Colman Domingo
Subscribe To
The Advocate
Scroll To Top

23 Celebrities Who Lost Their Battle With AIDS

Liberace (1919-1987)
Flamboyant performer Liberace was known best for his piano prowess, virtuoso performances, and extravagant wardrobe, homes, and cars. At the height of his fame, he was the highest-paid entertainer in the business, playing for celebrities and dignitaries and headlining a very successful Las Vegas show. Throughout his career there were rumors of his affairs with men, prompting Liberace to file numerous libel suits against publications in an effort to mask his sexuality. He died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987, but he and his personal physician had tried to hide his AIDS diagnosis from the public. However, the official cause of death was confirmed on the coroner's certificate filed by the Riverside County, Calif., coroner.

Gia Carangi (1960-1986)
Carangi has been dubbed the “World’s First Supermodel,” having appeared on the cover of four international editions of Vogue, in five editions of Cosmopolitan, and in advertisements for Armani, Versace, and Christian Dior, all before turning 23. She openly loved women, having flings with female photographers, makeup artists, and designers. Sadly, at 26, Carangi became one of the first famous women to die of AIDS-related complications, having reportedly contracted it through injection drug use. HBO Films later paid tribute with an Emmy-winning 1998 drama, Gia, starring up-and-comer Angelina Jolie.


Elizabeth Glaser (1947-1994)
Glaser became a leading AIDS activist after she received an HIV-contaminated blood transfusion while giving birth to her daughter Ariel. Ariel later died after contracting the illness through breast-feeding, and Glaser’s son Jake contracted it in utero. After Ariel’s death in 1988, Glaser cofounded the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation to raise awareness about HIV in children. At the time of Ariel’s death, Glaser told The New York Times, "She taught me to love when all I wanted to do was hate. She taught me to help others when all I wanted to do was help myself." Glaser died in 1994 of AIDS-related complications, but her legacy lives on. The foundation reached an estimated 20 million women worldwide, testing 17 million, and enrolling more the 2.2 million in its HIV care and support program.

Perry Ellis (1940-1986)
Ellis is best known for his casual American style of sportswear. His use of khakis, hand-knitted sweaters, and oversize jackets led The New York Times to proclaim that he “glorified the clean-cut, all-American look.” At the time, his cause of death was listed as viral encephalitis, but rumors of Ellis’s HIV-positive status made news after it came to light that his lover and business partner, Laughlin Barker, died of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer. The Los Angeles Times ran a 1986 series on journalistic ethics and whether it was appropriate to include AIDS rumors in news stories, with Ellis serving as the focus.


Halston (1932-1990)
The revered fashion designer’s style was known for being minimalist, and the designer often used cashmere and Ultrasuede. His most famous clients were Jackie Onassis, Andy Warhol, and Liza Minnelli. He was also a figure of '70s nightlife in New York and was a staple at the famed disco Studio 54. His long time love was rumored to be window dresser, Victor Hugo. Halston died in 1990 in San Francisco of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer.


Robert Reed (1932-1992)

Reed was best known for his portrayal of Mike Brady, the patriarch of the beloved '70s blended family in The Brady Bunch. Throughout his career, he received three Emmy Award nominations — for his work in Medical Center, Rich Man Poor Man, and Roots. Reed died in 1992 of bowel cancer, but his doctor listed Reed’s status as HIV-positive on his death certificate. His AIDS-related death was memorably mentioned in the Gen X-defining film Reality Bites.


Pedro Zamora (1972-1994)
Most famous for his appearance in the third season of MTV’s The Real World, Zamora was diagnosed with HIV at 17. He became the first out, HIV-positive man to appear on mainstream television, as the breakout star of The Real World's 1994, San Franciscon-set season. Zamora dated AIDS educator Sean Sasser while living in the Real World house, and the two exchanged vows in the first-ever televised same-sex commitment ceremony. Sadly, Zamora died hours after the groundbreaking finale aired. Pedro, a 2008 movie written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, dramatized Zamora's life.


Ryan White (1971-1990)

In the 1980s, Indiana-born Ryan White became the poster child of the AIDS epidemic. He was a hemophiliac and contracted the disease through contaminated blood. Because of mistreatment by adults in his community and bullying by peers at school, White and his family set out to educate people on the facts of the disease. In the process, White made many A-list friends, including John Cougar Mellencamp, Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Greg Louganis, and won the hearts of millions of Americans. White died at age 18 of an AIDS-related respiratory infection. The Ryan White CARE Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with HIV or AIDS, was passed by the U.S. Congress shortly after his death.


Amanda Blake (1929-1989)
Blake was an American actress, best known for her role as Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. How she contracted HIV remains a mystery, but listed on her death certificate as a partial cause of death was CMV hepatitis (cytomegalovirus), an AIDS-related condition. Her fourth and last husband, Mark Spaeth (1944-1985), also died of AIDS-related complications.


Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)
This Soviet-born dancer was known to celebrate both classical ballet and modern dance in the same performance. He defected to France in 1961 and eventually met his longtime love, Danish dancer Erik Bruhn. The two stayed together until Bruhn’s death in 1986. According to The New York Times, “Nureyev was afraid of revealing his illness before his death because he thought it might limit his career. The dancer learned that he had H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, in 1984, when he was still much in demand around the world. He was concerned that some countries, mainly the United States, might refuse him entry if he were known to be H.I.V. positive.” {C}

Derek Jarman (1943-1994)

This forward-thinking British director shook up cinema in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Jarman's gay-themed, politically driven work took on everything from the monarchy to Shakespeare classics to the scourge of AIDS. His cinematic style could be described as experimental, but it always came with a strong opinion and a definitive point. Jarman's Edward II is seen by many scholars as a modern classic, and it helped propel actress Tilda Swinton to stardom. Jarman never hid his sexuality or his HIV diagnosis, which would fell him in 1994.

Klaus Nomi (1944-1983)

The German performer remains adored thanks to his highly original performances, beautiful singing voice, and trendsetting costumes. After becoming a sensation in his native country, Nomi won over the crowds at various New York City nightclubs during the end of the disco era. He sang backup for David Bowie on Saturday Night Live, influenced drag legend Joey Arias, and even appeared in films. Sadly, in 1983, Nomi became one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS complications.


Brad Davis (1949-1991)

This actor found fame as one of the stars of the unflinching film Midnight Express, which told the story of Americans tortured in a Turkish prison. Davis, who was straight, was respected for having the courage for taking on gay roles, specifically in Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart and the film Querelle. Before becoming sober, Davis used intravenous drugs, which he and his wife believe were responsible for his infection. Davis tested positive for HIV in 1985, but kept it quiet so he wouldn't be blacklisted in Hollywood.

Peter Allen (1944-1992)
This Australian import was best known for his Oscar-winning song, “Arthur’s Theme” (written in collaboration with others), and for serving as songwriter for Olivia Newton-John, Carly Simon, and Frank Sinatra, to name only a few. Allen, discovered by Judy Garland, later married her daughter, Liza Minnelli, but the couple parted ways after seven years. After their divorce, Allen came out and lived with his long-term partner, model Gregory Connell, until Connell’s death from an AIDS-related illness in 1984. Allen died in 1992 from an AIDS-related throat cancer. Hugh Jackman would later star in a musical about Allen's life, The Boy From Oz.


Tags: People, HIV

From our Sponsors