy, Ray had never had professional dance training but he had a raw talent that choreographers found compelling.
New York’s High School of the Performing Arts was the setting for the movie and television series. Born in Harlem, Ray had actually attended the city’s performing arts school for a year before being expelled for disruptive behavior.
Ray honed his skills dancing at neighborhood block parties. According to the London Times, Ray later recalled, “All the blocks had parties, not just ours. And I’d go to them and scoop all the prizes.”
At his Fame audition, which he skipped school to attend, he was one of 2,800 teenagers trying out for a part. The film won Academy Awards for best musical score and best song.
Ray’s character, who helped popularize Lycra pants and leg warmers in he early 1980s, was one of the few characters revived for the television series Fame, which ABC began airing in 1982.
Just 20 years old when the television series began to air, Ray’s personal fame was at its peak. However, the show failed to gain an audience in the U.S. and was dropped by ABC. A strong following of 11 million regular viewers in the United Kingdom essentially save the show, and and it was picked up by MGM Television for distribution abroad from 1983 to 1987.
In 1982, Ray toured Britain with other Fame cast members in a 10-concert tour of the show The Kids from Fame. The following year, a television special based on the tour was aired in the U.S.
Ray’s other film credits include Out of Sync (1995), which was directed by his Fame co-star Debbie Allen, and Eddie (1996), which starred Whoopi Goldberg.
In June 1983, the $400,000 house Ray had purchased in a white neighborhood of Rockland County, New York, was intentionally set afire. Ray, who was only using the house on weekends, had planned to move into the house permanently after his younger brother finished high school in the Bronx.
The two-story home was set ablaze in four separate locations on the house’s exterior. Although it was rumored that the fire was racially motivated arson, no one was ever charged.
Soon after, members of Ray’s family were arrested in a drug raid. Ray missed scores of Fame rehearsals during the time family members were tried in felony court proceedings. He also (self-admittedly) was using drugs between shoots, and in 1984, he was fired from the show.
Ray spent the remainder of his life attempting to reclaim his place in the spotlight but was never successful. His use of drugs and alcohol continued unabated, and he squandered his wealth to maintain his habits.
In 1996, Ray was diagnosed HIV-positive. The high toxicity of the drugs he was then required to take made him weak, although he did appear in Dr. Pepper and Diet Coke advertisements during the late 1990s.
His mother helped care for Ray in the last years of his life. He suffered a stroke in June 2003, and died about five months later.
Ghanaian keyboard Kiki Djan dies of AIDS-related illness and drug-related complications at the age of 47. He is found dead in a church bathroom, with the equivalent of 70 cents in his pocket.Learn More.
Djan, also known as Kiki Gyan, performed on the keyboards for the 1970s Afro-rock group Osibisa and also recorded a series of disco records as a solo artist. A prodigy who started playing the piano at the age of five, he joined the UK-based Osibisa at the age of 15. He travelled internationally with the band during the 1970s, playing to large audiences around the world.
By the age of 18, Djan had made more than a million dollars, performed for the Queen of England, and partied with Elton John and Mick Jagger, according to BBC News. He also met Marvin Gaye, Peter Tosh and Steve Wonder during the FESTAC event in Nigeria.
In 1979, he left Osibisa to pursue a solo career and recorded the popular single “24 Hours in a Disco,” which featured a 16-piece orchestra. He was briefly married to the daughter of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, but then divorced her to marry a Ghanaian woman.
In the early 1980s, Djan became addicted to narcotics and adopted a lifestyle which eventually led to a diagnosis of AIDS in the late 1990s. Djan went in and out of rehabilitation during much of the last six years of his life. Mac Tontoh, who signed him with Osibisa and kept in touch with him throughout the years, told BBC News that Djan had become homeless and begged on street corners.
“I’m sad, not because Kiki’s dead – he was suffering too much,” said Tontoh. “I’m sad because he should’ve died with dignity.”
Andy Bell, the lead singer of English synth-pop duo Erasure, publicly announces that he has been HIV-positive since 1998.Learn More.
“Once you find out you have HIV, it’s like starting from year zero,” Bell said in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. “When I was diagnosed, I was so low that I wasn’t bothered if I was going to live or die. It took a lot to start rebuilding everything.”
Born in 1964, Bell is known for his soulful voice and flamboyant stage persona. An openly gay man, Andy has become an icon within the LGBTQ community for his honesty, compassion and support.
Among his tireless support of various LGBTQ causes, Bell has served as an ambassador for New York’s Hetrick-Martin Institute and is currently a patron of the Cambridge-based charity Dhiverse, and for Above The Stag, London’s only LGBTQ theatre.
For the Red Hot + Blue album (1990) to raise funds for AIDS and HIV research, Bell reinterpreted the Cole Porter song “Too Darn Hot.” The music video for this song featured Bell as a news reporter alongside clips of AIDS activists at ACT UP demonstrations and facts about the epidemic.
More recently, Erasure’s 1988 hit single “A Little Respect” was voted the “Ultimate Pride Anthem” in a poll from radio station Virgin Radio Pride UK, beating out anthems by Xtina, Lady Gaga, Cher, and Madonna.
In 2021, Erasure released the single “Secrets” and an album, The Neon Remixed, which was described as one of the most elevating moments in an otherwise difficult year.
In September of that year, Bell gave the keynote address at The Aging Positively — Reunion Project 6th annual HIV conference, a collaboration between the HIV+ Aging Research Project – Palm Springs, DAP Health (formerly the Desert AIDS Project), and other community partners.
In an interview with DAP Health prior to the conference in Palm Springs, Bell said, “I am so grateful to be alive and be a beneficiary of the cutting-edge science used to create our medications. I salute all of those who passed before us and the brave activists who still fight for us every day.”
Bell currently lives in Miami with his husband, Stephen Moss, and their dog, Angel Baby.
Makgatho L. Mandela dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 54. On the day of his son’s death, Nelson Mandela announces the cause of the death to help raise awareness about the disease and reduce the stigma associated with it.Learn More.
Nelson Mandela holds a press conference to announce that his son had died of AIDS in a Johannesburg clinic. Makgatho Mandela had been seriously ill for more than a month, but the nature of his ailment had not been made public before his death.
The elder Mandela says he was disclosing the cause of his son’s death to focus more attention on AIDS, which is still a taboo topic among many South Africans. South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV (~6.8 million) in the world.
“That is why I have announced that my son has died of AIDS,” he says. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.”
Willi Ninja, famous for his appearance in the documentary film Paris is Burning, dies at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens of AIDS-related illness at age 45.Learn More.
Considered the Godfather of Vogue and revered for founding the House of Ninja in New York City’s ballroom scene, Ninja influenced both underground and popular culture. Ninja’s dance style emerged from the underground scene to popular culture in 1990 when superstar Madonna incorporated voguing in her hit record and video Vogue.
Ninja was a self-taught performer whose influences included Fred Astaire, Great Performances on PBS, Asian culture and Olympic gymnasts. He rose to prominence in the Harlem Drag Ball scene in the 1980s.
Ninja described himself as “a butch queen,” performing a fluid gender presentation in a scene that celebrated “woman realness,” the ability to pass as biological women. His style showcased his talents and techniques, and reflected his authentic androgynous self.
While Paris DuPree is credited with the invention of the vogue dance style, Ninja was the one who refined it and brought it to a worldwide audience.
At a ball he was judging hosted by the House of Field, Ninja met impresario Malcolm McLaren and soon found himself on McLaren’s tour of European fashion houses. Willi modeled in runway shows for Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Karl Lagerfield.
After taking voguing to Europe and Japan, be trained supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Iman in the art of voguing as well as in other artful displays of grace and poise. His skill was immortalized in the 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning.
In its review of Paris Is Burning, the New York Times called Ninja “a lithe, articulate young man who also happens to be a master in the art of ‘voguing,’ in which dancers attempt to top each other by using gymnastics and the gestures of high-fashion models.”
Even after achieving fame, he would visit the Christopher Street pier to dazzle onlookers young and old, and teach his dance moves to the next generation of ballroom stars.
Ninja was diagnosed with HIV in 2003. Like most independent artists, he did not have health care.
Ninja outlived many of his co-stars in Paris Is Burning, including Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Extravaganza, and Avis Pendavis.
Since his death, Ninja continues to inspire artists and music DJs. He is a central figure in LGBTQ studies, gender studies, and performance studies for his nonconforming and transgressive gender expression as an artist. His presence is articulated in the book Black Sexualities by Juan Battle and Sandra L. Barnes.
The House of Ninja continued to perform at drag balls to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in their mother’s name, and currently has more than 200 members worldwide.
Christine Maggiore, an HIV-positive activist who promoted AIDS denialism, dies of AIDS-related illness in her home in Van Nuys, California at the age of 52.Learn More.
At the time of her death, Maggiore was being treated for what was originally reported as pneumonia. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office stated that Maggiore had been treated for pneumonia in the six months prior to her death as well.
A doctor familiar with the family told the Los Angeles Times that anti-HIV drugs could have prevented her death, but Maggiore’s fellow AIDS denialists argued that her pneumonia was not AIDS-related and suggested instead that she died as a result of a toxic alternative medicine “holistic cleanse,” stress, or the cold and flu.
When Maggiore was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, she initially became the ultimate HIV/AIDS advocate — volunteering at HIV/AIDS service organizations and speaking about the risks of HIV at local schools and health fairs.
But then her views took a 180-degree turn after speaking with University of California Berkeley biology professor Peter Duesberg, who erroneously believed that HIV did not cause AIDS. She embraced Duesberg’s theories (which have been debunked), and in 2000, wrote a book called What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?
Maggoire gave birth at home to two children, and her youngest, Eliza Jane, died in 2005 from what the coroner ruled was AIDS-related pneumonia. Maggiore and her husband Robin Scovill, however, hired a pathologist who concluded that the girl died of an allergic reaction to the antibiotic amoxicillin.
Maggiore told ABC News that she refused to take antiviral drugs during her pregnancies despite substantial evidence that they dramatically reduced the risk of the mother transferring the virus to her child, explaining, “I did not want to expose my growing child to toxins during pregnancy.”
Jay Gordon, a Santa Monica paediatrician who treated Eliza Jane, told The Guardian he regretted not testing for HIV when he examined her for an apparent ear infection 11 days before her death.
After Eliza Jane’s death, Los Angeles police investigated whether Maggiore and Scovill were negligent in not testing their child for HIV. In 2006, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges against Maggiore, explaining that it was too difficult to prove criminal negligence.
Maggiore’s death certificate states that the cause of death was disseminated herpes virus infection and bilateral pneumonia, with oral candidiasis as a contributing cause, all of which can be related to HIV infection. The death certificate also states there was no autopsy performed.
AIDS activist and award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor dies of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.Learn More.
In the mid-1980s, Taylor became the most prominent celebrity to back what was then a very unfashionable cause: AIDS research, prevention and care. It started with a 1984 dinner benefit for the nonprofit AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), for which she began calling her A-list friends to solicit their support.
“She took this energy that she used to have a career, and she put it into AIDS, for no other reason than her friend [Rock Hudson] had gotten ill,” AIDS activist and comic writer-performer Bruce Vilanch said at a 2021 event hosted by the Foundation for The AIDS Monument. “The reason Elizabeth was so successful was everybody in the world would take her call — even the Pope — if only to discuss jewelry.”
Over the years, Taylor reportedly was responsible for raising more than $270 million and influencing countless elected officials to support the cause.
In 1985, she, along with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim, founded the non-profit American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). Immediately, Taylor began lobbying then-President Ronald Reagan and members of Congress to address the epidemic by allocating funds to research the treatment and prevention of the virus. In 1986, she appeared in amfAR’s first public service TV ads to heighten AIDS awareness and encourage compassion for people with AIDS. Taylor was instrumental in expanding amfAR’s operations to other countries.
In 1991, she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF), a non-profit organization that took a more personal approach to the AIDS epidemic. With ETAF, Taylor sought to advocate for and provide direct care to those who faced the highest levels of stigma, marginalization, and discrimination. Today, ETAF continues to carry forward Taylor’s mission, with heart and hope, until the end of HIV/AIDS.
Taylor testified before the Senate and House for the Ryan White Care Act in 1986, 1990, and 1992. She persuaded President Reagan to acknowledge the disease for the first time in a speech in 1987, and publicly criticized presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for not doing enough to combat the disease.
Taylor also founded the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to offer free HIV/AIDS testing and care at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, and the Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center in Los Angeles.
For her advocacy work, Taylor was honored with several awards; she was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1987, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, the Screen Actors’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanitarian service in 1997, the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2000, and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.
After her death, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios issued a statement saying that “Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community, where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”
According to Paul Flynn of The Guardian, she was “a new type of gay icon, one whose position is based not on tragedy, but on her work for the LGBTQ community.” Speaking of her charity work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.”
Since Taylor’s death, her estate has continued to fund ETAF’s work, donating 25% of royalties from the use of her image and likeness to the foundation.
Public debate begins on whether the longstanding ban on transplants of HIV-infected organs should be dropped .
Paris Dupree, the Grand Dame of the Harlem Ballroom scene, dies of unreported causes at the age of 61.Learn More.
Dupree was the last surviving member of the Big Five founding house mothers, which included Dupree, Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey, Avis Pendavis and Pepper LaBeijia. She was also one of the stars of the legendary documentary, Paris Is Burning.
As mother of the House of Dupree, she was an iconic figure who mobilized young, urban gays to express themselves in ways that were beyond the grasp of mainstream America in the 1980s. In 1981, the House of Dupree hosted its first ball, establishing set categories which have been continued for generations. Dupree originated of many well-known categories that are still used today, and she is credited with inventing the style of dance known as voguing.
Her 1986 ball, titled — yes — Paris is Burning, was the main event featured in the 1990 documentary of the same name. Dupree is not interviewed in the film, but she is seen emceeing categories, commentating on performances, and walking the runway. Her most famous moment in the film is when she removes a hairpiece to illustrate the next category, Butch Queen.
“That’s right! I said it! Butch Queen!” she says. “Boy in the day, girl at night!”
When the film was released in 1990 with the same name as Dupree’s 1986 ball, Dupree filed a lawsuit against filmmaker Jennie Livingston and the film’s distributor, Miramax, seeking $40 million for unauthorized and fraudulent use of her services. She reportedly received a settlement amount of $5,000.
When Dupree dies, social media posts announce her passing, although the exact date and cause of her death is unclear.
“The ballroom runway ‘Grand Prize Competition’ in heaven got a bit thicker with the passing of Mother Paris Dupree,” performer Karl Xtravaganza posted. “Her death signals the end of an era.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post release a joint survey of the American public’s attitudes, awareness, and experiences related to HIV and AIDS.Learn More.
The survey finds that roughly a quarter of Americans do not know that HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass—almost exactly the same share as in 1987.
How to Survive a Plague, a documentary film about the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the efforts of the activist group ACT UP, opens in select theaters across the U.S.Learn More.
Directed by David France, How to Survive a Plague shows the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) medication AZT.
France is able to immerse his film crew behind the scenes of the activist community and document members as they learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians. A journalist who covered AIDS from its beginnings, France dedicated the film (his first) to his partner Doug Gould, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992.
The documentary was produced using more than 700 hours of archived footage which included news coverage, interviews as well as film of demonstrations, meetings and conferences taken by ACT UP members themselves. France says they knew what they were doing was historic, and that many of them would die.
Following its 2012 theatrical release, PBS would broadcast the documentary in December 2013, expanding its viewership to millions.
“I had public television in mind as we were making How to Survive a Plague,” France told PBS’s Independent Lens. “It is exactly the audience I was hoping to reach with the film: sophisticated, caring, motivated, and vast.”
How to Survive a Plague received awards for best documentary of 2012 from the Gotham Independent Film Awards, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and from the Boston Society of Film Critics. The film also won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary and a Peabody Award.
The Independent Spirit Awards nominated it for Best Documentary, and it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, a Directors Guild Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
New York Times critic A.O. Scott named How to Survive a Plague one of the best five documentaries of 2012. It also won Documentary of the Year at Attitude magazine’s 2013 Attitude Awards.
France’s book of the same title, expanding on the material, events, and people covered in the film, was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. It was described as “the definitive book on AIDS activism” and was named to numerous best-of and top-ten lists, including the New York Times 100 Notable Books for 2016.
Comedian Steve Moore, best known for his 1997 HBO comedy special Drop Dead Gorgeous (A Tragi-Comedy): The Power of HIV-Positive Thinking, dies of AIDS-related illness two weeks shy of his 60th birthday.Learn More.
Moore starred in the HBO special Drop Dead Gorgeous about living with HIV. Part of his act included imitating his mother, Wilma, whose malapropisms included saying that when she was cold she wrapped herself in a couple of “Africans.”
“I’ve been there, Mother,” he quipped.
Although gay, Moore was in a lavender marriage to Canadian comedian Lois Bromfield from 1980 to 1995. In the 1990s, Moore frequently performed as the warm-up comedian for tapings of the TV sit-com Roseanne, on which Bromfield was a writer.
“That mouth got him hired and fired five times by Roseanne Barr from the set of Roseanne,” wrote Rich Griset in his Style Weekly tribute to Moore.
But it also endeared him to Ellen DeGeneres, according to local comedian and theater critic John Porter.
“Steve was losing his health benefits, because he didn’t have enough work under his SAG card, so Ellen DeGeneres would hire him when she had her sitcom,” Porter said. “It kept him employed long enough so that his benefits couldn’t be denied.”
In a Los Angeles Times review of Moore’s HBO show, Daryl H. Miller characterized Moore as “a little Joel Grey, a lot Bette Davis.”
“What makes his story so compelling is the generosity of spirit that he finds in himself and in those around him,” Miller wrote of Moore.
In the show, which was shot before an audience at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, Moore covers his whole life, from growing up in Danville, Virginia to living the fast life in Los Angeles, and then moving back to Danville. The show concludes with a story about returning to Los Angeles to receive free HIV medication from a Beverly Hills doctor who reallocates drugs from patients who died, and then throwing himself a life-affirming 40th birthday party.
After the release of the HBO show, Moore continued to support himself with smaller-scale comedy touring, including performing at HIV/AIDS and LGBT conferences and events, and as a speaker on AIDS and HIV issues.
Moore died at his home in Danville, Virginia. The Byrd Theatre in nearby Richmond would host a public memorial service for Moore on what would have been Moore’s 60th birthday.
Actor Charlie Sheen announces his HIV-positive status in a nationally televised interview.Learn More.
“It’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life,” the 50-year-old actor said on the TODAY Show.
Sheen said he was motivated to go public about his HIV status in order to put an end to threats from extortionists who wanted “millions of dollars” to keep his diagnosis a secret.
On the same day, Sheen released an open letter about this HIV-positive diagnosis:
“The personal disbelief, karmic confusion, shame and anger lead to a temporary yet abysmal descent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking. It was a suicide run,” Sheen wrote.
With his public announcement, Sheen committed to managing his virus and serving as a good example for others who were HIV-positive.
“I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge: an opportunity to help others, a challenge to better myself,” Sheen wrote.
Significant public conversation about HIV followed his disclosure.
The White House Office of National AIDS Policy, the NIH Office of AIDS Research, and the National Institute of Mental Health cohost a meeting to address the issue of HIV stigma: Translating Research to Action: Reducing HIV Stigma to Optimize HIV Outcomes.Learn More.
Participants include researchers, policymakers, legal scholars, faith leaders, advocates, and people living with HIV.
Transgender trailblazer Alexis Arquette dies at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.Learn More.
Arquette was born into an acting family that includes siblings David, Rosanna, and Patricia, the latter who would famously memorialize her sister in a speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards.
In the earlier years of her career, Arquette primarily performed as a female impersonator, frequently under the name “Eva Destruction.” She debuted on the big screen in 1986 in an uncredited role as Alexis, the androgynous bandmate of Max Whiteman (Evan Richards) inDown and Out in Beverly Hills. Arquette would go on to star in more than 40 movies, the majority of them low-budget or independent films.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1989, Arquette chronicled her gender affirmation surgery in a 2007 documentary, Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, but returned to presenting as a man in 2013 as her health failed.
In her final hours, Arquette is surrounded by her famous brothers and sisters. Alexis had left specific instructions for her death: David Bowie’s “Starman” was to play as her final moments approached.
And when the final breath passed her lips, she asked that everyone cheer “the moment that [s]he transitioned to another dimension,” reports The Hollywood Reporter.
Her family would go on to found the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation, which works with the LA County / USC Medical Center to provide medical and mental health support to LGBTQ residents in the county.
Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the iconic rainbow flag in 1978, dies in his sleep in New York at the age of 65.Learn More.
In the early years of the AIDS crisis, the rainbow flag would emerge as a symbol for LGBTQ rights around the world. Baker initially designed an eight-color flag for San Francisco’s gay freedom day in 1978, the precursor to the modern pride parade. Each of the eight colors represented a different aspect of humanity:
- Pink – sexuality
- Red – life
- Orange – healing
- Yellow- sunlight
- Green – nature
- Turquoise – art
- Indigo – harmony
- Violet – human spirit
LGBT icon Harvey Milk, who was a friend of Baker’s, marched under the first rainbow flag in the June 1978 Gay Freedom parade, just months before he was assassinated.
By 1979, Baker dropped two colors — pink and turquoise — largely because fabrics and dyes in those shades weren’t always readily available, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The six-color flag — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple — is what became globally recognized.
Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972, which stationed him in San Francisco in the early days of the gay liberation movement. His story as a soldier is told in the book Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts.
After Baker was honourably discharged from the Army, he taught himself to sew and began a career in flag-making which would include creating designs and displays for several world leaders including the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines.
In June of 1994, Gilbert achieved a world’s record when he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot 1969 in New York City. The banner measured 30 x 5,280 ft. and was carried by 5,000 people. The project was underwritten by Stadtlander’s Pharmacy, a California pharmacy which was a principal distributor of a variety of HIV/AIDS medications.
Former San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy wrote about his recollection for the Bay Area Reporter of how the Rainbow Flag came to be installed at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francsco:
“In 1997, at the Castro Street Fair, I was standing with Baker in Jane Warner Plaza and then-mayor Willie Brown was approaching with his entourage. Baker was keenly aware that the mayor was promoting public art … Baker and I approached the mayor and Baker, with all of his glorious and passionate energy, pitched the idea for his work of art, the installation of a giant flagpole flying the rainbow flag — an idea he had spent 10 years developing.”
Baker never made money on the Rainbow Flag. With the help of a young lawyer named Matt Coles, he blocked the Pride Foundation’s attempt to trademark the flag, insisting that flag belonged to everyone.
“Gilbert was our own Betsy Ross,” said Sheehy, who worked with Baker in the 1990s on political causes. “He was a genius at political theater, at political art. He’s one of these heroes who never sought attention for himself. But he was relentless.”
One of his last works shortly before he died was the creation of concentration camp uniforms with pink triangles foreshadowing then-President Donald Trump’s march toward a fascist regime. Baker presented these in a gallery in the Castro, and they were also included in the Pink Triangle installation during San Francisco Pride in 2017.
After Baker’s death, the rainbow flag was raised in his honor near Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco. A candlelight vigil was held for him at Castro and Market streets, beneath his flag.
In 2021, a segment of Baker’s original Rainbow Flag, which was thought to be lost since 1978, was recently rediscovered and donated to the San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives. The hand-stitched and dyed 28-foot-long banner was been permanently installed in the museum.
Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Friedman, known for the play Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 41.Learn More.
An Obie Award winning composer/lyricist, Friedman was most well-known as the co-creator of the critically-acclaimed musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which premiered in New York at the Public Theater and subsequently transferred to Broadway.
Other credits include the musical The Fortress of Solitude, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Lethem; Unknown Soldier, which premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; and Love’s Labour’s Lost, which premiered at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis in a statement said, “Michael Friedman was one of the most brilliant, multi-talented theater artists of our time. He was also a miracle of a human being: loving, kind, generous, hilarious, thrilling. His loss leaves a hole in the theater world that cannot be filled, and a hole in the hearts of those who loved him that will last forever.”
Michael Paulson of the New York Times describted Friedman as “a versatile, cerebral and witty composer and lyricist who brought a historian’s eye and a journalistic sensibility to pathbreaking work off and on Broadway.”
Michael was a founding Associate Artist of The Civilians, the acclaimed investigative theater company. His work with company includes Gone Missing, In the Footprint, The Great Immensity, Paris Commune, (co-written with Civilians’ Artistic Director Steve Cosson) (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch, and This Beautiful City as well as the score for Anne Washburn’s critically-acclaimed Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.
His final collaboration with Cosson, The Abominables, opened at Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis in September 2017.
A cornerstone of The Civilians’ investigative method was to interview people and then turn the interviews into songs.
Sarah Larson wrote in The New Yorker that Friedman had “an incredible gift” for creating theater from interviews.
“He was an almost forensic listener, re-creating the exacting speech of all kinds of people and setting it to music as if finding its true form,” Larson wrote.
Friedman’s death was a shocking reminder to many that HIV continued to be deadly — even for well-to-do, white men with good health insurance.
“Aching with gratitude for the music & joy he gave us,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, wrote on Twitter. “Mourning all the music we’ll never hear.”
Shortly following Friedman’s death, the New York Times published an update, stating that Friedman had tested positive for HIV just nine weeks before his death.
Harvard University awards singer and HIV activist Elton John its Humanitarian of the Year Award . Since 1992, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised more than $385 million to support HIV/AIDS-related programming around the world.
Atlanta performance artist, writer, and HIV educator Antron-Reshaud Olukayode dies of AIDS-related illness at age 33. Olukayode had participated in CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign.
After a former boyfriend threatens to blackmail her over her HIV status, Austrian singer and Eurovision winner Conchita tells her fans that she is HIV-positive.Learn More.
In a press statement, she notes that she has been in treatment and virally suppressed for many years, and says “I hope to show courage and take another step against the stigmatization of people with HIV.”
In a tearful interview with The New York Times, TV star Jonathan Van Ness discloses he is HIV positive.Learn More.
Known as the grooming expert on the 2018 reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Van Ness disclosed that he was informed of his HIV-positive status after a visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Los Angeles. A 25-year-old salon assistant at the time, Van Ness was motivated by his diagnosis to quit smoking methamphetamine, “clean up his lifestyle,” and pursue an entertainment career.
The Times interview coincided with the release of the 32-year-old’s memoir Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love. Van Ness said he hoped his book would help dispell misconceptions about being HIV positive.
The decision to disclose his HIV status did not come easy for him. When the Queer Eye reboot made him famous and he decided to write a book about the journey to his success, he debated whether to make his HIV status public.
“It was really difficult, because I was like, do I want to talk about my status?” he said. “And then I was like, the Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the LGBT community thrive around me.”
Over the Top would go onto to become a New York Times bestseller and one of NPR’s “Favorite Books of the Year.” It would also win Goodread’s Choice Award for Best Memoir and Autobiography.
Jerry Herman — whose musical La Cage aux Folles arrived on Broadway at the height of the AIDS epidemic and helped put gay life into the cultural mainstream — dies at the age of 88.Learn More.
Herman composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles, and was nominated for the Tony Award five times (winning twice for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles).
Born July 10, 1931, Herman grew up in Jersey City, NJ in a family that loved theater. Seeing Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway changed his life, he told NPR in 1994.
“I walked out of that theater singing all those wonderful Berlin songs and, from that moment on, that’s all I wanted to do with my life,” he said.
In 1983, shortly after La Cage Aux Folles opened on Broadway, Herman’s companion, Marty Finkelstein, died of complications from AIDS. Herman was diagnosed as HIV-positive at a time when that seemed like a death sentence.
Herman was one of the first people to receive the complex cocktail of drugs that has kept so many HIV patients alive, and he helped raise millions of dollars for AIDS research.
Marilyn Stasio, who co-wrote Herman’s memoir Showtune, said that his HIV status spurred him to write his memoirs — and to also set some things straight.
“One thing that really got him mad was he thought people really felt he was putting it on, the optimism and the joy and the happiness and the way he loved life,” Stasio told NPR. “And he wanted to make it clear that it was true. He did. He loved every minute of life.”
Herman’s memoir, Showtune, was published in 1996. In it, he wrote about being shaken by the death of his lover, his own illness, and a feeling that despite La Cage, his music was no longer in fashion.
In 2009, Herman received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, and a year later, he and his work was recognized at the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors.
In December 2019, he was hospitalized for pulmonary complications and died days later.