Sir Elton John leads tributes to playwright and Aids activist Larry Kramer
Kramer wrote The Normal Heart and founded the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power, also known as Act Up.
Sir Elton John has led tributes to Larry Kramer, the playwright who raised theatregoers’ consciousness about Aids, who has died aged 84.
Bill Goldstein, a writer who was working on a biography of Kramer, confirmed the news to The Associated Press. Kramer’s husband, David Webster, told The New York Times that Kramer died of pneumonia.
Sir Elton said: “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.”
Kramer, who wrote The Normal Heart and founded the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power, also known as Act Up, lost his lover to acquired immune deficiency syndrome in 1984 and was himself infected with the virus. He also suffered from hepatitis B and received a liver transplant in 2001 because the virus had caused liver failure.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for Women In Love, the 1969 adaptation of DH Lawrence’s novel. It starred Glenda Jackson, who won her first Oscar for her performance.
He also wrote the 1972 screenplay Lost Horizon, a novel, Faggots, and the plays Sissies’ Scrapbook, The Furniture Of Home, Just Say No and The Destiny Of Me, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.
But for many years he was best known for his public fight to secure medical treatment, acceptance and civil rights for people with Aids. He loudly told everyone that the gay community was grappling with a plague.
Tributes from the arts community flooded in, with Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter saying “What an extraordinary writer, what a life.”
Author and LGBT activist Dan Savage wrote: “He ordered us to love ourselves and each other and to fight for our lives. He was a hero.”
In 1981, when Aids had not yet acquired its name and only a few dozen people had been diagnosed with it, Kramer and a group of his friends in New York City founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), one of the first groups in the country to address the epidemic.
He tried to rouse the gay community with speeches and articles such as “1,112 and Counting,” published in gay newspapers in 1983.
“Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of this earth is at stake,” he wrote. “Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die.”
The late journalist Randy Shilts, in his best-selling account of the Aids epidemic And The Band Played On, called that article “inarguably one of the most influential works of advocacy journalism of the decade” and credited it with “crystallising the epidemic into a political movement for the gay community”.
Kramer lived to see gay marriage made a reality – and married in 2013 – but never rested.
“I’m married,” he told The AP. “But that’s only part of where we are. Aids is still decimating us and we still don’t have protection under the law.”
Kramer split with GMHC in 1983 after other board members decided to concentrate on providing support services to people with Aids. It remains one of the largest Aids service groups in the US.
After leaving GMHC, Kramer wrote The Normal Heart, in which a furious young writer – not unlike Kramer himself – battles politicians, society, the media and other gay leaders to bring attention to the crisis.
The play premiered at The Public Theatre in April 1985.
A revival in 2011 was almost universally praised by critics and earned the best revival Tony. Two actors from it – Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey – also won Tonys. Joe Mantello played the main character of Ned Weeks, the alter ego of Kramer.
“I’m very moved that it moved so many people,” he said at the time. Kramer often stood outside the theatre passing out fliers asking the world to take action against HIV/Aids. “Please know that Aids is a worldwide plague. Please know there is no cure,” it said.
The play was turned into a TV film in 2014 starring Mark Ruffalo, Jonathan Groff, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello and Julia Roberts. It won the Emmy for best movie. Kramer stood onstage in heavy winter clothing as the statuette was presented to director Ryan Murphy.