AIDS Activist, Playwright Larry Kramer Dies at 84

Wednesday May 27, 2020

Larry Kramer
Larry Kramer  (Source:Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

Larry Kramer, one of the most prominent activists to the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s, died Wednesday in Manhattan, according to The New York Times. He was 84.

Kramer's husband David Webster told the newspaper the cause of death was pneumonia. The Times also writes that other than having HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — Kramer also had liver disease and underwent a successful liver transplant.

Born on June 25, 1935 in Bridgeport, Conn., Kramer was a founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and become one of the most outspoken and aggressive activists during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s. He was also a founder of Act Up, a militant organization that aimed to increase AIDS drug testing and AIDS research. The group was notorious for urging an end to anti-LGBTQ discrimination, often holding protests in government spaces and on Wall Street while calling out the Catholic Church's stance on AIDS and the LGBTQ community at the time.

The Associated Press writes of Kramer:

But for many years he was best known for his public fight to secure medical treatment, acceptance and civil rights for people with AIDS. He loudly told everyone that the gay community was grappling with a plague.

In 1981, when AIDS had not yet acquired its name and only a few dozen people had been diagnosed with it, Kramer and a group of his friends in New York City founded Gay Men's Health Crisis, one of the first groups in the country to address the epidemic.

He tried to rouse the gay community with speeches and articles such as "1,112 and Counting," published in gay newspapers in 1983.

"Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of this earth is at stake," he wrote. "Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die."

The AP also writes:

Kramer lived to see gay marriage a reality and joined one such union himself in 2013 but never rested. "I'm married," he told The AP. "But that's only part of where we are. AIDS is still decimating us and we still don't have protection under the law."

Kramer split with GMHC in 1983 after other board members decided to concentrate on providing support services to people with AIDS. It remains one of the largest AIDS-service groups in the country.

After leaving GMHC, Kramer gave voice to his grief and frustration by writing "The Normal Heart," in which a furious young writer — not unlike Kramer himself — battles politicians, society, the media and other gay leaders to bring attention to the crisis.

Of his time at Act Up the AP writes:

In 1987, Kramer founded ACT UP, the militant group that became famous for staging civil disobedience at places like the Food and Drug Administration, the New York Stock Exchange and Burroughs-Wellcome Corp., the maker of the chief anti-AIDS drug, AZT.

ACT UP's protests helped persuade the FDA to speed the approval of new drugs and Burroughs-Wellcome to lower its price for AZT.

Kramer soon relinquished a leadership role in ACT UP, and as support for AIDS research increased, he later found some common ground with health officials whom ACT UP had bitterly criticized. (At the Emmy Awards, Kramer wore an ACT UP baseball cap.)

"There are many people who feel that ACT UP hurt itself by so many of us going to work inside, with the very system that we were formed to protest against," Kramer told The New York Times in 1997. "There's good reason to believe that. On the other hand, when you are given the chance to be heard a little better, it's hard to turn down."

Kramer is also known for writing the screenplay for the 1970 film "Women in Love," for which he earned an Oscar nomination, and "The Normal Heart" for the stage in 1985, which won him a Tony Award in 2011 when the play was revived. Ryan Murphy directed "The Normal Heart," set in 80s New York amid the AIDS crisis, for an HBO film in 2014. The film won an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie.

In March, it was reported that Kramer began working on a new play that tackles the current COVID-19 pandemic.

"The government has been awful in both cases," Kramer told the Times in a separate article, referring to the AIDS crisis and the ongoing pandemic.

Click here to read The New York Times's obituary on Kramer.

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