Larry Kramer, gay rights and AIDS activist, dies at 84

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 28 2020 03:55 AM

Playwright Larry Kramer and actor Mark Ruffalo pose backstage after winning the Outstanding Television Movie award for HBO's "The Normal Heart" at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California August 25, 2014. Mike Blake, Reuters/File Photo

Larry Kramer, a prominent gay rights activist whose vociferous writings and actions took on a lagging government response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, has died. He was 84 years old.

"Rest in power to our fighter Larry Kramer. Your rage helped inspire a movement. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action," tweeted Act Up -- the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power -- one of several groups he founded as the HIV virus ravaged the gay community in the late 20th century.

Citing Kramer's husband, The New York Times attributed his death to pneumonia. The octogenarian had suffered a number of afflictions in his storied life, including HIV and liver disease, for which he underwent a transplant in 2001.

In 1981 Kramer founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis, the first organization supporting HIV-positive people, leaving a year later following disputes with his fellow organizers.

He went on to found Act Up in 1987, leading protest marches and disruptions of government offices, Wall Street and Catholic leadership to shock US leaders into combatting AIDS.

Born on June 25, 1935 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Kramer graduated from Yale in 1957 before doing a stint in the Army.

He then made a foray into film, working in London on "Dr. Strangelove" and "Lawrence of Arabia."

He was known as a provocative screenwriter, nabbing a 1971 Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love."

He later turned to themes of homesexuality, publishing in 1978 a lightning rod of a first novel -- "Faggots" -- which through its piercing satire explored promiscuity, drug use and sadomasochism in the gay community.

In the early 1980s Kramer was among the first activists to recognize AIDS as a fatal infection likely to spread and kill globally across lines of gender.

"Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.... Unless we fight for our lives we shall die," he wrote in a 1983 essay published in a gay-focused outlet, the New York Native.

Though his harsh rhetoric and often combative style alienated some, he channeled his furor over the government's perceived apathy on AIDS into urgent work that ultimately transformed American health care.

"In American medicine, there are two eras -- before Larry and after Larry," Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert now leading the US fight against the coronavirus pandemic, told The New Yorker in 2002.

Fauci, who became one of the nation's most prominent voices on federal AIDS research, developed a friendship with Kramer after the activist grabbed his attention after dubbing the doctor an "incompetent idiot" and killer in 1988.

Kramer's singular voice played a key role in pushing the federal government to improve testing and approval of drug regimes for HIV patients.

"Once you got past the rhetoric," Fauci told the NYT upon learning of the activist's death, "you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold."

"Larry Kramer's death hits our community hard," tweeted GLAAD, a nonprofit centered on LGBTQ acceptance. 

"He was a fighter who never stood down from what he believed was right, and he contributed so much to the fight against HIV/AIDS."