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Ask & Tell: Styx's Chuck Panozzo

Ask & Tell: Styx's Chuck Panozzo


The group's cofounder and original bassist, Chuck Panozzo, a 20-year HIV/AIDS survivor, has worked to raise awareness of the research needed to develop a vaccine for HIV.

Over the course of Styx's 38-year career, the iconic '70s rock band has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and spawned scores of top ten hits including 1979's 'Babe' and 1990's 'Show Me the Way.' The group's cofounder and original bassist, Chuck Panozzo, a 20-year HIV/AIDS survivor, has worked to raise awareness of the research needed to develop a vaccine for the virus. He's also active with the Human Rights Campaign and has helped generate funds for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. How did you become involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS? In my 30s, I was a professional pallbearer. I went to one of our health clinics [in Chicago] and gave them a check for $5,000 for what I called 'this STD that had no cure' because [in the early 1980s] there wasn't a name for it yet. A progressive part of me said, Yes, I have a feeling I'm positive. And maybe one day I'll need the same help that research might provide. And ironically, I had to take advantage of that. What led to you being tested for the virus? I had a cold and I went to a local community clinic. The doctor asked if I wanted to get tested for HIV, and I said sure. The test came back positive. I said, 'Is there anything you can give me?' She said, 'I don't know.' I asked if she had any prognosis. She said, 'I don't know.' Go home and get ready to die, is what I thought. That was 1991. Did you begin treatment at that point? No. I was in a state of denial for a long time. By late '98, I had developed full-blown AIDS. I had lost a lot of weight, and one of my band members, Tommy Shaw, said to me, 'I'm afraid I'll never see you alive again.' That was a gigantic wake-up call. I knew [then] I had to see a physician. I had every opportunistic illness that full-blown AIDS can give you. I was putting everything before my health, until the realization came to me that without health, there will be no future. There was a clinic in Chicago giving out protease inhibitors. That was a salvation. I was a guinea pig for about a year and half. Since going public with your status, you've been active in AIDS charities. Yes, I did some benefits for the Human Rights Campaign and I was asked to be part of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. My partner and I did a painting, which was sold for a thousand dollars. Locally here in Florida, we do a thing called the Smart Ride [], which is a bicycle ride from Miami down to Key West. I was very involved in that last year. I also performed at one of our local clubs and auctioned off guitars. I'm more than happy to give my time in service. I feel an obligation to do that. I got a second chance in life. What sort of advice do you give people with HIV? When somebody who's 18 or 25 walks up to me and says, 'I'm infected and I'm frightened to death,' my first reaction is [to say], 'Give me a hug.' Then I say, 'Now is the time not to be frightened. Be smart and learn everything you can about it. Don't isolate yourself. But don't be frightened. If I can do it, you can do it, too.' You've credited your attitude for being a big part of what's kept you healthy. I think that's a big part of it, to have a positive attitude. You have to decide if you're going to sit in the corner and feel sorry for yourself or if you're going to just get through what you have to get through. Feeling sorry for yourself is not going to get you better. And all of a sudden, what I thought was going to kill me ended up empowering me. And now I'm HIV healthy. I'm not detectable; I'm able to work almost as much as I want to. It's not easy doing 170 shows, but I'm on tour again this year. I can't say I'm glad I have HIV, but since I do I've got to make the best of it.

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