Larry Kramer, acclaimed author, AIDS activist, LGBT rights icon, dies at 84

Acclaimed author and trailblazing AIDS activist Larry Kramer has died aged 84.

Kramer was a founder of the Gay Men’s Health Network, a grassroots community organisation that tackled the lack of government action in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he later told the story of that fight through his award winning play The Normal Heart.

A successful author, he wrote many books and plays and was an activist for LGBTI rights for decades. He left the Gay Men’s Health Network in frustration and later founded the more outspoken organisation ACT UP!

His husband David Webster announced he passed away in New York on Wednesday morning after contracting pneumonia.  The author recently spoke about An Army of Lovers Must Not Die, a new play he was writing that juxtaposed the experiences of those fighting the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

An accomplished author

Kramer’s 1978 book Faggots captured gay culture in New York in the 1970s. Some elements of the LGBTI community denounced the work for it’s depictions of promiscuous sex, drug use and hedonistic attitudes, but it has gone on to be considered a classic of queer literature.

He wrote The Normal Heart, an autobiographical play about his time in New York Gay Men’s Health Network. Kramer was one of the founders of AIDS awareness organisation, but had resigned in 1983 frustrated with their lack of political engagement.

The play was performed Off-Broadway in 1985 and was revived in 2001. In 2011 the play was performed on Broadway where it went on to win several Tony Awards. It was then turned into a 2014 TV movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello, Jonathan Groff, and Julia Roberts.


In 1987 early March 1987 Kramer delivered a speech at the NYC Gay and Lesbian Centre as part of a rotating series of speakers. He spoke about his frustration with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) which he described as being politically impotent. At the end of his speech he asked people if they wanted to form a new political organisation, two days later several hundred people showed up for the first meeting.

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed and on 24 March people demonstrated on Wall Street and Broadway in New York demanding greater access to HIV medications and a coordinated national approach to combating HIV.

While many countries around the world were quick to set up strategies for tackling the health epidemic, the USA’s government lead by President Ronald Reagan was slower to respond.

Over the next few months ACT UP staged several large protests in New York, often hundreds of their members were arrested during their protest actions. Soon there were ACT UP chapters in several cities across the country.

The organisation often captured media attention by closing down government offices or undertaking elaborately coordinated protests. They successfully shut down the US Food and Drug Administration for a day, and in 1991 drew attention to Senator Jesse Helms – who opposed funding for AIDS causes, by covering his house with a giant condom.

Artist Keith Haring created a series of artworks using the slogan ‘Silence = Death’ that were used by the organisation. The achievements of ACT UP have been recreated in fictionalised form in the TV series Pose, and the French chapter is central to the film BPM. Documentaries including How to Survive as Plague also cover their work.

Early Life

Kramer was born in Bridgeport Connecticut in 1935, he went on to study English at Yale University and spent his early career working as a script doctor on feature films. His 1969 screenplay of A Woman in Love, an adaption of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, was nominated for an Academy Award. GUs success in screenwriting allowed him the financial freedom to begin writing gay themed works in the 1970s and 1980s.

Reactions to his death

British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Kramer was an inspirational activist.

“Larry Kramer was an inspiring playwright, author and pioneering campaigner on LGBT+ and HIV issues. He helped galvanise the formation of the AIDS activist group ACT UP, which successfully challenged US government inaction and forced pharmaceutical companies to speed their efforts to research and trial treatments. He also helped establish the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which did so much to support people living with HIV/AIDS.” Tatchell said.

“ACT UP’s efforts helped save the lives of millions of people worldwide and Larry was part of that achievement. His often angry tirades against President Reagan, the New York Times, drug corporations and the medical establishment were searing and effective. I counted him as a friend and comrade. He will be missed and remembered for decades to come.”

Author Dan Savage, who founded suicide prevention organisation It Gets Better described Kramer as a hero of the LGBTI community.

“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.” Savage posted to social media.

Actor Julia Roberts, who appeared in The Normal Heart told Variety that she was honoured to have been involved in telling Kramer’s story.

“He was ferocious and tireless in his beliefs,” she said. “A true hero that so many people owe their lives to today. I was honored to spend time in his orbit.”

Janet Mock, who has followed in Kramer’s footsteps as an activist for the transgender community, said Kramer was an icon.

“Rest in power to an icon and true fighter until the very end. We thank you, Larry Kramer.” Mock said.

The gay rights organisations that Kramer founded both paid tribute to him. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis said Kramer was an extraordinary activist and inspiration to all at the organisation, describing him as a “revolutionary who changed the status quo”.

Tributes have also been made by Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Sir Elton John, Michael Musto, Dustin Lance Black, Tim Cook, Nic Holas, Wilson Cruz, and many others.

OIP Staff

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