Danny Pintauro’s revelation on Saturday’s episode of Oprah Winfrey‘s “Where Are They Now?” that he’s been HIV positive for more than 12 years spread through social media like a California wildfire on a dry July day. Within hours of his televised interview, Pintauro became a worldwide trending topic, his face flooding news feeds from coast to coast.
It also reignited a national debate surrounding the disease, a subject that’s been mostly absent from mainstream media ever since the end of the AIDS crisis in the late 90s and early 2000s.
“My head is spinning,” Pintauro told TheWrap on Monday. “My biggest fear was that I would come out and no one would care. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”
Pintauro, known to scores of fans as the lovable Jonathan Bower on the popular 80s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?,” starring Tony Danza and Judith Light, told Oprah he was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 after experimenting with crystal meth.
“I wanted to tell you this a long time ago, but I wasn’t ready — I’m ready now,” Pintauro told Winfrey.
Minutes before the taped sit-down interview, Pintauro told TheWrap his emotions took over.
“I had a breakdown backstage right before the interview started,” Pintauro said. “I was crying my eyes out.”
What made him finally tell his story was the need to help others learn from his experiences and perhaps erase some of the negative associations attached to HIV and AIDS.
“This was very important,” professor of global public health at New York University Dr. Perry Halkitis told TheWrap. “The problem is that AIDS has not been front and center for so many years. The more people are open about their status, the more we chip away at the stigma associated with the disease.”
Halkitis, who has done extensive research on HIV and crystal meth in the gay community, says of the 50,000 new HIV cases every year in the U.S., about 30,000, or 60 percent, are among men who have sex with men.
“It’s hard to say how many of them are linked to crystal meth use,” Halkitis said. “But, what we do know is that the combination of crystal meth and sex is dangerous. People on meth are hyper sexual and often engage in more risk-taking behavior.”
During his interview Pintauro, who came out in 1997 after The National Enquirer threatened to out him, told Oprah it was that hyper sexuality that led to his diagnosis.
“If we can talk about it, we can get rid of all the stigma,” Pinaturo said. “And I think we can do it.”
The reaction to his interview has been mostly positive, though there have been some snarky comments.
“I started seeing some of that negativity,” Pintauro said. “Someone just wrote to me, ‘Great, another gay guy with HIV.’ I wrote back saying, ‘Yes, that’s exactly the problem.”
But despite some critics Pintauro’s interview could end up being a game-changer.
“We’ve been so focused on equality and same-sex marriage that we’ve forgotten our obligation to a much more fundamental fight: HIV/AIDS,” editor-in-chief of Out Magazine Aaron Hicklin told TheWrap. “It took someone like Danny Pintauro to remind us of that.”
The fact that Pintauro was so honest and forthcoming about his experiences, some experts say, could help the fight against HIV/AIDS because it puts a face to the struggle.
“I think it was a courageous move,” public relations expert and crisis manager Howard Bragman told TheWrap. “It was beautiful and touching. You can’t help but hear his story and be moved by it.”
Bragman, who’s handled more than a dozen big comings out over the years, including “Family Ties'” Meredith Baxter, three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes and football player Michael Sam, says Pintauro’s revelation could end up being the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
“I think it will bode well for his future,” said Bragman. “It takes a really courageous person to do this because you never know how the industry is going to react. But, in my experience, most people who come out find a second life afterwards.”
Pinatauro says he’s not looking to get back into acting. He’s happily married to his husband, Wil Tabares. His dream these days is doing advocacy work for organizations like Elton John‘s AIDS Foundation and GLAAD.
“I’m not looking to to make news and I don’t consider myself a hero,” he said. “If I can stop even one person from using then, yeah, maybe then I’ll be a little bit of a hero.”