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Madonna Addressed AIDS Hysteria In 1985 “SNL” Sketch

MadonnaSNLSay what you will about Madonna‘s acting chops, but the icon has always had our backs and never been afraid to push the envelope. Take, for example, the clip below (which has been cyber-shared a bit this week) from her only hosting stint on Saturday Night Live back in 1985 when she was indisputably the most famous entertainer woman on the planet. In the sketch, which was clearly inspired by the anxiety and, in some cases, furor that surrounded an episode of Dynasty. Superstar actor Rock Hudson had joined the cast as a love interest to series regular Linda Evans. In one episode Hudson kissed Evans on the mouth. Not a big deal, you’re thinking but by the time the episode aired Hudson was revealed to be battling AIDS and had known at the time it was filmed but hadn’t disclosed the information to his costar. It was a different era, friends, an AIDS diagnosis was thought to be a death sentence and there were even tabloid reports that Evans had contracted the disease from a mere smooch. Evans, for the record, bore no grudge against the late superstar.

Anyway, in the skit titled “Pinklisting,” Madge dons a dark wig to resemble Evans’ other costar Joan Collins and a clipped British accent (a harbinger of things to come!) to play a TV actress unwilling to do scenes with a costar “she doesn’t know” due to her fear of AIDS. The joke, if it can be referred to as one, is that the costar is played by Terry Sweeney (still the only openly gay male SNL player), as a super-femme gay actor who tries to butch it up but he loses his cool when confronted by a snarky Judy-Liza headline.

While the sketch isn’t exactly a rib-tickler it’s surprising in hindsight that it was a comic skit built around AIDS at a time when it was still considered a fatal disease, and broadcast in November 1985, less than a month after Hudson’s death. While that may seem insensitive, remember that this was the year Larry Kramer‘s landmark AIDS-themed play The Normal Heart was first produced — and President Reagan hadn’t even uttered the word in public. So let’s hear it again for Madonna, forever at the forefront of progress, bringing a public discourse on the disease into the homes of millions of TV viewers. Watch “Pinklisting” here.