He dies at Garden Sullivan Hospital in San Francisco.
The Bay Area Reporter, a weekly newspaper for the gay and lesbian community in San Francisco, publishes the first mention of “Gay Men’s Pneumonia.”Learn More.
The short item encourages gay men who are experiencing progressive shortness of breath to see their physicians.
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 (nuemocytis carinii pneumonia) among 26 gay men (25 white and one black).
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 works as Exhibit Director of the LA Children’s Museum, Glaser asks her doctor about the mysterious disease reported recently in the press, and her doctor assures her: “Your nightmare is over.”
In 1985, daughter Ariel would experience persistent stomach pains and doctors are unable to determine the source. The four-year-old is tested for HIV “as just a precaution,” and the results come back positive for the virus.
Each member of the Glaser family is then tested, and would result in the additional HIV diagnosis of mother Elizabeth and 18-month-old son Jake.
Doctors determine that Elizabeth contracted HIV during the 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 seeks counseling for Ariel, she discovers that no child psychiatrist will take the case. Aware of the stigma of AIDS, the Glasers pull Ariel out of nursery school and erect a wall of secrecy to protect their children.
In August 1989 (one year after Ariel dies of AIDS-related illness), the National Enquirer and other tabloids would threaten the Glaser family with exposure.
Elizabeth Glaser would share her harrowing story in her 1991 autobiography, In the Absence of Angels. She and two frinds would start the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and she would become one of the most aggressive and effective pediatric AIDS activists in the country.
“Dreamgirls” makes a splashy debue 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” marks career breakthroughs for Holliday and Ralph, but also begins 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 would say in a 2008 Star Tribune interview.
Holliday also would dedicate much of her life to HIV/AIDS advocacy and activism.
“I’ve been an advocate for AIDS assistance, because it took the lives of male chorus members and the creative team of Dreamgirls,” Holliday would later tell the Broadway Blog.
In 2017, Holliday would release a song to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“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.
Lenny Baker, who won the 1977 Tony Award for Best Actor (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 would go on to win 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 would be held at the Public Theater, located at 425 Lafayette Street in New York City.
The New York Times publishes the first mention of the term “GRID” (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), deepening public perceptions that HIV/AIDS is solely gay related.Learn More.
The Times picked up the terminology from some researchers who were using it to describe the new epidemic. While the article identifies 13 cases of the disease in heterosexual women, it goes 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.”
The Los Angeles Times publishes the front-page story “Mysterious Fever Now an Epidemic,” marking the first time AIDS news receives top coverage in the mainstream press.
The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence creates Play Fair!, the first “safer sex” pamphlet to use sex-positive language, practical advice, and humor in its approach to staying safe during the growing AIDS epidemic.Learn More.
The Sisters distribute 16,000 copies of Play Fair! during the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian parade in June 1982.
Larry Hinneman, a dancer with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness.
The exact date of Hinneman’s death is not known, nor is his age at the time of his death.
In a report, CDC coins the term “AIDS” / Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The report also includes the first case definition for AIDS: “A disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease.”Learn More.
Today, AIDS is defined as a set of symptoms (or syndrome) caused by the HIV virus. A person is said to have AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infection. This is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced.
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 Division of Host Factors, cautioned against Dr. Bove’s theory.
“What Dr. Bove is not taking into account is the incubation period 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.
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.
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.
Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority publishes 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.
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 show, producer David Hunt examines “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.”
The National AIDS Hotline opens, and by the end of the first month it’s reaching 8,000-10,000 calls a day.Learn More.
Operated by the U.S. Public Health Servicem, 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 volume of calls.
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.
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.
Rock star Jobriath dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 36. He was the first openly gay pop singerto be signed to a major record label, and one of the first internationally famous musicians to die of AIDS.Learn More.
Born Bruce Wayne Campbell and raised in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Jobriath started his music career in the West Coast production of the musical Hair, receiving positive reviews in the lead role of Woof, a character implied to be gay. After leaving the production in 1969, he joined the folk-rock band Pidgeon as their lead singer and guitarist, followed by a two-album solo deal with Elektra Records in 1972.
His debut album Jobriath, released in June 1973, would feature an album sleeve design by photographer Shig Ikeda depicting a nude Jobriath as an ancient Greek statue. This photograph was used in an extentive publicity campaign for the album release.
Critical praise for the album followed the hype, and he was often compared with David Bowie, some critics contending that Jobriath had more talent than Bowie. But American music fans of the 1970s weren’t ready for a talent like Jobriath.
“At a concert at the Nassau Coliseum, chants of ‘faggot’ started from the minute he took the stage, along with rubbish thrown at him, and Jobriath was forced a flee the stage,” writes music historian Kevin Burke.
Elektra then rush-released Jobriath’s second album and ended its contract with him. Jobriath would spend the rest of the ’70s in a new identity, “Cole Berlin” (an amalgamation of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin), whose professions were nightclub signer and sex worker.
Jobriath had begun to feel ill in late 1981 but still managed to contribute to the Chelsea Hotel’s 100th birthday celebration in November 1982.
“A decade after his billboards hung in Times Square, Jobriath Boone died alone and abandoned in his rooftop apartment at the Chelsea Hotel,” Burke writes. “Sadly overlooking the New York skyline he once adorned, here his body lay decomposing for four days before it was found.”
Klaus Nomi, a world-famous countertenor, dies of AIDS at the age of 39. Although Nomi’s work had not yet met with national commercial success, he has a cult following in New York and in France.Learn More.
Nomi is an important part of the 1980s East Village scene, a hotbed of development for punk rock music, the visual arts and the avant-garde. Born Klaus Sperber in Immenstadt, Germany, Nomi began his career in the 1960s, singing opera arias at the Berlin gay discothèque Kleist Casino. His distinctive performances featured his wide vocal range and an otherworldly stage persona.
In 1978, he caught the attention of the NYC art scene with his performance in “New Wave Vaudeville.” Dressed in a skin-tight spacesuit with a clear plastic cape, Nomi sang the aria “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” (“My heart opens to your voice”) from Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila. After that performance Nomi was invited to perform at clubs all over New York City.
Nomi would go on to create the Klaus Nomi Band, release albums, and perform in NYC’s top clubs. In 1979, David Bowie hired Nomi as a backup singer for his Dec. 15 appearance on Saturday Night Live. During the performance of “TVC 15,” Nomi and Joey Arias dragged around a large prop pink poodle with a television screen in its mouth.
In the last several months of his life, Nomi would change his focus to operatic pieces and adopted a Baroque era operatic outfit complete with full collar as his typical onstage attire. The collar helped cover the outbreaks of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Nomi’s death at the Sloan Kettering Hospital Center in New York City is one of the first of many celebrity deaths from AIDS.
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.
Modern dancer Graham Conley, who performed with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.
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.
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.
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.
Canadian flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas dies of AIDS in Quebec City at the age of 32. A few years later, Dugas would be erroneously villified as “Patient Zero” due to the CDC’s labeling of his case as “patient O” (as in the letter O).Learn More.
In 1987, three years after the death of Dugas, journalist Randy Shilts would publish the best-selling book And the Band Played On, an influential work on HIV that would help shame the U.S. Government into properly funding research.
Tucked away in the book would be a few pages on so-called “patient zero” to illustrate how the virus could spread. Shilts would identify “patient zero” as Dugas, who had a home in Los Angeles, and implied that he was the first-known source of the HIV spread in the U.S.
The media would erupt: Dugas’ hansome face would be pubished everywhere, and he would be characterised as a kind of “typhoid Mary” who callously spread the virus in the early 1980s.
Flash-forward to 2016, when this would be scientifically disproven by a group of researchers led by evolutionary biologist Dr. Michael Worobey. Worobey’s team conducted a genetic study of blood samples taken from gay and bisexual men in 1978 and 1979 as part of a hepatitis B study, and based on the results of the data, concluded that Dugas was not the source of the virus in the U.S.
“On the family tree of the virus, Dugas fell in the middle, not at the beginning” Worobey concluded. “Beliefs about Patient Zero are unsupported by scientific data.”
Worobey’s paper, published in Nature in October 2016, finds neither biological nor historical evidence that Dugas was the primary case in the U.S.
It is also important to note that Dugas was particularly helpful and transparent with the CDC in tracing his network of partners, providing names and addresses for many of them (which was further expanded because others remembered his distinctive name).
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.
San Francisco ordered bathhouses closed due to the potential of high-risk sexual activity occurring in these venues.Learn More.
In the mid-1980s, controversy emerged in a number of American cities over the roles gay bathhouses and sex clubs might play in the spread of AIDS, and in raising safe-sex awareness. In 1984, San Francisco became the first city where political debates broke out over AIDS-related policies for bathhouses and sex clubs. These debates were dominated by questions of public health and gay civil liberties,
San Francisco’s Director of Public Health ordered the closure of 14 bathhouses in the city. Within six hours of the order, two had already re-opened. An additional 10 had re-opened within 24 hours.
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.”
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.”
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 Charles Pierce and the San Francisco Opera.
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.
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.
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.
The CDC launches its PSA campaign, America Responds to AIDS, to kick off the newly designated AIDS Awareness Month (October).
Reaching millions, the campaign is the first on the subject of AIDS prevention, and becomes a central prong in the “everyone is at risk” strategy of AIDS prevention.Learn More.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dancer Peter Childers, who performed with the San Francisco Opera Ballet, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 32.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen W. Burns, known for his starring role as Jack Cleary in the 1983 television miniseries The Thorn Birds, dies of AIDS-related illness after contracting the HIV virus from untested blood received in surgery. He was 35.Learn More.
As soon as he graduated high school, Burns moved to New York City to study theater. He worked odd jobs during the day to pay for his rent and the acting classes he attended at night. Auditions eventually led to the lead role in the national touring production of the Broadway hit Grease.
Burns moved to Hollywood and within six months, he was offered the role of Li’l Abner in the 1978 TV special Li’l Abner in Dogpatch Today. During his short career, Burns starred as Pete Stancheck in Walt Disney Productions’ Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) and appeared on several television shows, in a starring role in the ABC series 240-Robert and appearances ine Eight Is Enough, Heart of the City and Simon & Simon.
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, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.Learn More.
Turner was one of the earliest diagnosed with AIDS in 1982 and became of the longest-living known people with AIDS by the time of his death.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Stan Hadden, a senior administrative aide to California Senate President Pro Tempore David A. Roberti and one of the most influential voices on AIDS policies in Sacramento, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.Learn More.
As fierce fighter for HIV/AIDS policy for 10 years, Haddon is credited with shepharding the creation of the California AIDS Advisory Committee in 1983 and writing legislation supporting a coordinated approach to local HIV/AIDS programs and services in 1985.
Hadden was one of only a few in the 1980s Sacramento political scene who were open about their LGBT identity, journalist Karen Ocamb would later write in The Pride. Scores of administrative and political aides to California legislators remained in the closet, fearful that open knowledge of their sexual identity would end their professional careers. Elected officials and potential candidates who identify as LGBT also remained silenced by the very real fear of ruination.
In the final two weeks of his life, Hadden receives round-the-clock nursing care as part of a hospice program. Sacramento AIDS Foundation spokeswoman Patty Blomberg notes that the AIDS care Hadden received might not have existed if it were not for his influence and persistence.
Blomberg tells the Sacramento Bee that Hadden had slipped into a coma early that morning and then died at about noon at his farmhouse along the Sacramento River, surrounded by friends and family who had flown in from as far away as Michigan.
Hadden’s funeral would bring in friends and colleagues from around the state, including Ocamb and John Duran, then President of the Board of LIFE AIDS Lobby who would become Mayor of the City of West Hollywood.
“In a gesture unheard of for the suits of Sacramento, a huge rainbow flag was unfurled and solemnly marched down the street to the Capitol,” Ocamb recalled.
“Stan’s memory will go on, because he made a contribution to this state that many of us can only dream of making,” Senate President Pro Tem Roberti says during Hadden’s memorial service at St. Francis Church in midtown Sacramento.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
AIDS activist and award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor dies on March 23. One of the first celebrities to advocate on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS, Taylor was the founding national chairman of amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) , a nonprofit organization that supports AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and advocates for AIDS-related public policy.
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.
Actor Charlie Sheen announces his HIV-positive status in a nationally televised interview. Significant public conversation about HIV follows his disclosure. Earlier in the year, rapper, performance artist, and poet Mykki Blanco took to Facebook to disclose his HIV status, and former child TV star Danny Pintauro told Oprah that he is living with HIV.
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.
Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Friedman dies of AIDS-related illness at age 41. He is best known for his work on the play Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. His death is a shocking reminder to many that HIV continues to be deadly—even for well-to-do, white men with good health insurance.
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.”