When Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the most visible members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, learned about the impact the virus could have on patients with underlying medical conditions, among his concerns was the health of a man he had grown to love and admire while battling a prior public health crisis.
“As soon as Covid-19 came, I immediately thought about my dear friend Larry,” Fauci, 79, said of the longtime AIDS activist and gay rights titan Larry Kramer.
When the coronavirus swept through New York City earlier this year, Kramer, who resided in Manhattan, was 84, HIV-positive and the recipient of a liver transplant. If he were to contract the novel virus, his odds of suffering a severe case of Covid-19 would have been high. But while the outbreak gave the two old friends reason to reflect on the early days of the AIDS epidemic — where they were both on the front lines — and discuss the current global health crisis, it was not Covid-19 that claimed the life of the outspoken activist in May, but pneumonia.
In the months following Kramer’s death, Fauci recalled some of their final conversations and the legacy of a man with whom he had a “complicated relationship,” though “at its foundation there was a great deal of affection.”
Kramer — who in 1982 co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, once the largest supplier of resources to AIDS patients across the country, and then in 1987 founded the grassroots activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) — never turned down a fight against federal officials tasked with overseeing public health policy. One of these officials was Fauci, who in 1984, as the AIDS crisis rose to prominence, became the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a position he still holds today.
Kramer would regularly lambaste Fauci during the early years of the AIDS crisis in public statements, saying he was too inexperienced to lead the national institute. He also accused Fauci of ignoring the outbreak, similar to how former President Ronald Reagan had done so throughout much of his first term in office, when he refused to even acknowledge the existence of the then-novel virus.
In a 1988 open letter that called Fauci a “murderer,” Kramer wrote: “Your refusal to hear the screams of AIDS activists early in the crisis resulted in the deaths of thousands of queers.”
But many AIDS activists would later hail Fauci as a powerful mediator between them and the international scientific community. He has been credited by both advocates and scientists alike with increasing the amount of patients with access to experimental treatments for HIV and AIDS by amending the way the government conducts clinical drug trials.
“One important legacy from the HIV epidemic is how the FDA, clinical research and science were transformed by the urgency and activism of groups like ACT UP,” said Dr. Adrienne Shapiro, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington who