Playwright and Aids Activist Larry Kramer’s Incredible Legacy

 Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, pictured in 2016 in New York City
Playwright and activist Larry Kramer, pictured in 2016 in New York City | © Brad Barket / Getty Images
Photo of Cassam Looch
Film Editor29 May 2020

Renowned activist Larry Kramer has died of pneumonia, aged 84. The writer leaves behind a body of work that helped raise awareness of the Aids crisis in the 1980s and helped change attitudes towards the LGBTQ community around the world.

The sad news of Kramer’s passing was announced by his husband, David Webster, on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Kramer will be best remembered for his work as an author, most notably his semi-autobiographical play The Normal Heart, as well as his tireless campaigning for people with HIV and Aids. In 1981 Kramer co-founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), an organisation that provided hard-to-find services for men with HIV.

“Larry Kramer was like an Old Testament prophet – angry and righteous,” author and fellow GMCH founder Edmund White said. “He could be scathing and antagonistic or wonderfully compassionate.”

Larry Kramer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1935. He went on to study English literature at Yale. He served a tour with the US Army before moving to London for a short period to work in film and TV production. His big break in the entertainment industry came with his adaptation of Women in Love (1969), which earned an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

Kramer continued to work in the film industry during the 1970s, but also began to pen his own plays. These early works allowed the writer to explore themes of homosexuality that were impossible to show on screen at the time. In 1973 he wrote Sissies’ Scrapbook and later that decade he released Faggots, a controversial novel about gay men in Manhattan.

At the turn of the 1980s, Kramer began to champion LGBTQ causes that were ignored elsewhere. He lost a partner to Aids in 1984, before he, too, was infected with the virus. In 1987 Kramer set up ActUp (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) which further highlighted the fight against Aids and HIV.

Meryl Streep and Larry Kramer during amfAR’s Fifth Annual Honoring with Pride Awards Dinner at Gotham Hall in New York City | | © J.Vespa / Getty Images

After a visit to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, Kramer felt compelled to return to theatre having given up on the medium; The Normal Heart, set between 1981 and 1983 draws parallels between the inaction of the American government in fighting the rising number of deaths attributed to Aids and the paralysis of many nations during the rise of the Nazi party.

The Normal Heart was a huge critical success when it opened off-Broadway in 1985 and has since been produced more than 600 times – on stage and screen – with Kramer himself writing the screenplay for a 2014 HBO film version.

“Don’t know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged. What an extraordinary writer, what a life. Thank you, Larry Kramer,” Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda wrote on Twitter.

Kramer is survived by his husband, whom he married in 2013.

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