Photograph by M. Sharkey
There were many brave and dignified people in the 1980s and early ’90s fighting against the iniquity of the successive Republican administrations that helped stigmatize AIDS and delayed funding for research and treatment. Staley was just one of them, but in David France’s remarkable documentary, How to Survive a Plague, it’s the archival footage of Staley brilliantly debating Pat Buchanan on Crossfire that lingers in the mind. A former bond trader, Staley was inspired to join ACT UP after his mentor, the head trader at JPMorgan Chase, suggested that AIDS activists deserved to die. Despite being arrested 10 times, Staley’s prodigious understanding of AIDS data led him to a collaborative relationship with Merck as the pharmaceutical giant designed early trials for protease inhibitors. Thanks to the work of him and his colleagues, many millions who would not otherwise have survived are alive today.
Photographed at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City on September 8, 2012