Author, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer died on Wednesday morning in Manhattan at the age of 84. Kramer’s husband David Webster confirmed to the New York Times that the cause of death was pneumonia. Kramer had battled illnesses for years; he’d been infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS and had a successful liver transplant after contracting liver disease.
Kramer was one of the first to raise the alarm on the AIDS crisis, predicting that it would spread worldwide and affect people of all sexual orientations. He called for a national approach to deal with AIDS as a public health emergency. Kramer developed a friendship with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases even back then. Although the two started on opposite sides of the AIDS discussion in the late 1980s, they both became friends and spoke very highly of each other, with Kramer calling Fauci “the only true and great hero” in government during the AIDS crisis. Fauci said of Kramer: “In American medicine, there are two eras: before Larry and after Larry. There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country.”
After hearing of Kramer’s passing, Fauci told the 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.”
Kramer Battled Illness Throughout His Adult Life & Even Married His Partner in the ICU
In 1989, Kramer found out after testing that he was carrying the virus that causes AIDS. In an afterword to a later edition of his book Reports From the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist, he wrote, “A new fear has now joined my daily repertoire of emotions, and my nighttime ones, too. But life has also become exceptionally more precious and, ironically, I am happier.”
He became ill over many years and started putting his affairs in order, believing he would die soon. The Associated Press even published an article in 2001 saying he’d died. However, it wasn’t the case, and the H.I.V. hadn’t progressed. Instead, he was suffering from liver disease, a terminal infection linked to a hepatitis B infection he’d had years before. Kramer received a liver transplant in 2001, just a few days before Christmas. Afterward, his friendship with Fauci deepened and the infectious diseases expert helped him get into an experimental drug trial.
Kramer married his longtime partner Webster in 2013 in the intensive care unit of the NYU Langone Medical Center. Kramer had just undergone surgery for a bowel obstruction. In a phone interview, Webster told the Times that the date had been set before the health problem came up. “I had been traveling when Larry went into the hospital,” Mr. Webster said, “and when I was back and he was able to talk, he told me he had invited 20 people to the I.C.U. for the wedding. So it turned into a little party at his bedside.”
Tributes to the Author & Activist Poured in on Social Media
Don’t know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged. What an extraordinary writer, what a life.
Thank you, Larry Kramer. pic.twitter.com/M3hA0cNrCU
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) May 27, 2020
After the news broke of the famed activist’s death, people took to social media to express their sadness at his passing and gratitude for his contributions. Author Dan Savage wrote: “Larry Kramer valued every gay life at a time when so many gay men had been rendered incapable of valuing our own lives. He ordered us to love ourselves and each other and to fight for our lives. He was a hero.” Frank Rich said: “Larry Kramer was an American hero who led a fierce and often lonely battle for action when an American president and New York’s mayor refused to mobilize against a devastating plague.”
Chelsea Clinton also posted a tribute: “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. Devastated to learn of Larry Kramer’s passing and holding all his loved ones in my heart. Rest in power.” Lin-Manuel Miranda said: “Don’t know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged. What an extraordinary writer, what a life. Thank you, Larry Kramer.”