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‘A giant’: Tributes pour in for AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer

‘A giant’: Tributes pour in for AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer, the author, playwright and film producer who pushed the US to save lives during the AIDS crisis, has died aged 84.

Kramer is best known as the author of the Tony-winning 1985 play, The Normal Heart, and as a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP.

Tributes to him have poured in from campaigners, politicians and celebrities. They reflect all areas of his life but particularly the pivotal role he played in making AIDS a national issue.

Kramer died yesterday (27 May) of pneumonia in a New York hospital. He had suffered illness for much of his life, including his own battle with AIDS.

As many of his friends became HIV positive too, Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1981 and then co-founding the more militant ACT UP in 1987.

Larry Kramer
Kramer became a powerful voice, saving countless lives during the AIDS crisis. Wikimedia Commons

Pledging to continue the work of ‘revolutionary’ Kramer

Those organizations led the tributes to him in the hours since his death.

ACT UP New York said: ‘Rest in power to our fighter Larry Kramer. Your rage helped inspire a movement. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action.’

And GMHC said: ‘We mourn the loss of our co-founder and hero Larry Kramer.

‘He was an extraordinary activist and inspiration to us all. He saved the lives of thousands of people affected by HIV/AIDS. He was a revolutionary who challenged the status quo. His legacy will live on.’

Meanwhile other human organizations also added their voice to those mourning Kramer.

The American Civil Liberties Union said: ‘Larry Kramer’s work to end the stigma around living with HIV and call for action will continue onward. Rest in power.’

Moreover US LGBT+ charity GLAAD commented: ‘Larry Kramer’s death hits our community hard.

‘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. He will be missed by so many.’

‘His voice was the loudest and the most effective’

Similarly Elton John, who has campaigned to end HIV and AIDS through his organization EJAF, paid tribute. He said he was proud to know him and sent his love to Kramer’s husband David Webster – the long term partner who he married in 2013.

Elton John: ‘Larry Kramer’s passing is the saddest news. 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, a tragedy that made the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP movements so vital.

‘He never stopped shouting about the injustices against us. His voice was the loudest and the most effective.

‘Larry Kramer captured the outrage and spirit of these turbulent times in his brilliant play The Normal Heart along with his many other writings. I was proud to know him and his legacy must be maintained. My heart goes out to his beloved husband David Webster.’

Husbands: David Furnish, Elton John, Larry Kramer and David Webster.
Husbands: David Furnish, Elton John, Larry Kramer and David Webster. Twitter

Meanwhile screenwriter and LGBT+ campaigner, Dustin Lance Black, best-known for his film Milk, said:

‘When so much of the world refused to see any value in our beating hearts, Larry Kramer’s rage helped lift us out of invisibility.

‘It was an honor to know him. Today, our movement has lost one of its greatest fighters. Tonight, shout it so he can hear it.’

‘The good trouble he made’ saved lives

Meanwhile some of the US’s leading politicians also mourned his passing.

Presumptive Democratic candidate for the presidency, Joe Biden said he and his wife Dr Jill Biden ‘are saddened to learn of the passing of Larry Kramer, an American hero’.

He added: ‘Through his activism, Larry taught us all how to speak up and demand our government do its job. His outspokenness raised our consciousness on HIV/AIDS and saved countless lives.’

Moreover, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi described him as a ‘relentless, dissatisfied voice for justice’. She added: ‘His vision and leadership will continue to inspire us all.’

Likewise, New York governor Andrew Cuomo described Kramer as ‘a great New Yorker’.

He said: ‘As the federal government sat paralyzed, Larry Kramer was fearless and relentless — he demanded and inspired action.’

Furthermore, Chasten Buttigieg, husband of former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, referenced ACT UP’s slogan ‘Act Up, Fight Back, End AIDS’ saying Kramer’s forthright approach made him more effective.

He said: ‘The saying isn’t “Act up! Fight back! But only in ways that make people comfortable!”

‘Larry Kramer’s purposeful and confrontational approach saved countless lives. I am grateful for his activism, his writings, and the good trouble he made.’

‘I wish today’s LGBT leaders had more confrontations’

Of course, Kramer the activist knew the power of effective controversy.

However, many of the tributes also expressed anger at the New York Times for an obituary which claimed: ‘His often abusive approach could overshadow his achievements.’

The paper subsequently changed the word ‘abusive’ to ‘confrontational’. Nevertheless, many disputed that the controversy he generated overshadowed his achievements. By contrast, they argued it was the best way to save lives.

As drag queen Lady Bunny commented:

‘The New York Times’ obit claims “His confrontational approach could sometimes overshadow his achievements.” I wish today’s LGBT leaders had more confrontations and fewer galas with straight celebs. RIP to a hero.’

Indeed, one person who knew more than most about Kramer’s outspoken approach is Dr Anthony Fauci.

Dr Fauci was the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And Kramer wrote an open letter in 1988 calling him a killer and ‘an incompetent idiot’.

But Dr Fauci said Kramer showed him how federal bureaucracy was slowing the search for effective treatments for HIV positive people. He said Kramer played an ‘essential’ role in ensuring experts created the complex drug regimens that started to save lives.

Dr Fauci told the New York Times: ‘Once you got past the rhetoric you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.’

And he subsequently said: ‘He was just an extraordinary man. He changed the relationship between the afflicted community with a given disease and the scientific and regulatory community that has such a great impact on them.’

‘It was the greatest honor getting to work with you’

Somewhat in that spirit, Apple boss Tim Cook led the tributes from business leaders.

He said: ‘Larry Kramer was an American original who got loud, acted up, and saved many LGBTQ lives.

‘His unrelenting efforts won’t be forgotten and should be held up as an example of a timeless truth: “the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Mark Ruffalo with Larry Kramer.
Mark Ruffalo with Larry Kramer. Twitter

Meanwhile Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo thanked Kramer for inspiring his own campaigning work.

He said: ‘It was the greatest honor getting to work with you and spend time learning about organizing and activism. We lost a wonderful man and artist today.’

Likewise fellow actor Matt Bomer said:

‘Larry Kramer: your courage informed and inspired millions, and will continue to do so for generations to come. An artist whose work saved lives: you can’t ask for a more profound and lasting impact.’

Naturally, many LGBT leaders have personal memories of Kramer. However, the tributes also showed how he touched the lives of people around the world who never met him.

Actor Billy Eichner said: ‘I never met Larry Kramer but it feels like a close member of my family has died.

‘Larry Kramer. A name that will always be synonymous with speaking out when it’s inconvenient, with righteous anger, with saving my community from extinction.’

‘What an extraordinary writer, what a life’

Unsurprisingly so many of the tributes focused on Kramer’s vital role in saving lives and helping the LGBT+ community at the height of the AIDS crisis.

But others focused on his contribution as a playwright, author and film producer. Alongside The Normal Heart, he wrote the screenplay for the film Women in Love in 1969 and the confrontational novel Faggots in 1978.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of In The Heights and Hamilton, said: ‘[I] don’t know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged. What an extraordinary writer, what a life.’

While Chelsea Clinton recalled: ‘Reading The Normal Heart as a kid changed my life and I was completely overwhelmed when I first met its author during its 2011 Broadway run.’

Moreover actor Scott Thompson paid tribute to Kramer calling him ‘my hero’.

He said: ‘I had the honour of hearing him speak at ACT UP in the 80s. It was like hearing God roar. Do yourself a favour and read his visionary comic masterpiece Faggots then watch Women in Love or at least the nude wrestling scene.’

Meanwhile novelist Rebecca Makkai, author of The Borrower, had an affectionate wish for Kramer.

She said: ‘I hope Larry Kramer gets to choose between resting in peace and haunting every last motherfucker on his list.’

‘He never stopped’

But one tribute very simply showed there weren’t too Kramers – the author and the activist. Rather it was one life, lived compassionately, loudly and powerfully.

TV critic Robert Bianco said: ‘And he never stopped. When I went to The Normal Heart revival there was a man outside the theater handing out pamphlets about AIDS prevention.

‘Most people ignored him but I stopped. Because it was Larry Kramer, outside his own play.’

Rest in power, Larry Kramer.