In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, a close friend of Herb Ritts confirms that the superstar photographer, who died Thursday of complications from pneumonia, was HIV-positive. "He had been very productive for many years living with HIV," says friend Stephen Huvane, a publicist with PMK/HBH. "He had only been in the hospital for a few days before he passed away." Huvane specified, however, that Ritts's death was not directly HIV-related. "Herb was HIV[-positive], but this particular pneumonia was not PCP [pneumocystis pneumonia]. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised. He died from complications from pneumonia, but he had been living with HIV for many years." Huvane also noted, "He is one of the kindest men I have ever met; as successful as he was, he was always kind and concerned about his friends."
Ritts, who was featured in an Advocate cover story in 1996, was openly gay long before many of his colleagues in the fashion and art world came out. He told the magazine that after disclosing his sexuality on a 1993 NBC news program, "I got a lot of letters from 15-year-old kids who were from the Midwest, saying, 'It's so great you did that. I was lost. I wanted to kill myself.' These were things I never had to go through. It's not that I'm naive, but when it's not in your realm and you suddenly get one of these letters, you realize how important it is that there be encouragement for gay people."