Tag Archives: obituary

The Ryan White Story – Gone Too Soon

Over the past few weeks you’ve been learning about the prejudice and discrimination faced by Ryan White because of his HIV infection.  This series concludes with a tribute to the life of Ryan White from the view point of one of his friends, Michael Jackson, who would have celebrated his 53rd birthday today if he was still with us.

The 1980’s, from a HIV/AIDS viewpoint was a time when many people panicked and about a new fatal and contagious disease, people were highly on guard with those who contracted it.  Most people were afraid of individuals who had HIV and if known to them, wouldn’t sit near them, talk to them and if it were possible refuse to breathe the same air!  It was exactly this time that Michael Jackson fearlessly invited Ryan to his home, and publicly embraced him inviting others not to be fearful of people living with HIV.

Ryan Whites mother, Jeanne White-Ginder has fond memories of Michael’s friendship with her son and you can read more about Ryan and Michael’s friendship here.

Two years after Ryan died, Michael Jackson released “Gone Too Soon” on World AIDS Day, 1993 dedicating it to Ryan White.  The video shows footage of Michael and Ryan together, as well as scenes from Ryan’s funeral.  Michael also performed the song at Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebration to serve as a promotional platform for HIV & AIDS funding adding:

I would like to take a moment from this very public ceremony to speak of something very personal. It concerns a dear friend of mine who is no longer with us. His name is Ryan White. He was a hemophiliac who was diagnosed with the AIDS virus [sic] when he was eleven. He died shortly after turning eighteen, the very time most young people are beginning to explore life’s wonderful possibilities. My friend Ryan was a very bright, very brave, and very normal young man who never wanted to be a symbol or a spokesperson for a deadly disease. Over the years, I’ve shared many silly, happy, and painful moments with Ryan and I was with him at the end of his brief but eventful journey. Ryan is gone and just as anyone who has lost a loved one to AIDS, I miss him deeply and constantly. He is gone, but I want his life to have meaning beyond his passing. It is my hope, President-elect Clinton, that you and your administration commit the resources needed to eliminate this awful disease that took my friend, and ended so many promising lives before their time.

“Gone Too Soon” later received more exposure, following the deaths of both Diana, Princess of Wales and Michael Jackson himself.

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Dame Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011

One of the greatest film stars of all time, Elizabeth Taylor is probably best known for two things. Her role as Cleopatra in the 1963 film (of the same name) and her eight marriages to seven different men between 1951 and 1996.

She has twice won an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actress in the films Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She has also been nominated on numerous other occasions for films including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer.

Elizabeth Taylor won her first movie contract at the age of nine and made a successful transition through to adult star and in 1963, she became the first movie actress to be paid $1mill for her role as Cleopatra. She then went on to star in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” – a role that many see as her finest and of course the role that landed her a Second Oscar for Best Actress in 1966.

She is one of the few real survivors from Hollywood’s Golden Era. With a life that reads like a movie, she has had famous husbands, famous lovers, and devoted consistent and generous humanitarian time, advocacy efforts, and funding to HIV and AIDS-related projects and charities.  She was one of the first celebrities and public personalities to do so at a time when few acknowledged the rise of HIV, organising and hosting the first AIDS fundraiser in 1984, to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles.  With over thirty years of active participation she was involved in raising more than $100 million dollars and expanding public awareness: to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS disease; confront its discrimination; and to expand research, treatment access, education, and government funding.

She was cofounder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim in 1985.   Her long-time friend and former co-star Rock Hudson had disclosed having AIDS and died of it that year.  Elizabeth was the International Chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research until her passing earlier this week.

She also founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1993, created to provide critically-needed support services for people with HIV/AIDS.  For example, in 2006 Elizabeth commissioned a 37-foot  “Care Van” equipped with examination tables and x-ray equipment, the New Orleans donation made by her Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.  That year, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she also donated $40,000 dollars to the NO/AIDS Task Force, a non-profit organisation serving the community of those affected by HIV/AIDS in and around New Orleans.

Elizabeth was honoured with a special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1992 for her HIV/AIDS humanitarian work. Speaking of that work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the on-going efforts of those she inspired.

Elizabeth Taylor has had a monumental impact on pop culture, and we at LASS celebrate the life of a woman who used her unparalleled fame to combat HIV/AIDS at a time when those suffering from the disease were being ignored because of the stigma attached, this only made her fight harder.  It is that courage and determination that has continued to inspire new generations of fans that span every imaginable background. She was a true warrior who lived to the fullest with both passion and purpose.”

Dame Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011

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