Larry Kramer, longtime AIDS activist, dies at 84

Even before the illness had a name, the iconic writer and activist was sounding the alarm on the bourgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis.
/ Source: NBC News

The longtime AIDS activist and author Larry Kramer died Wednesday morning in Manhattan of pneumonia, according to The New York Times. He was 84.

Kramer was an American playwright, screenwriter and gay rights pioneer and is widely credited with catalyzing the early response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States.

Portrait of American author, AIDS campaigner and gay rights activist Larry Kramer, founder of ACT-UP and the Gay Men's Health Crisis group, posing in front of a book shelf in his home.Sara Krulwich / Getty Images

Born in 1935, he grew up in and around Washington, D.C. He graduated from Yale University in 1957 and served in the U.S. Army Reserve, before working in film production in London for Columbia Pictures.

In August 1981, following the announcement of an outbreak of Kaposi sarcoma, Kramer formed a group that eventually became the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first AIDS service organization in the world. Later, in 1987, fed up with federal government inaction, he and other activists formed ACT UP — The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — a radical AIDS organization that staged dramatic protests and public interventions for years to force officials to spend more money and include more activists in AIDS research.

Kramer’s career as a playwright earned him wide accolades for the off-Broadway play “The Normal Heart,” a semi-autobiographical reflection on the immense human toll of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The play was later made into a HBO miniseries and revived on Broadway. In 1996, Kramer received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature.

He was also a prolific author of novels, writing one book — “Faggots,” first published in 1978 — that provoked polarized reactions from the New York City gay communities it shone an unflattering light on.

Kramer married his partner, architect David Webster, in a 2013 ceremony. Kramer survived a liver transplant, abdominal surgery and over three decades of HIV infection.

Following news of his death, ACT UP shared a message for their fallen AIDS warrior.

"Rest in power to our fighter Larry Kramer. Your rage helped inspire a movement. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action," the group wrote on Twitter.