Larry Kramer, the grandfather of fierce protests demanding action to fight the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s, died Wednesday at age 84. The author and activist founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in 1987.
ACT UP mounted dramatic and angry demonstrations credited with raising awareness of the plight of those suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. They were also aimed at pressuring the U.S. government to devote resources to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and to find an effective treatment for the disease. AIDS primarily struck gay men in America, an often-reviled group with little political clout before Kramer launched his unique brand of unapologetically confrontational activism.
Tributes have poured in for Kramer, including from those with whom he had a stormy relationship, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as the first director of the U.S. government's Office of AIDS Research.
Kramer granted his last on-camera media interview to VOA's Carolyn Presutti in April, when his health was failing. Here are selected clips, in Kramer's words, recorded as he struggled to hold his cellphone to speak.
Larry Kramer: The first cases included several of my friends who died. So I was involved then [from the beginning] with AIDS activism really since 1981.
ACT UP was one of the most successful grassroots organizations that was ever founded. It was enormously successful. We never stopped working and fighting, and moving and doing all kinds of things to call the world's attention to AIDS. You have to remember that Ronald Reagan, who was president, never even said the word AIDS. So we were operating "on our own" to bring the world the message that we were dying from this mysterious virus.
Fauci was someone we were very angry with because he wasn't doing anything.
VOA: Larry, Fauci is actually quoted as saying, "You can divide medical research into before Larry and after Larry."
Kramer: I know he said that and that was very nice of him. I certainly had a lot of fights with him, as did ACT UP, to get him to the point where he paid attention to us. Now we are all buddy-buddy.
VOA: Why was it so hard to get him and the government to pay attention?
Kramer: Because it was happening mostly to gay people.
VOA: Going back to the battles then, the battles of the '90s, do you feel like you won that battle?
Kramer: No. We still don't have a cure. We have some drugs that keep us alive longer. They cost a good bit of money if you don't have insurance. The fight is never, ever over.