Dr. Anthony Fauci paid tribute Wednesday night to pioneering AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who died at 84 from pneumonia.
During an appearance on PBS NewsHour, the longtime NIH director recalled how he and Kramer went from adversaries to close friends.
“This is a very sad day, not only for me, but for many people who’ve had the opportunity to deal with Larry Kramer,” Fauci said. “He was a most unusual figure in a very positive sense. He was a firebrand. He had extraordinary courage to speak out and challenge the system that was in place at the time of the early years of HIV/AIDS. As a government official who was trying to do a job to address this, he saw me as the face of the federal government. And we became adversaries. I wasn’t an adversary to him, but boy, he was an adversary to me. He attacked me, he called me a murderer, he called me an incompetent idiot — I mean, publicly.
“But then, as I got to listen to what he had to say, I realized that he was making some important points that we in the establishment needed to listen to,” Fauci added. “We became, gradually, friends, and then we became very good friends, and then we became colleagues in the struggle. So it turned out that, you know, I loved the guy. And I think he loved me back. And it was a very interesting journey that we went through together. From the very beginning, when there was no hope, and we were adversaries, to the point where we had extraordinarily effective drugs and were able to save the lives of so many people, that we became sort of old guys together looking back at history and realizing what an amazing journey we’d been through together. So I’m very sad that we lost him. He was just an extraordinary man.”
Fauci also spoke to the Washington Blade, saying he suspected Kramer’s passing would come soon after a recent phone conversation.
“He sounded extremely halting on the phone, barely able to get the words out,” Fauci said, adding that he learned of Kramer’s death from activist Peter Staley. “It was very sad; we both were in tears on the phone.”
Also paying tribute to Kramer was CNN host Anderson Cooper, who concluded his show with a segment that included clips from Kramer’s historic “plague” speech.
“Until we get our acts together, all of us, we are as good as dead,” Kramer said in the speech.
“Those words ring true today, in this moment we’re now facing,” Cooper said.
“Larry Kramer once called me a ‘useless homosexual,'” Cooper added. “I’d never met him, but it really hurt because I admired him so much. A short time after he said it, I went to see a play that he’d written, and he heard I was coming, and he waited after the performance to see me. He came up to me. I expected him to yell at me, but he shook my hand and smiled shyly and said, ‘I’ve said some terrible things about you, Anderson.’ And I said, ‘I know Larry, but that’s OK, and I want to thank you.’
“Thirty-two million people have died of AIDS so far,” Cooper concluded. “There’s no vaccine yet, but there is incredibly effective treatment for those who can get it — and prevention. And Larry Kramer played a big part in that. You may not have heard of him or liked him if you did, but to me, he’s a hero, and now he’s gone.”