U.S. NEWS
05/27/2020 11:59 EDT | Updated 05/28/2020 09:10 EDT

Larry Kramer, Playwright And AIDS Activist, Dies At 84

Kramer wrote "The Normal Heart" and founded several AIDS-related organizations.

Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer died Wednesday at the age of 84, his husband, David Webster, told The New York Times.

Kramer died of pneumonia, Webster said. Kramer, who was HIV positive, was best known for writing the 1985 play “The Normal Heart,” and for founding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP, organizations at the forefront of activism during the AIDS crisis.

ACT UP also confirmed Kramer’s death in a tweet Wednesday.

Throughout the 1980s, Kramer drew attention to the urgency of the AIDS epidemic by organizing large, dramatic and provocative protests in New York City. He was highly critical of government officials for not taking the crisis seriously as a public health emergency and for not working quickly enough to find treatments.

Among those drawing his ire was infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, who was heading up the federal government’s efforts to fight the disease at the time. In the 1980s, Kramer wrote an open letter accusing Fauci of murder and calling him “an incompetent idiot.”

In later decades, the two became friends, and Fauci has credited Kramer with not only changing the course of the AIDS crisis but also transforming the field of medicine.

“In American medicine, there are two eras,’’ Fauci told The New Yorker in 2002. “Before Larry and after Larry.’’

“ACT UP put medical treatment in the hands of the patients. And that is the way it ought to be,” Fauci said.

“We are friends again,” Kramer told The New York Times in March, as Fauci became the face of the federal government’s response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Kramer was also a novelist and screenwriter, receiving an Oscar nomination for the 1969 film “Women in Love,” his adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence novel, which he also produced.

“The Normal Heart,” which was loosely based on his own struggles as an AIDS activist at the beginning of the crisis, had a celebrated run at New York City’s Public Theater in 1985. A 2011 Broadway revival won three Tony awards, and in 2014, Ryan Murphy adapted it into an Emmy-winning HBO film, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts.

Kramer was neighbors with Edie Windsor, whose 2013 Supreme Court case helped pave the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. 

D Dipasupil via Getty Images
Edie Windsor and Larry Kramer at a gala in New York City in March 2017.

At the time of his death, he was working on a play connecting the AIDS crisis to the current COVID-19 pandemic, he told The New York Times.

“It’s about gay people having to live through three plagues,” he said, referring to HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and the decline of the human body. “The government has been awful in both cases ... They were terrible with AIDS and they’re terrible with this thing. One wonders what will become of us.”

ACT UP announced it will hold a memorial service and demonstration Thursday night at New York City’s AIDS Memorial, with measures in place — such mask-wearing and social distancing — to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The event will also be livestreamed on the group’s social media pages, where attendees can post photos and messages to thank Kramer. 

“The AIDS plague is not over. And neither is ACT UP. In memory of Larry Kramer, we will continue to demonstrate, lobby, protest, and fight the forces that allow this plague to flourish,” the group said. “We will stand up to the homophobia, racism, misogyny and transphobia that still aggravate this pandemic. We will move forward with anger and purpose in memory of our beloved comrade.”