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I Am The First

Meet the Middle-Aged Star of the Future

Jack R. Miller

He just happens to have a buffalo hump.

When actor Jack R. Miller first found out he was living with HIV, he was young enough to start treatment through the risk reduction program at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. He officially “graduated” the program at 25 (in 1995) and “I’m still living today!”

Born and bred in New York, Miller, now “44 years young,” divides his time between Los Angeles and New York City. With guest stints on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Good Wife, Guy Code, and even Sesame Street, Miller’s been busy making a name for himself as an actor. All that despite the fact that he’s only been in the game a few years.

“I started acting five years ago,” Miller recalls. “I enjoy making people laugh and being comical. I was cast in a few TV or film projects and I received my union status.” In that half decade he’s seen the entertainment industry change a great deal. To take advantage of that, he has embraced the financial-core or Fi-Core option, in which he pays nonmember fees with SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors in film and TV, but remains able to work nonunion jobs as well.

“Now I can both do nonunion and union work, which helps me in the long run because there is so much more nonunion work in the industry nowadays,” Miller admits.

With guest spots on hot series like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Miller may be on the cusp of, well, if not stardom, then at least some greater fame to come. But does he feel it?

“Well, I’m over 40, so it’s hard to tell with Hollywood these days. I think my big break may come some day, but I’m just glad to be a working actor in New York and L.A.”

That he’s gotten this far may surprise some, especially since his initial diagnosis in 1995 wasn’t just HIV-positive.

“Well, yes, back in 1995, my diagnosis was AIDS,” Miller admits, “because my CD-4 count was less than 200. It was 189, so I was considered AIDS-defined due to the U.S. government not establishing the viral load testing. I’m proud to say today my viral load is [undetectable] and my current CD-4 is over 600.”

While many long-term survivors find it hard to work, Miller graduated from vocational school in 2008, which he calls “a great accomplishment.” Now he’s plugging away at a pretty demanding career for his second act. But Miller says it took time and treatment to get where he is. “For many years, I was living on government assistance programs like food stamps, Section 8 housing, and Social Security. I really never planned a career because I didn’t see hope in living a healthy life with HIV/AIDS. Now look, it’s been over 20 years and I’m starting life over again!”

Even with his busy schedule, Miller isn’t worried about medication adherence these days. But it was a different story a decade ago: “I wasn’t adherent at all,” he admits. “I missed many, many doses, especially when I first started out with the virus. I didn’t see the importance of taking the medication because the [expected] life span was so short. That’s why I’m resistant to all classes of antiviral therapy today and I’m on my last leg of medications. The doctors I had along the way just kept changing and adding new medications, so I didn’t worry about the future back then.”

Miller has also persevered through his fair share of other problems.

“Oh my god,” he says, beginning a litany of ailments but still managing to sound like a guy who’d fit right in on Brooklyn Nine Nine (as opposed to, say, The Wire). Perhaps his sense of humor is what got him through it all.

“The side effects were horrible at first,” Miller recalls, “with night sweats, uncontrollable diarrhea, skin rashes, bloating, gas, wild dreams, bodily disfigurement. Today, one of my antivirals causes me to have a buffalo hump in my back. And when I was taking Fuzeon, I got scars from injection site reactions. I’m proud to say now that I can maintain a pretty vibrant lifestyle and not get worn out by side effects. I just have to watch what I eat and take my medication as prescribed.”

As a big guy, Miller has had to become comfortable with his body in order to embrace life as a performer. One of his best friends could not do so. “He committed suicide due to the side effects [that had] disfigured his body,” Miller recalls. “It was so sad.”

Miller is strict with his own adherence now, too. It’s even gotten easier.

“My acting gigs come in spurts so my schedule isn’t that busy until I hit it big time,” he jokes, laughing both at Hollywood and at aging. “But when taking pills on set, I’m embarrassed at times or try to hide them from people asking questions. But as I got older, everyone has some form of ailment or a pill to take here and there.”

Miller wants others who are newly diagnosed to see in his example that “there is hope out there if you stay strong and maintain a drama-free, stress-free, and harmful-drug-free lifestyle, you can live a long and productive [life].” He wants to be “continuously sharing my knowledge and stories with the HIV/AIDS community and helping [mentor] LGBT communities of color.”

He dreams of moving to L.A. full time, “to see if I can make that big break in a movie or sitcom. I would love to buy a tiny house and travel the coast and do my acting career and enjoy life to the fullest.”

What else does a full life include for Miller? Playing the penny slots at the casinos, hitting up nude beaches, checking off those bucket list items, continuing a healthy and drama-free life.

Could the actor have imagined 20 years ago when first diagnosed just where he’d be today?

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a very long dream and I’m trying to wake up. I had no clue that I would be still here today. My mom died of breast cancer over 10 years ago and I’m still living with AIDS. I had no idea the medication would sustain me this long! Sometimes I do get survivor’s guilt, but I must say that God, I guess, wanted me here for a reason, season, or lifetime — as the saying goes.”

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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