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Never forget: 9 gay icons who lost their lives to HIV and AIDS

Never forget: 9 gay icons who lost their lives to HIV and AIDS

To mark World AIDS Day, we celebrate the queer heroes – loved around the world for their talent and achievement – who lost their fight against HIV and AIDS in decades past. Gone, but never forgotten.

Freddie Mercury [right]

As the impossibly sexy and charismatic frontman of British rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury helped sell over 300 million records worldwide, with hits including Bohemian Rhapsody and Radio Gaga. Despite his numerous, widely-reported relationships with men and women in the 70s and 80s, Freddie rarely addressed his sexuality publicly. Instead, he playfully alluded to his queerness with his flamboyant, high-camp stage antics (not to mention by looking fabulous in a PVC miniskirt in the video for ‘I Want To Break Free’). His ambiguity only added to his star power.

Freddie lost his life to AIDS-related causes on November 24 1991 at the age of 45 – shortly after making his condition public. His untimely death marked a turning point in the public’s perception of the disease. Freddie’s bandmates set up the AIDS charity Mercury Phoenix Trust in his memory.

Howard Ashman

The lyricist behind some of Disney’s best-loved tunes (from The Little Mermaid’s ‘Part of That World’ to Aladdin’s ‘Friend Like Me’), Howard Ashman was also one of the few openly gay men in showbiz in the 70s and 80s. After the pain of watching two of his ex-boyfriends lose their lives to the disease, Ashman died of AIDS-related causes on March 17 1991 at the age of 40 – writing the lyrics for the Oscar-winning song Beauty and the Beast from his deathbed. The film is dedicated to his memory.


Photo: Allan Warren

The pianist and TV actor – who was last year immortalised by Michael Douglas in the well-received drama Behind the Candelabra – was once upon a time the world’s highest-paid entertainer, with some 30 million people tuning into The Liberace Show. The star’s relationships with men were discussed in gossip magazines from the get go, but he always denied his homosexuality (when the UK’s Daily Mirror implied he was gay in 1956, Liberace received £8,000 in damages, saying ‘I cried all the way to the bank’). In 2011, Liberace’s close friend Betty White, the beloved star of Golden Girls, confirmed the star – who died on February 1987 of AIDS-related causes – was, in fact, gay.

Anthony Perkins

Although he was Oscar-nominated for his work in war movie Friendly Persuasion (1956), most people recognise Anthony Perkins as the mysterious Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s unparalleled horror film Psycho (1960). A little-known fact about the handsome actor is that he had sexual relationships with men (and according to certain biographies, some of them very high-profile – including actors Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson, more on whom to follow). However, he eventually married photographer and actress Berry Berenson in 1973, with whom he would have two sons.

When Perkins died on September 12 1992 from AIDS-related causes (Berry would go on to tragically lose her life as a passenger on American Flight 11 during 9/11), his family tested HIV negative. Where and when Perkins contracted HIV remains unknown.

Keith Haring
Openly gay American artist Keith Haring often depicted gay sex in his work; nevertheless he’s probably best known for his series of pop art-esque dancing stick men, and his ‘Crack is Wack’ New York mural. He died of AIDS-related causes on February 1990 at the age of 31.

Rock Hudson

Photo: Hudson in the film Lover Come Back

A dashing, strapping leading man during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Rock Hudson earned on Oscar-nomination for his role in the dramatic epic Giant (1956), starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. His marriage to Phyllis Gates from 1955-1958 is now widely-accepted to have been a sham; indeed, last year a recording surfaced of Hudson admitting to his then-wife that he was gay.

After months of speculation, on July 25 1985 Hudson’s publicist confirmed he had been suffering from AIDS for over a year – making Rock the first celebrity to come out as HIV-positive. Less than three months later, on October 2 at the age of 59, Rock died of AIDS-related causes.

Rudolf Nureyev

Photo: Allan Warren

Nicknamed ‘The Brando of Ballet’ by the New York Times, Siberian-born Nureyev was a master of expressive dance and thus a cultural icon; his rule-breaking, trailblazing ways were epitomised by his celebrated defection to the West in 1961. His male lovers are said to have included dancer Robert Tracey. Nureyev died of AIDS-related causes on January 6 1993, at the age of 53.

Tony Richardson
The ex-husband of Vanessa Redgrave and the father of actress Joley Richardson, Tony Richardson won the 1964 Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for his comedy film Tom Jones. Richardson’s bisexuality was revealed in the early 90s, and he died of AIDS-related causes on November 14 1991, at the age of 63.

Robert Reed

As Mike Brady, the loveable patriarch of the Brady Bunch, for a time Robert Reed was one of the world’s most famous men. Despite a short-lived marriage to Marilyn Rosenberger with whom he had one daughter, former colleagues of Reed’s have since confirmed the actor was gay.

Reed died on May 12 1992 at the age of 59, following a battle with colon cancer; his doctor listed his HIV positive status (which was not known publicly at the time) as a contributing factor to his passing away on his death certificate.

To visit the official World AIDS Day website, click here.