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Dr. Anthony Fauci Recalls Complex, Close Friendship with Larry Kramer

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Staff Reporter
Thursday May 28, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  (Source:Associated Press)

Among the chorus of those chiming in with thoughts, recollections, and impressions after the death of American playwright, novelist, and AIDS activist Larry Kramer, Dr. Anthony Fauci - of late the calm voice of reason in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic - has spoken out about his longtime friendship with the passionate firebrand whose leadership in the dark days of another plague inspired generations.

"This is a very, very sad day," Fauci commented to the Associated Press when news of Kramer's death broke on May 27.

Fauci went on to say:

"I had a very long and complicated and ultimately wonderful relationship with him over more than three decades. We went from adversaries to acquaintances to friends to really, really dear friends. He would not hesitate a second to blast me publicly even though the night before we were having dinner together and having fun together. He's just an amazing guy. I took it in the right spirit."

Fauci adopted a somewhat drier tone when he was approached by the New York Times for his comment on Kramer's passing:

"How did I meet Larry? He called me a murderer and an incompetent idiot on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner magazine."

It was a friendship that thrived despite - or perhaps because of - the differences in the two men's temperaments.

Fauci told the NY Times that "It was an extraordinary 33-year relationship" he enjoyed with Kramer.

"We loved each other. We would have dinner. I would go see him in the West Village, he would come down to Washington."

Added Fauci, "But even recently, when he got pissed at me about something, he said to some paper, 'Fauci's gone over to the dark side again.' I called him up and said, 'Larry? What the...' And he'd say, 'Oh, I didn't really mean it. I just wanted to get some attention.' "

In 1987, Kramer helped found ACT UP, the activist group that demanded the U.S. government take action in the AIDS epidemic.

But he didn't just aim his provocations at those in power; he also turned his broadsides on the LGBTQ community, first in a controversial 1978 novel titled "Faggots" (which some saw as critical of gay sexual mores) and then, as AIDS ravaged the country, in speeches. Wikipedia recalls that Kramer famously told the audience at one such address, "If my speech tonight doesn't scare the shit out of you, we're in real trouble."

Added Kramer: "How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?"

It's a question that Kramer might have asked even today - and indeed, he did. Reports in March of this year had it that the 84-year-old playwright, whose early career was as a Hollywood screenwriter, had begun a new stage work about the current coronavirus pandemic.

Those news stories suggested that Kramer saw COVID-19, with its attendant governmental missteps and a new round of scapegoating (this time against China and Chinese Americans), as less a matter of history repeating than the same old song never having ended in the first place.

"The government has been awful in both cases," Kramer told the New York Times.

Dr. Fauci was a target of Kramer in an open letter Kramer wrote and published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1988 that accused Fauci of ignoring the toll of death and suffering that AIDS was inflicting on the gay community and beyond, the New York Times recalled.

The letter claimed, in part, "Your refusal to hear the screams of AIDS activists early in the crisis resulted in the deaths of thousands of Queers. Your present inaction is causing today's increase in HIV infection outside of the Queer community."

Fauci told the Times: "I thought, 'This guy, I need to reach out to him.'"

"So I did, and we started talking. We realized we had things in common."

One they never had in common? Their methods of approach. Fauci told the New York Times this anecdote:

"During the administration of George H.W. Bush, he told me, 'Tony, you should chain yourself to the gates of the White House.'

"I said, 'Larry, how would that help? I can go talk to President Bush any time. He's a friend.'

"He said, 'You should still do it.' "

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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