Playwright Larry Kramer, who has been a fierce and vocal AIDS activist and an HIV-positive gay man for decades, offered his unique perspective in a candid and surprising interview with Parade magazine, the venerable Sunday newspaper magazine that reaches 60 million people. The Normal Heart scribe shared his thoughts on the government's response to the AIDS epidemic, Elizabeth Taylor's failures, and why Hollywood actors still don't like to play gay.
Kramer has never been a stranger to HIV and LGBT rights issues. Being a catalyst for groups like The Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP NY in the 1980s and '90s, he forced the goverment and mainstream media to look hard at how people with HIV and AIDS were treated — socially, legally, and medically.
Always fearless, Kramer never backs down when it comes to speaking about how he feels. Here are some highlights from the interview:
Parade.com: Glee creator Ryan Murphy is directing The Normal Heart. Brad Pitt’s company, Plan B, is producing for HBO. Did you have trouble casting The Normal Heart because actors are afraid to play gay?
Yes. In ’84, ’85, with the play, it was hard to get actors to go gay. We waited forever for Al Pacino, who diddled making up his mind. I was very happy with Brad Davis. [Brad Davis played Ned Weeks, the lead in the original stage production of The Normal Heart at New York’s Public Theater. Pacino declined the role.]
In The Normal Heart, you attack our government’s disregard for AIDS victims. Was that apparent indifference due to the kind of people who first got infected in America — gays, people of color, addicts?
Of course. It’s because of who gets AIDS. I consider a great deal of what was done to us [by the government] evil.
But there were early heroes in the AIDS battle. You and others were arrested many times in protests. Elizabeth Taylor risked a lot.
Let’s talk about Elizabeth Taylor. She was buddies with Reagan. She never once went to him about this. She lent her name, but she didn’t use her power to confront the powers that be.
You were diagnosed with HIV in 1988?
Then your liver failed and you had a liver transplant in 2001.
I was told that I only had six months to live, and they weren’t transplanting people with HIV. I was at death’s door. I weighed 120 pounds. I wasn’t upset. I thought I’d contributed to the world and been well used. At the very, very last minute, suddenly they wanted HIV-positive people for a transplant study. They had done seven of them. I was the eighth.
Are you hopeful about the future of gays in America?
I’m essentially a hopeful person. We’ve weathered a storm here, yes, because we fought back. It’s not been easy.