Elizabeth Taylor in 1986 via Wikimedia Commons
In July of 1985, beloved actor Rock Hudson arrived in Paris seeking more advanced AIDS treatment than was accessible in the United States. Upon arrival, Hudson collapsed at the Ritz hotel, and was promptly admitted to the American hospital there. But Hudson was seeking a specific doctor — Dr. Dominique Dormant — who had treated him in secret the year prior, and whose treatment Hudson believed to be the only course that would alleviate his suffering.
Dr. Dormant was refused access to Hudson’s hospital room, and in desperation after many attempts to get proper treatment, Hudson’s publicist Dale Olson sent a telegraph to the actor’s friends at the White House, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, according to an article published by Buzzfeed today. Olson sought a request from the White House for Dr. Dormant to be allowed to treat the actor, who was now dying in his hospital bed.
Nancy Reagan refused.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
That kind of uncompassionate inaction is shocking now, but in the 1980s, homophobia, a misunderstanding of the illness, and societal stigmas ran rampant. That makes these ’80s stars and figures, who worked to support AIDS activism even then, so astounding.
Elizabeth Taylor founded the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation in 1991, but her work and support started in the ’80s, when misconceptions prevailed. The opening page of her foundation’s website aptly reads,
“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.”
Elizabeth Taylor via Wikimedia Commons
Sheryl Lee Ralph
You may remember Sheryl Lee Ralph from Moesha, or from Broadway in Dreamgirls, but her activism in support of AIDS research deserves recognition as well. In 1990, Ralph founded the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware) Foundation, which works to decrease infection rates and diminish stigma.
In 1987, Arsenio Hall hosted the cult-success season of The Late Show, continuing with his own syndicated program, The Arsenio Hall Show, following its cancellation. Hall leveraged his fame to battle worldwide prejudices against AIDS, later filming an AIDS PSA with Magic Johnson in the early 1990s.
Wife of actor and director Paul Michael Glaser (Detectiv David Starsky to you,) Elizabeth was a tireless AIDS activist, founding the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in 1988. The foundation exists now in 12 countries with a goal of eliminating HIV infection and pediatric AIDS, through advocacy, research, prevention, and treatment.
Kramer, the LGBT rights activist and public health advocate, will be better known to some as the playwright responsible for The Normal Heart, which HBO turned into a film starring Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts in 2014. Kramer witnessed the passing of many of his friends from AIDS, which inspired the play. In 1987 he continued his activism, founding ACT UP, or AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a protest organization dedicated to increase public action in the fight against the AIDS crisis.