Playwright & Lifelong Activist Larry Kramer Dead At 84

Larry Kramer in 2010 (photo: David ShankboneCC License)

Larry Kramer, whose activism shocked the country into addressing the HIV epidemic as it killed thousands of Americans, has passed away at the age of 84.

In addition to his work as an award-winning playwright including The Normal Heart, he helped co-found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (the first public service organization for those with HIV) and the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) which staged “die-in” protests to draw attention to the mounting death toll from AIDS.

From the New York Times:

Larry Kramer, the noted writer whose raucous, antagonistic campaign for an all-out response to the AIDS crisis helped shift national health policy in the 1980s and ’90s, died on Wednesday morning in Manhattan. He was 84.

His husband, David Webster, said the cause was pneumonia. Mr. Kramer had weathered illness for much of his adult life. Among other things he had been infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, contracted liver disease and underwent a successful liver transplant.

An author, essayist and playwright — notably hailed for his autobiographical 1985 play, “The Normal Heart” — Mr. Kramer had feet in both the world of letters and the public sphere. In 1981 he was a founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first service organization for H.I.V.-positive people, though his fellow directors effectively kicked him out a year later for his aggressive approach. (He returned the compliment by calling them “a sad organization of sissies.”)

He was then a founder of a more militant group, Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), whose street actions demanding a speedup in AIDS drugs research and an end to discrimination against gay men and lesbians severely disrupted the operations of government offices, Wall Street and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, credits Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of drug regimens that could help those living with HIV, and in urging the FDA to streamline its process for vetting and approval of new drugs.

Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, opened at the Public Theater in April 1985 and ran for nine months. The play chronicled the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis and his often aggressive activism to get people engaged in solving the epidemic.

In 2011, The Normal Heart was revived on Broadway winning the Tony Award for Best Revival. And in 2014, Kramer wrote a television adaptation for HBO (directed by Ryan Murphy) which won the 2014 Emmy for outstanding television movie.

In his review of the revival, Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote, “By the play’s end, even people who think they have no patience for polemical theater may find their resistance has melted into tears. No, make that sobs.”

I encourage you to read the full profile by the New York Times here.

Queer Film: BPM (Beats Per Minute)

France’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, BPM (Beats Per Minute) takes an unflinching look at ACT UP Paris in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and we get the first American trailer today.

Clip description:

In Paris in the early 1990s, a group of activists goes to battle for those stricken with HIV/AIDS, taking on sluggish government agencies and major pharmaceutical companies in bold, invasive actions. The organization is ACT UP, and its members, many of them gay and HIV-positive, embrace their mission with a literal life-or-death urgency.

Amid rallies, protests, fierce debates and ecstatic dance parties, the newcomer Nathan falls in love with Sean, the group’s radical firebrand, and their passion sparks against the shadow of mortality as the activists fight for a breakthrough.

Variety raved about the film:

What does it take to fight a pandemic? Knowledge, courage and resilience, certainly, but also rough-and-tumble argument, a range of friendships both consoling and abrasive, a healthy sense of gallows humor and soul-sustaining supplies of loud music and louder sex.

French writer-director Robin Campillo understands all of this in “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” his sprawling, thrilling, finally heart-bursting group portrait of Parisian AIDS activists in the early 1990s. A rare and invaluable non-American view of the global health crisis that decimated, among others, the gay community in the looming shadow of the 21st century, Campillo’s unabashedly untidy film stands as a hot-blooded counter to the more polite strain of political engagement present in such prestige AIDS dramas as “Philadelphia” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Candidly queer in its perspective and unafraid of eroticism in the face of tragedy, this robust Cannes competition entry is nonetheless emotionally immediate enough to break out of the LGBT niche.

Watch the trailer below.