A couple of months ago Time Magazine printed an article listing some of the most influential people of the last century or so. The list, a very short list, really, included Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Larry Kramer.
Larry Kramer, who has hurled insults at New York Mayor Ed Koch, President Ronald Reagan and virtually every politician, scientist or journalist who has had anything to do with AIDS for the last 20 years. Yes, that Larry Kramer. Right beside MLK and Gandhi.
Why not? Larry Kramer helped found the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City in the early 1980s, when most politicians wouldn't utter the word AIDS. And by the time he founded the organization ACT UP in the late 1980s, government-funded medical research still moved at such a glacial pace that drugs in development posed virtually no hope for the thousands of sick and dying.
And while there is still no cure for this deadly virus, and millions will die of AIDS around the world, Larry Kramer and the rest of the early AIDS activists have made an enormous difference. Larry led the charge of AIDS activists who refused to be ignored by politicians and the public. They demanded change from the scientific community and they got it. Larry helped change the way people with AIDS and other illnesses people are treated and considered by the medical community as a whole.
But one thing is for sure. Larry didn't do any of it by being a sweetheart. He has been relentless. And rude. And infuriating. And at times, even mean. Amazingly, he has a flood of admirers and friends. One of his longtime adversaries, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who oversees AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, now calls Larry one of his closest friends.
In a conversation with Ted Koppel, recorded in Larry's New York City apartment, Larry talks about his anger, his work and all of the work still to be done. You would think that he might have mellowed after so many years of watching his friends die and after so many years of screaming at rallies and writing angry letters, and most of all, after years of struggling with his own HIV and other health problems.
Today Larry is suffering from end stage liver disease. He needs a liver transplant very soon, if he is to have any hope of surviving much longer. But Larry is not complacent. He is still one angry man. And what makes him most angry is that more people aren't as angry as he is.
Finally, Larry Kramer is no stranger to Nightline. He has been a guest on this program several times and at least once, his microphone had to be turned off in the middle of the interview, because, well, he would not shut up and let anyone else speak. Every journalist I know who has ever covered AIDS has received at least one critical phone call, or letter, or email from Larry. I have received plenty. About 11 years ago, when I first started producing guest segments for this program, I booked Larry Kramer for his now famous appearance when his microphone was turned off. Although Larry has a famous temper and is rarely sorry for it, he very kindly called the next day to apologize.
Perhaps he knew that I was truly afraid that I would be fired for having arranged his disruptive appearance. Of course, I was not fired, or reprimanded in any way, but Larry and I proceeded to have a conversation about AIDS and the news that has continued for over a decade. Those conversations forced me to think in ways that I would not have if he had been more polite or circumspect. So, I am grateful for his temper. Tonight, he'll make you think, too.
Sara Just is a Senior Producer for Nightline.