Famous Faces of HIV & AIDS
Learn about HIV/AIDS and the famous people who have put a face on these conditions.
Celebrities With HIV and AIDS
Some were sports greats. Some were stadium-packing entertainers and rock gods. One was just a normal kid from the Midwest. The one thing they all have in common is that they put a face on HIV and AIDS, diseases that were discovered less than 30 years ago but are now well known throughout the world.
Learn about HIV/AIDS and the public faces of these conditions.
What are HIV and AIDS?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a pathogen spread through the blood and sexual contact. HIV causes AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, an unpredictable, incurable condition that deteriorates the immune system. As AIDS progresses, the body loses its ability to fight off infection.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates there were between 34 and nearly 36 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide at the end of 2011.
Click “next” to learn the famous faces of HIV and AIDS.
Ryan White was a 13-year-old Indiana teenager who was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 following a contaminated blood treatment for his hemophilia, a disease in which blood doesn’t clot properly.
Ryan was thrust into the national spotlight when parents of his classmates rallied together to bar Ryan from attending school, despite doctors saying he posed no risk to others. Ryan became a spokesman for AIDS before his death in 1990, and major HIV/AIDS legislation was passed in his name.
Rock Hudson’s tall, rugged frame made him one of Hollywood’s leading ladies men in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1985, he became one of Hollywood’s first celebrities to die from complications due to AIDS.
His disclosure of the disease in 1985 shocked the nation. It was only after his death—a few months after he announced his diagnosis—that the world learned how tightly Hudson guarded his homosexuality. However, his public disclosure of the diagnosis helped in HIV/AIDS education and funding.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson won five NBA championships for the LA Lakers during the 1980s, winning three MVP awards along the way. He retired in 1991 after discovering he had HIV, but came out of retirement twice before finally retiring for good after the 1996 season.
His diagnosis helped educated the public that HIV/AIDS wasn’t only a sexually transmitted disease affecting the gay community. After basketball, Johnson became an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex through the Magic Johnson Foundation.
One of the most replayed images of the 1988 Summer Olympics was that of diver Greg Louganis striking his head on the springboard. Despite the resulting concussion, he went on to win two gold medals and ABC television’s “Athlete of the Year.”
That same year, Louganis tested positive for HIV. He documented his experience in the best-selling book Breaking the Surface. He is currently a coach and mentor with USA Diving.
Freddie Mercury’s vocals powered some of Queen’s strongest rock hits in the 1970s. His four-octave range and songwriting skills make him a staple in most lists of top-100 rock musicians of all time, and his music continues to be popular four decades after it was recorded.
While diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Mercury kept the diagnosis as secret as possible, despite constant media reports. In November 1991, he publically announced his fight against AIDS. Two days later, he died of AIDS-related pneumonia.
As a junior in high school, Pedro Zamora learned that he was HIV positive. Forsaking college, he became an HIV/AIDS educator speaking on the importance of safe sex to schools, churches, and more. He appeared on several talk shows, including Oprah’s.
Most known for appearing on The Real World: San Francisco, Zamora became the face for HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s. He died in 1994. Several charities were created in his name, and movies and comic books that are based on his life have since been created.
In the 1950s-1970s, pianist and entertainer Liberace was the highest paid piano soloist in America. It is one of many reasons he coined the term, “I cried all the way to the bank.” He was known for his flashy outfits and flamboyant personality.
In the late 80s, as his health was failing, his publicists blamed his weight loss on a watermelon diet. However, an autopsy confirmed what Liberace’s camp wouldn’t: he had AIDS and died of related complications.
Learn More About HIV/AIDS
The stories of these celebrities show that HIV and AIDS do not affect a single demographic. While infections from blood transfusions are nearly non-existent in developed nations, HIV is still a dangerous sexually transmitted disease (STD) affecting millions worldwide.
To decrease your risk of HIV and other STDs, it’s important to practice safe sex, and regularly be checked by your doctor if you are sexually active.
After all, the best sex is healthy sex.