Larry Kramer, AIDS Activist and Writer, Dies at 84

Kramer

On Wednesday morning, May 27, 2020, the writer whose “raucous, antagonistic campaign for an all-out response to the AIDS crisis helped shift national health policy in the 19080s and 90s,” Larry Kramer died. He was 84 years old.

David Webster, Kramer’s husband, said the cause of death was pneumonia. Kramer had health with a multitude of illnesses for the majority of his adult life. Kramer was infected with HIV, contracted liver disease, and had a successful liver transplant.

As a playwright, he was hailed for his autobiographical 1985 play, “The Normal Heart.” Kramer was one of the founders of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1981. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis was the first service organization for those who were positive with HIV. His aggressive approach caused the other directors to kick him out of the organization a year later.

This led him to form Act Up, (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The militant group demanded that AIDS drug research be sped up and they wanted to put an end to discrimination against the LGBT community.

The group’s actions severely disrupted business at government offices, Wall Street, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Susan Sontag referred to Kramer as “One of America’s most valuable troublemakers.”

Kramer intended to shock America into dealing with the AIDS epidemic as a public health emergency. This was even recognized by some of the officials he accused of “murder” and “genocide.”

He was one of the first activists to see what AIDS really could do before the sexually transmitted disease spread worldwide without regard to sexual orientation, killing millions in its path. He once said, “If you write a calm letter and fax it to nobody, it sinks like a brick in the Hudson.”

In a letter published in the San Fransisco Examiner, he wrote that infectious-disease expert and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci was a “killer” and “an incompetent idiot in 1988.

Kramer helped Fauci to understand the federal bureaucracy was slowing the research process for effective AIDS treatments. Fauci said Kramer played an “essential” role in the development of drug regimens that prolong the lives of those infected with HIV. Kramer also prompted the FDA to streamline its assessment and approval of drugs.

Kramer developed liver disease and underwent transplant surgery in 2001. Fauci helped him become part of a drug trial that saved his life afterward.

The bond between the two grew stronger in 2020. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the COVID-19 pandemic. This opened Fauci up to more criticism in some quarters.

When Kramer died, he was writing a play centered on the epidemic. “it’s about gay people having to live through three plagues – HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, and the decline of the human body, an inevitability brought home to him last year for hours waiting for a home attendant to arrive.”

Kramer’s breakthrough as a writer came with his screen adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love.” He was able to purchase the film rights for $4,200. He also produced the film which was a box office hit in 1969. Additionally, it was nominated with an Academy Award, Glenda Jackson won an Oscar for best actress in the film, and director Ken Russel was established as an important filmmaker.

Eventually, Kramer focused on homosexual themes and did so with a vengeance in his first novel, “Faggots.” According to The New York Times, it is “a scathing look at promiscuous sex, drug use, predation, and sadomasochism among gay men, it was a lining rod from the day of its publication in 1978.”

Some critics said the book was beyond belief. Kramer said the book was more of a documentary than a work of fiction. Kramer believed that gay men and lesbians had less of a chance of living fulfilling lives or producing anything great so long as they defined themselves by their sexual orientation.

Kramer spoke out about safe sex and the virtues of affection, commitment, and stability. These arguments anticipated the values of the movement for same-sex marriage.

By Jeanette Vietti

Sources:

The New York Times: Larry Kramer, Playwright and Outspokesn AIDS Activist, Dies at 84
CNN: Larry Kramer, trailblazing AIDS activist, dies at 84
Today: Larry Kramer, playwright and AIDS activist, remembered after his death at 84

Featured Image Courtesy of iggyshoot’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Top Image Courtesy of David Shankbons’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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