In Honor Of World Aids Day: Celebrities Who Died From HIV/AIDS
The first known cases of HIV/AIDS were discovered in the early 80’s. Though much wasn’t known about the disease or how to effectively slow it down at first, there have been great strides in treatment and more and more HIV-positive people are learning to live longer lives with the disease. Unfortunately, these celebrities succumbed to the illness before such advancements were made and in honor or World Aids Day today, we remember them.
Tennis great Arthur Ashe was known for his lighting-quick agility on the court as much as his political activism off of it. Becoming tennis’s first Black millionaire, Ashe was famously arrested for protesting against President George H. W. Bush’s treatment of Haitian refugees. After contracting HIV from a blood transfusion in the early 80’s, Ashe made it his mission to educate the public about HIV and AIDS through the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. The tennis legend passed away on February 6, 1993. He was 49 years old.
Eric “Eazy-E” Wright
In 1988, the rap world was introduced to Eazy-E and his Eazy Duz It album and virtually overnight he became the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap.” With Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the three formed N.W.A. The group would go on to sell more than ten million albums in the U.S. alone before money tore them apart. In February of 1995, Eazy-E checked into Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with what he thought was a bout of asthma but instead he was diagnosed with AIDS. One month later, on March 26, he passed away from complications due to AIDS.
Renowned choreographer Alvin Ailey is credited for popularizing modern dance. His dance group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which was founded in 1958, combined ballet, jazz, modern and African dance and was largely responsible for revolutionizing Blacks’ interest and participation in professional dancing. Despite his major contributions, Ailey’s life and work was cut short by AIDs. To spare his mother’s feelings about the stigma and stereotype of HIV/AIDS that was prevalent at the time, the famed choreographer asked his doctor to say he died from the terminal blood disease dyscrasia instead. Ailey passed away on December 1, 1989 at the age of 58.
With over 60 film and television credits under his belt, actor Robert Reed played many rolls in Hollywood but he will always be known as Mike Brady. For five years, he was one of television’s most famous dads on “The Brady Bunch,” and although much of the cast and crew knew about Reed’s sexual orientation, it was never brought up. Reed passed away in 1992 after a six-month battle with colon cancer. On his death certificate, HIV is listed as “significant condition contributing to his death.”
A true pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti was an international superstar who went to school to study medicine before switching over to music. His politically-conscience music, which was heavily influenced by the black pride movement he witnessed during his ten-month stay in Los Angeles, resonated with people in his home country of Nigeria before spreading over Africa and abroad. Kuti died on August 1997 from Kaposi’s sarcoma, which was brought on by AIDS.
You may not know his name but you know his work when you see it. Keith Haring was an artist and political activist whose paintings depicting birth, war, sexuality and death helped define New York’s street art culture in the 80’s. Haring’s work also included anti-Apartheid and AIDS awareness themes and depicted the crack epidemic. Haring’s “Crack Is Wack” mural can be seen from New York City’s FDR and his last public work, the “Tuttomondo” mural, is painted on the wall of Church of Sant’Antonio in Pisa, Italy. Haring died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications at just 31 years old.
In 1978, Max Robinson made history by becoming the first African-American to fill the anchor seat at a major network when he joined ABC’s “World News Tonight.” During his career, Robinson was very outspoken about racial injustice and received critical acclaim for “The Other Washington,” a documentary on Black life in Anacostia. Robinson, founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, was diagnosed with AIDS while being treated for pneumonia but decided not to publicly reveal his diagnosis. He passed away on December 20, 1988 at the age of 49.
Designer Perry Ellis got his start in the fashion world by working as a retail buyer and merchandiser. Eventually he worked his way up to designing men’s clothes and although he could not sketch, his experience helped him put a finger on what consumers wanted from their wardrobe. Ellis launched his women’s line and it was a success. On May 8, 1986, Ellis took his final bow at his Fall fashion show. He was so weak, he had to be helped down the catwalk by two assistants. Ellis died on May 30th at the age of 46.
Sylvester James, better known as just Sylvester, became known as the Queen of Disco after a string of hits in the 70’s. Some would describe Sylvester as a drag queen because of his androgynous appearance — a label he strongly disliked. After watching his partner pass away from an AIDS-related illness in 1987, the “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” singer refused to get tested and soon his health began to deteriorate as well. He passed away on December 16, 1988 at the age of 41.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Rock Hudson was Hollywood’s leading man, but his legacy came to be known for more than acting. In 1985, Hudson revealed to the world that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. Although he traveled to France for treatment, the Giant star succumbed to the illness in October of that same year. Hudson, who became one of Hollywood’s first major stars to die from AIDS, helped spark the movement for more funding of medical research towards the disease.
On the stage, Freddie Mercury commanded the crowd’s attention. As the lead singer for the British rock group Queen, Mercury became known for his flamboyant persona and powerful vocals. Towards the end of his career, British tabloids began to publish reports that the rock star had been diagnosed with HIV. Mercury’s rare public appearances in which he looked gaunt further sparked rumors. On November 23, 1991, Mercury put all rumors to bed by announcing that he had AIDS. He passed away the next day at the age of 45.
For years, there was no bigger act in Las Vegas than Liberace. As the highest paid pianist in America, Liberace lived an opulent lifestyle and it showed in his performances. He became known for his flamboyant and over the top costumes and flashy persona. Despite denying his homosexuality for years, rumors still ran rampant that Liberace was gay. Although his doctor tried to hide the cause of death, an autopsy revealed that Liberace died from pneumonia as a result of AIDS. He was 67.
Born in St. Vincent, West Indies, Franklyn Seales attended Julliard before appearing in several Shakespearian television projects. He landed the role of his career as Dexter Stuffins on NBC’s “Silver Spoons.” Seales also had guest appearances on “Amen” and “Growing Pains.” His last role was in 1988 on CBS’ crime drama “Wiseguy.” Two years later, Seales died from complications of AIDS at just 37 years old.
Actor Anthony Perkins may have earned an Oscar nomination for Friendly Persuasion but he will be best known for his role as the motel owner with serious mommy issues. Starring as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Perkins reprised the role in three sequels. Perkins, who had previously only been with men, had sex with a woman for the first time at the age of 39. Perkins passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia on September 12, 1992. His widow, Berinthia Berenson, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 during the 9-11 attacks in 2001.
Starting out as a dancer in Chicago on “Soul Train,” Jermaine Stewart moved out to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a singer. After singing backup for the Culture Club, Stewart landed a record deal and released numerous albums. His biggest hit was “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” While his popularity never fully peaked in the U.S., Stewart continued to be loved overseas in the U.K. He returned to the studio one last time to record another album but passed away from AIDS-related liver cancer in 1997. He was only 39 years old.