Larry Kramer Waited 30 Years for His Play About the Early Years of AIDS to Be a Film

Kramer hopes “The Normal Heart” inspires a new generation of activists

Larry Kramer and his dog, Charley, in 2011. Photo: Rachel Nuwer

The gay activist, playwright and author Larry Kramer has waited a long time for this. On May 25, his award winning play, The Normal Heart, will debut as a feature-length film on HBO. Kramer hopes that the movie, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts, will help spread awareness about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. 

The Normal Heart, in fact, is an autobiography, first written in 1985. Kramer was one of the most active players during that crisis and was a founder of two advocacy groups, ACT UP and the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Here's the New York Times with more on Kramer's involvement: 

In the 1980s, he was the most strident, scolding voice in New York City (in the world, really) on behalf of gay men infected with H.I.V.: men whose parents shunned them, whose doctors feared them, whose dignity disappeared as their corpses were stuffed into trash bags. 

 “The Normal Heart” delves into his efforts, with a group of friends, to start Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the first volunteer AIDS organizations. Both the play and the movie depict his eventual expulsion from the group after his relentlessly confrontational tactics became too much for his peers.

Kramer, who is HIV positive, also spread awareness through his writing and plays. But his dream of seeing The Normal Heart turned into a movie—and reach a much larger audience—continued to elude him. Now, nearly 30 years after its publication, he's finally seeing that goal realized. And perhaps just in time: Kramer, 78, told the Times he has come "close to dying twice since the beginning of the year,” and he has recently suffered through extended hospital stays.   

More than the new movie simply informing audiences about events in the nation's history, Kramer says he hopes the film will incite younger people and inspire them to get involved in politics. According to the Times, Kramer is "dismayed about gay America." ScienceLine elaborated on those feelings in 2011: 

“Gays are hated,” [Kramer] says, “Not just disliked — hated.” He says he will never understand this, and that the hardest lesson in his adult life was learning that “no matter what your education or your economic level, you can be dismissed.” But instead of being deterred, Kramer only raises his voice. For him, not having equal rights — for marriage, for health care — inspires anger and activism. But the organizations designed to achieve these rights are only as good as the populations they serve, Kramer notes, and the “namby pampy” gay activism today is only a pale shadow of what it was in the mid-90s. “We fought like hell to get the drugs,” he says, referring to ACT UP’s accomplishments. “But as soon as those drugs were there” — Kramer claps his hands together emphatically — “that was the end of activism.”

For now, at least, Kramer says he is happy with how the film turned out. As the Times reports, Kramer is now working on writin a script for the sequel. 

In this video by the Times, you can see Kramer talk about the film himself: 

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