BREAKING: Larry Kramer, playwright and outspoken AIDS activist, dead at 84

Photo by David Shankbone. Via Wikimeida Commons

Larry Kramer, author, playwright and activist, has died at age 84.

Kramer died Wednesday morning in his Manhattan home of pneumonia according to his husband David Webster. He’d struggled with various illness, including HIV, through most of his later years. Throughout his life, critics branded Kramer a troublemaker for his incendiary rhetoric. Admirers, however, praised him for his passion, intellect and courage in taking on taboo issues.

“Once you got past the rhetoric you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who became acquainted with Kramer’s work through his AIDS activism, told The New York Times.

Kramer grew up in Connecticut and kicked off his artistic career following a brief tour in the army. He worked as a production executive on several classic films including Lawrence of Arabia before trying his hand at screenwriting. His script for Women in Love, based on DH Lawrence’s novel, nabbed him an Oscar nomination and enough industry credit to begin writing full time.

Kramer’s seminal 1978 novel Faggots shocked the literary world for its frank depiction of gay life on Fire Island. The book’s content stunned readers outside the queer community. The novel also ignited a backlash from within the LGBTQ community as well for its depiction of gay men as self-loathing, promiscuous and using drugs. It went on to become a bestseller, and is now considered something of a classic of modern queer literature.

With the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early 80s, Kramer found a new sense of urgency in his work. With many of his friends dead, dying or sick–and with his own HIV+ diagnosis–Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a charity organization to raise funds and provide care for men living with AIDS. He also became a fixture of AIDS activism, taking part in protests and targeting key political figures like New York City Mayor Ed Koch for their indifference to the epidemic. As numbers of AIDS victims continued to rise, so did Kramer’s combativeness and penchant for attracting media attention. He would later criticize Presidents Reagan, Bush & Clinton and the Republican party for creating a “Holocaust of indifference” by not doing more to prevent the spread and deaths from AIDS.

Related: Larry Kramer will take on COVID-19 in his latest play

Kramer channeled his sorrow into the 1985 play The Normal Hearta semi-autobiographical story of a man coping with the decimation of AIDS. The play earned rave reviews, and became a Ryan Murphy-directed film in 2004.

Larry Kramer co-founded ACT UP, the radical AIDS protest group designed to bring more attention to the AIDS epidemic, and to apply pressure to levers of government to fast track medications and to offer protection and care to people living with AIDS. Dr. Anthony Fauci credits ACT UP with a major shift in attitudes about HIV and AIDS, and personally credits Kramer for inciting the change.

Though the AIDS crisis waned, Kramer’s activism moved into other areas of gay life. He penned the Normal Heart sequel The Destiny of Me in 1992, and in 2006 published a scathing indictment of George W. Bush and his administration’s homophobia titled The Tragedy of Today’s Gays. He remained an outspoken and controversial figure to the end.

At the time of his death, Kramer had announced work on a play titled An Army of Lovers Must Not Die focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and drawing parallels between the public and government reactions to the AIDS crisis.

Firey, thoughtful, combative and tender, the LGBTQ community has benefitted enormously from having Larry Kramer on our side. We mourn his loss, and venerate him for his work.