A big part in the early fight against AIDS was eliminating the stigma associated with it. The people in the best positions to do so were often celebrities who were allies to the LGBT community. They used their fame to bring attention to the epidemic and used their resources to raise money for research and to provide care for those in need. Thankfully this is an aspect of fame that knows no age or generation, as AIDS continues to be a harsh reality today. Here are 18 celebrity allies who have advocated for HIV/AIDS awareness over the past 30 years.
One of the first and most visible celebrity crusaders in the fight against AIDS, Taylor went so far as running an illegal underground drug network for people living with AIDS. She also co-founded amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, at a time when the government was slow to respond to demands for funding. By the time she died in 2011, Taylor had rasied more than $270 million for AIDS prevention and care.
The beloved comedian was one of the first celebrity advocates for people with HIV/AIDS, stepping up as the headlining act of an early crucial fundraiser for amfAR (then the AIDS Medical Foundation) in 1986. She also worked for decades with God’s Love We Deliver delivering food to people with HIV/AIDS in New York City.
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Sheen was an early AIDS advocate, appearing in a 1986 production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, and two years later speaking passionately at a forum in Philadelphia about losing his childhood friend to the disease:
"I held vigil (with him) the last four days of his life," Sheen said, referring to his boyhood friend, John Douglas Crane of Dayton, Ohio. "My rage was such that it was almost uncontrollable because he didn't tell us" that he had AIDS, Sheen said. "I found it hard to forgive myself that I didn't love enough" to earn Crane's confidence. "I vowed that that would never happen again."
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As the global ambassador for YouthAIDS and PSI, Judd has traveled the world over to places affected by illness and poverty, such as Cambodia, Kenya and Rwanda. In 2012, The Daily Beast named the actress the top celebrity AIDS fundraiser with an estimated $834 million raised.
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Bono has been known for his tireless philanthropic work for four decades, establishing DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) in 2002 and in 2006, he co-founded the (RED) Foundation to engage the private sector in raising awareness and funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa. To date (RED) has donated over $300 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
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Under Clinton's presidency, federal funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment more than doubled. After leaving office, he started the William J. Clinton Foundation to address issues of global importance and includes the Clinton Foundation's HIV and AIDS Initiative, which has helped reduce the cost of medicines to around $100 to $200 per person per year in many countries.
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In 2010, the President launched the nation's first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy to change the way the American people talk about HIV, prioritize and organize HIV prevention and care services locally, and deliver clinical and other related services that support people living with HIV and encourage their engagement in treatment and care.
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The outspoken comedian and activist lost a lot of friends to the AIDS crisis and so the cause has been something very personal to her. In a 1994 interview, she took to task those who passed judgment on people with HIV/AIDS:
"I think [AIDS has] caused a certain amount of homophobia. I think it's caused a return to false values—i.e. the right wing, the fundamentalists...there's this whole sense of judgment and who's right and who's wrong and who's moral and who's going to be punished and plays into that whole kind of stupidity and ignorance, once again."
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Sharon Stone has often been honored and recognized for her longtime AIDS advocacy, including the Peace Summit Award in 2013 presented by the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Before the awards, however, Stone says she received death threats:
“All the time I was campaigning I had groups threatening to kill me just because I was telling the truth about how people were dying and how it was going to escalate, how it was going to double and triple and quadruple and escalate and that we really needed to address it. People didn’t like what I had to say and they said ‘Let’s just kill her, let’s not let her talk’, and I knew then that I had to stay with this.”
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By the time she appeared in a 1988 PSA about HIV prevention, Madonna was already lightning rod for controversy, but she used her superstardom to bring attention to an epidemic that would claim the lives of many of her friends, including the artist Keith Haring. Her vocal advocacy led some to believe that she was HIV-positive, but undeterred, the Material Girl proved a strong and valuable ally, eventually founding her Raising Malawi organization, which works with the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation to provide HIV/AIDS prevention and testing programs to the African nation.
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Lennox was inspired by a speech Nelson Mandela gave in 2003 about the AIDS pandemic in Africa and started her own organization, SING, which raises global awareness about the impact of HIV on women and children—particularly in South Africa, Malawi and the UK.
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Alicia Keys got involved with AIDS activism near the start of her career, co-founding Keep a Child Alive in 2003 to combat the physical, social and economic impact of HIV and AIDS on children and families in Africa and India.
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“I am very close with my fans, and when MAC approached me about this, I got a whole lot of information [and] a lot of heartbreaking real statistics that I didn’t know,” Rihanna told HIV Plus Magazine about partnering with MAC's Viva Glam line. “They were very shocking for me, and it’s something that I felt was important for me to get the word out, to spread the word, to educate young people, educate my fans on a matter that’s really killing us and killing the youth.”
Like Gaga and Rihanna before her, Miley partnered with MAC's Viva Glam campaign, the same year she was honored for her AIDS activism at amfAR's Sixth Annual Inspiration Gala, during which she pledged to make an AIDS-free world a reality.