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Rest in power: 7 amazing gay and bi men who lost their lives to HIV and AIDS

To mark World AIDS Day we remember the stars gone too soon, from Freddie Mercury to Rock Hudson

By Brian Leonard

Rock Hudson and Freddie Mercy (Images: HBO/Wiki)
Rock Hudson and Freddie Mercy (Images: HBO/Wiki)

Today, 1 December 2023, is World AIDS Day: a global movement to unite people in the fight against HIV and Aids.

Started in 1988, the day helps us remember the 35 million people who have died of HIV or Aids-related illnesses over the past 40 years. It also seeks to combat discrimination faced by the 105,000 people living with HIV in the UK, and the 38 million globally.

Here, to mark World AIDS Day, Attitude takes a trip down memory lane to pay tribute to seven amazing LGBTQ+ people who lost their fight against the condition in decades past.

1 Keith Haring

American artist and gay man Keith Haring was an old friend of ‘Vogue’ singer Madonna when they were young movers and shakers in 80s NYC.

His brightly coloured, remarkably accessible creations explored all the sociopolitical issues of the day, including gay rights, and his brightly coloured dancing stick men are the stuff of legend – remember the ‘Crack is whack’ mural in Christina Aguilera’s ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ video?

Haring passed away due to Aids-related causes in February 1990 at 31.

Liberace (Image: Wiki)

2 Liberace

Piano player extraordinaire Liberace is perhaps best remembered for his ultra camp costumes, which typically featured feathers, rhinestones, furs, eight-foot trains… the list goes on.

He was portrayed by Michael Douglas in the TV drama Behind the Candelabra in 2013, which also starred Matt Damon as his lover, Scott Thorson.

On 4 February 1987, he died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia, a common opportunistic infection in people living with HIV/Aids.

3 Howard Ashman

‘Part of Your World’ in The Little Mermaid. ‘Arabian Nights’ in Aladdin. ‘Kill the Beast’ in Beauty and the Beast. Oscar-winning lyricist Howard Ashman wrote them all, and is widely credited with helping usher in the Disney Renaissance.

Little did audiences know at the time, but the mob song ‘Kill the Beast’ was in fact a metaphor for HIV and Aids stigma. (“We don’t like what we don’t understand.”)

Ashman died of heart failure resulting from HIV and Aids at the age of 40.

Rudolf Nureyev (Image: Wiki)

4 Rudolf Nureyev

Credited with introducing millions to classical ballet and modernising the art form, Nureyev was in fact a master of many dance styles. Having defected to the West from the Soviet Union in 1961, Nureyev toured the world prolifically and wowed audiences with his intense, flamboyant style.

Nureyev, who once served as Paris Opera Ballet’s artistic director, died of Aids-related health complications on 6 January 1993.

Anthony Perkins (Image: Wiki)

5 Anthony Perkins

You’ll no doubt recognise Anthony from his iconic role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s perfect horror film Psycho (1960).

But these days he’s almost as known for his then-clandestine relationships with some of Hollywood’s leading men, such as Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson.

The actor died of Aids-related causes on 12 September 1992 at the age of 60.

Freddie Mercury (Image: Wiki)

6 Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury of course helped sell over 300 million records worldwide as frontman of rock band Queen, known for hits like ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘The Show Must Go On’.

After making his condition public shortly before, Freddie died of Aids-related causes on November 24 1991 at the age of 45. HIV and Aids charity Mercury Phoenix Trust was founded in his memory.

Rock Hudson (Image: HBO)

7 Rock Hudson

From Magnificent Obsession to Dynasty, star of stage and screen Rock Hudson was a model of American masculinity during his 38-year career.

After being hospitalised on 25 July 1985, Rock’s publicist revealed he was was living with Aids; the world’s media (correctly) surmised that he was gay. Months later, on 2 October 1985 at the age of 59 of Aids-related illness.

A new documentary, Rock Hudson: All that Heaven Allowed, was made available to download and rent on digital platforms last month. In the meantime, click here for 16 fascinating facts about the Send Me No Flowers star’s life and career.

Click here to visit the official World AIDS Day website.