Larry Kramer, ‘The Normal Heart’ Playwright and AIDS Activist, Dies at 84

Author also earned an Oscar nomination for “Women in Love” screenplay

Last Updated: May 27, 2020 @ 10:51 AM

Larry Kramer, a legendary playwright, author, screenwriter and activist in the 1980s who helped shift government policy during the AIDS crisis and also penned the acclaimed play “The Normal Heart,” has died of pneumonia, his husband told The New York Times. He was 84.

In addition to his activism, Kramer got his start rewriting scripts for Columbia Pictures and was an Oscar nominee for his screenplay for “Women in Love” from 1969 as directed by Ken Russell. He’s also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his play “The Destiny of Me” from 1992 and has twice won the Obie Award.

Kramer founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in response to the spread of AIDS in 1981, making it the first organization to support those who had tested positive for HIV. But after being pushed out by the directors of the non-profit group, he founded Act Up, or the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which directly rallied protests with the aim of bringing more public attention to the AIDS crisis.

“Larry Kramer’s contributions to the LGBTQ movement and the fight against HIV/AIDS are incalculable. GLAAD and so many LGBTQ people and allies recognize Larry as an undeniable accelerant who not only fearlessly demanded change, but made it come to pass. We send all of our love to Larry’s loved ones during this time, and though we are saddened by his passing, we are forever grateful for his leadership and heroism,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement to TheWrap.

Kramer actually got the attention of another current public figure as it pertained to the AIDS crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci back when he was the the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Kramer wrote an open letter in the San Francisco Examiner calling Fauci a killer and “an incompetent idiot.” Fauci since has directly credited with helping to change medicine in the country.

When Kramer first turned to gay themes in his writing, he did so with the polarizing novel “Faggots,” which shined a light on promiscuous drug use and the sex life of gay men of Fire Island and Manhattan. The book was criticized by the straight community and equally caused a rift in the gay community who thought he was a traitor, even as it became one of the best selling gay novels of all time.

Kramer’s autobiographical play “The Normal Heart” focused on the life of Ned Weeks, a writer and founder of a gay activism group in New York during the AIDS crisis between 1981 and 1984. The play has been revived several times including a Broadway debut in 2011, and it was adapted as an HBO film starring Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer, with a screenplay by Kramer and directed by Ryan Murphy.

Kramer also tested HIV positive and would later return to the Ned Weeks character for “The Destiny of Me,” which picked up where “The Normal Heart” left off.

Some of Kramer’s other works include “Just Say No, A Play About a Farce,” “The Furniture of Home,” and the screenplay for “Lost Horizon,” the 1973 fantasy, adventure and musical film that was lambasted by critics at its release and has been included among lists of some of the worst films of all time.

He’s survived by his partner David Webster, with whom he had been together since 1991.

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