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Larry Kramer, playwright and AIDS activist, dies at 84

Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, whose powerful writing triggered a response to the AIDS crisis and changed national health policy, has died at the age of 84. 

The renown writer passed away from pneumonia on Wednesday morning in Manhattan, his husband David Webster said. 

He suffered from the illness for much of his adult life and also suffered from HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – and liver disease. 

Kramer was famous for his angry voice and poignant pen through which he spread awareness about AIDS and roused thousands to militant protests during the crisis.   

The author is best known for his autobiographical 1985 play The Normal Heart. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 film Women in Love, an adaption of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, that saw its star actress Glenda Jackson win her first Oscar. 

Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, whose powerful writing triggered a response to the AIDS crisis and changed national health policy, has died at the age of 84 of pneumonia.  Pictured above in December 2014

Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, whose powerful writing triggered a response to the AIDS crisis and changed national health policy, has died at the age of 84 of pneumonia.  Pictured above in December 2014

Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, whose powerful writing triggered a response to the AIDS crisis and changed national health policy, has died at the age of 84 of pneumonia.  Pictured above in December 2014

Kramer was one of the first vocal AIDS crusaders shedding light on the health crisis that plagued the gay community. Pictured at Village Voice AIDS conference on June 6, 1987 in New York City

Kramer was one of the first vocal AIDS crusaders shedding light on the health crisis that plagued the gay community. Pictured at Village Voice AIDS conference on June 6, 1987 in New York City

Kramer was one of the first vocal AIDS crusaders shedding light on the health crisis that plagued the gay community. Pictured at Village Voice AIDS conference on June 6, 1987 in New York City 

In addition to his writing, Kramer was well known and respected for his activism and was famous for his at times abrasive and aggressive approach.  

In 1981 he founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first service organization for HIV-positive people. He created the group when AIDS had not yet acquired its name and only a few dozen people had been diagnosed with it.

He was later kicked out of that group for his confrontational approach. It remains one of the largest AIDS-service groups in the country. 

He founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, in 1987 aimed at gaining more national attention and action around the AIDS crisis. 

Kramer lost his lover to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1984 and was himself infected with the virus. He also suffered from hepatitis B and received a liver transplant in 2001 because the virus had caused liver failure. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio paid tribute to the beloved writer saying: ‘If you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis then you remember Larry Kramer. He was FEARLESS. He stirred the pot, called out the powerful and, much to the chagrin of some people, he was almost always right. We’re mourning a great New Yorker today.’ 

Gay icon and singer Elton John also paid tribute to Kramer.  

‘We have lost a giant of a man who stood up for gay rights like a warrior. His anger was needed at a time when gay men´s deaths to AIDS were being ignored by the American government,’ he said in a statement.

Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda also shared a touching message in light of Kramer’s death tweeting: ‘Don’t know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged. What an extraordinary writer, what a life. Thank you, Larry Kramer.’  

Mayor Bill de Blasio paid tribute to the beloved writer saying: 'If you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis then you remember Larry Kramer. He was FEARLESS. He stirred the pot, called out the powerful and, much to the chagrin of some people, he was almost always right. We’re mourning a great New Yorker today'

Mayor Bill de Blasio paid tribute to the beloved writer saying: 'If you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis then you remember Larry Kramer. He was FEARLESS. He stirred the pot, called out the powerful and, much to the chagrin of some people, he was almost always right. We’re mourning a great New Yorker today'

Mayor Bill de Blasio paid tribute to the beloved writer saying: ‘If you remember the early days of the AIDS crisis then you remember Larry Kramer. He was FEARLESS. He stirred the pot, called out the powerful and, much to the chagrin of some people, he was almost always right. We’re mourning a great New Yorker today’

‘Larry Kramer was like an Old Testament prophet – angry and righteous. He could be a foul-weather friend, who helped even enemies when they had health problems. He could be scathing and antagonistic or wonderfully compassionate,’ Author and fellow founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Edmund White said. 

‘Larry Kramer could best be described as a force of nature, like a hurricane. If you were in his way, you didn´t want to be in his path. He was a force to be reckoned with, not only in his founding of GMHC (Gay Men´s Health Crisis) and later ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), but in his unwavering willingness to speak truth to power,’ Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who lost many friends and colleagues to AIDS, said in a statement. 

‘Larry Kramer’s death hits our community hard. He was a fighter who never stood down from what he believed was right, and he,’ GLAAD tweeted in a statement. 

He also wrote the 1972 screenplay Lost Horizon, a novel, Faggots, and the plays Sissies’ Scrapbook, The Furniture of Home, Just Say No and The Destiny of Me, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.

A portrait of Kramer posing in front of his bookshelves at home wearing a sweater that says 'Silence = Death' in reference to the lack of attention surrounding the AIDS crisis

A portrait of Kramer posing in front of his bookshelves at home wearing a sweater that says 'Silence = Death' in reference to the lack of attention surrounding the AIDS crisis

A portrait of Kramer posing in front of his bookshelves at home wearing a sweater that says ‘Silence = Death’ in reference to the lack of attention surrounding the AIDS crisis

For years Kramer was best known for his crusade against aids, fighting to secure medical treatment and research, as well as acceptance and civil rights for people with AIDS. 

He was one of the loudest voices shedding light on the crisis plaguing the gay community.  

Tributes from the arts community flooded in Wednesday, with Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter saying: ‘What an extraordinary writer, what a life’.

Dan Savage wrote: ‘He ordered us to love ourselves and each other and to fight for our lives. He was a hero.’

Kramer 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.’

Kramer pictured with husband architect David Webster at the Broadway Opening Night of Torch Song at the Hayes Theater on November 1, 2018

Kramer pictured with husband architect David Webster at the Broadway Opening Night of Torch Song at the Hayes Theater on November 1, 2018

Kramer pictured with husband architect David Webster at the Broadway Opening Night of Torch Song at the Hayes Theater on November 1, 2018

Larry Kramer, left, and Daryl Roth embracing after they won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play for The Normal Hear" during the 65th annual Tony Awards in New York on June 12, 2011

Larry Kramer, left, and Daryl Roth embracing after they won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play for The Normal Hear" during the 65th annual Tony Awards in New York on June 12, 2011

Larry Kramer, left, and Daryl Roth embracing after they won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play for The Normal Hear” during the 65th annual Tony Awards in New York on June 12, 2011

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

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

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

Late journalist Randy Shilts hailed him as ‘inarguably one of the most influential works of advocacy journalism of the decade” and credited it with “crystallizing the epidemic into a political movement for the gay community,’ in his best selling book ‘And the Band Played On.’ 

Kramer lived to see gay marriage become legal and married himself in 2013. 

He married his longtime partner architect David Webster in the intensive care unit of NYU Langone Medical Center, where Kramer was recovering from surgery for a bowel obstruction.

‘I’m married.  But that’s only part of where we are. AIDS is still decimating us and we still don’t have protection under the law,’ he said. 

He wrote his play The Normal Heart in 1985 which follows the story of a furious young writer – not unlike Kramer himself – battles politicians, society, the media and other gay leaders to bring attention to the crisis.

The play premiered at The Public Theater in April 1985. 

Associated Press drama critic Michael Kuchwara called it an ‘angry but compelling indictment of a society as well as a subculture for failing to respond adequately to the tragedy.’

A revival in 2011 was almost universally praised by critics and earned the best revival Tony. Two actors from it – Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey – also won Tonys. Joe Mantello played the main character of Ned Weeks, the alter ego of Kramer.

‘I’m very moved that it moved so many people. Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague. Please know there is no cure,’ he said at the time. Kramer often stood outside the theater passing out fliers asking the world to take action against HIV/AIDS.

Larry Kramer at the premiere of HBO Films' The Normal Heart in New York in 2014

Larry Kramer at the premiere of HBO Films' The Normal Heart in New York in 2014

Larry Kramer at the premiere of HBO Films’ The Normal Heart in New York in 2014

The play was turned into a TV film for HBO in 2014 starring Mark Ruffalo, Jonathan Groff, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello and Julia Roberts. It won the Emmy for best movie. Kramer stood onstage in heavy winter clothing as the statuette was presented to director Ryan Murphy.

The 1992 play The Destiny of Me continues the story of Weeks from The Normal Heart. Weeks, in the hospital for an experimental AIDS treatment, reflects on the past, particularly his relationship with his family. His parents and brother appear to act out what happened in the past, as does the young Ned, who confronts his older self.

Kramer’s group ACT, founded in 1987, 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 U’s protests helped persuade the FDA to speed the approval of new drugs and Burroughs-Wellcome to lower its price for AZT. 

He also battled – and later reconciled – with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been leading the national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kramer soon relinquished a leadership role in ACT UP, and as support for AIDS research increased, he found some common ground with health officials whom ACT UP had bitterly criticized.

In 2011, he helped the American Foundation for Equal Rights mount their play titled 8 on Broadway about the legal battle over same-sex marriage in California.

‘The one nice thing that I seem to have acquired, accidentally, is this reputation of everyone afraid of my voice,’ he told The AP in 2015. ‘So I get heard, whether it changes anything or not.’

One of his last projects was the massive two-volume The American People, which chronicled the history of gay people in America and took decades to write.

‘I just think it’s so important that we know our history – the history of how badly we’re treated and how hard we have to fight to get what we deserve, which is equality,’he said.

At the 2013 Tonys, he was honored with the Isabelle Stevenson Award, given to a member of the theater community for philanthropic or civic efforts.

Source: Daily Mail – Articles

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