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Madonna pays tribute to two heroes of the AIDS crisis during NYC show

Madonna Celebration Tour NYC Tribute AIDS HIV Nurses
Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation

The Queen of Pop saluted nurses Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes, who were in the audience at Madison Square Garden, calling them heroes and angels who stepped up when few others would.

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Madonna paid tribute during her Tuesday night concert to two heroic nurses who treated and advocated for people with AIDS during the height of the epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s.

The nurses, Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes, were in the audience for the pop icon’s Celebration Tour stop at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Madonna noted tht there were two very important people in attendance, and she gave a shout-out to Matzer and Hughes.

“I want you all to remember how shocking and horrifying it was in the early ’80s,” Madonna said, when being gay was not “cool” and people with AIDS were stigmatized. But the two nurses stepped up, she said.

“Thanks to them for being at the front line of the AIDS crisis so many years ago,” the singer said. “Thank you for your bravery and courage.” Many people avoided dealing with anyone who had AIDS, but “these amazing women, these angels, these heroes” were exceptions, she said. “Thank you for setting up AIDS wards in so many hospitals,” she added.

Matzer and Hughes recounted their experiences in the book Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic In NYC, published in 2019. It is an “exquisitely moving narrative,” a Kirkus Reviewscritic commented when the book came out.

Madonna also told of her experiences visiting people with AIDS in New York hospitals. “I remember one young man, he was in another place, he wasn’t really conscious anymore, he was near death,” she recalled. “I laid down in the bed next to him, and he held my hand and said, ‘Mother, thank you for coming.’ It made me think, these women here tonight did this every fucking day and they got no praise, no thanks.”

During her Celebration Tour, which features songs from throughout Madonna’s career, photos of people who’ve died of AIDS complications are displayed when she performs the ballad “Live to Tell.” It’s “one of the tour’s finest and most impactful moments” and “also its saddest,” Billboardreports.

The Tuesday show was part of a three-night stop at Madison Square Garden.

On the lighter side, Bob the Drag Queen, a RuPaul’s Drag Race winner, “has proved to be a deft emcee” during the tour, according to Billboard. At the Tuesday concert, he joked that he’d most likely had sex with half of the people in attendance, while “Madonna’s probably had sex with the other half.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.