Four decades on, HIV remains a frightening reality. While many are living long and healthy lives with the disease, AIDS-related diseases felled 1.5 million people in 2013. Once thought to only affect certain people, HIV and AIDS do not discriminate when it comes to income, race, or sexuality. The stories of the following 23 individuals taught many that lesson, and many of these celebrities made it their mission to inform as many as possible about HIV's universal threat.
Rock Hudson (1925-1985)
Hudson was Hollywood's ultimate leading man throughout the 1950s and '60s, romancing some of the industry’s most beloved actresses on-screen, such as Doris Day, Julie Andrews, and longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor. He was briefly married in order to mask his homosexuality. Hudson died of AIDS-related complications in 1985. His death caused a mini-panic in Hollywood, as one of his last roles, on the prime-time soap Dynasty, required a long kiss with co-star Linda Evans (Evans was, obviously, fine and not angry at Hudson for not disclosing his HIV status). Hudson was the first major Hollywood star to die of the illness. In response to the loss of her beloved friend, Taylor cofounded the American Foundation for AIDS Research and later the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
Mercury, the front man for the widely successful British rock band Queen, was known as bisexual to many in the music industry. Shortly before his death, a very gaunt Mercury joined his band mates for one final video, “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” a song in which the singer reminiscences about his younger days. Mercury died of bronchopneumonia brought on by AIDS in 1991, only one day after he publicly acknowledged he had the disease. In 2010, Rolling Stone named him number 18 on its list of the 100 greatest singers ever.
Anthony Perkins (1932-1992)
Perkins is best known for his portrayal of Norman Bates, the cross-dressing, homicidal hotel owner in Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. But by the time he played Bates, Perkins had already been nominated for a Tony and an Academy Award, and had won a Golden Globe award as New Star of the Year. Throughout his life, he was known to have close, romantic relationships with both women and men, including, reportedly, Stephen Sondheim. "There are many who believe that this disease is God's vengeance," Perkins said in a statement before his passing, "but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other.” He died in 1992 of AIDS-related pneumonia, with his wife, Berry Berenson, and his two sons by his side.
Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)
Ashe was the first African-American tennis player to be selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the only black man ever to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open. Ashe reportedly contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during heart surgery, and he announced his illness in 1992, before founding the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993. After Ashe’s death, President Bill Clinton honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts to eradicate HIV and AIDS, and for his battle to end discrimination in sports.