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Tragic AIDS Story

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"Breathing" by Hugh Steers, 1987
"Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow,
from this nightmare?"
—"Will I?", RENT

Being diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which can develop into Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), formerly know as GRIDs (Gay-related Immune Deficiency [syndrome]), used to be a death sentence. It pretty much is in media, with GLAAD consistently reporting none or barely a handful characters living with AIDS or being HIV-positive.

Most storylines featuring HIV, AIDS, or even GRIDs usually show a long, painful, death. The drama comes from the way that family and friends react to the character's diagnosis: is there an internal battle and then resolve to stay and help in hospice, or do they get sick at the idea of either watching them die or watching how they die, and run away? Expect a lot of angst.

This can be, from even the earliest outbreaks in The '80s, a case of Reality Is Unrealistic — trial medications like AZT helped some people, whereas others seem to have bodies that miraculously cured themselves. As detailed in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of Pride (2014), the third man ever to be diagnosed as HIV-positive is still living as such today.

A lot of characters who end up with this line of treatment are gay, usually gay men, but that's not always the case. Still, it is a common way to Bury Your Gays.


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  • One of the most shocking and innovative campaigns of The '90s was by Benetton, who used a colorized picture of a man dying of AIDS on his deathbed, with his family. The story behind the picture is that of David Kirby, a famous gay activist in The '80s who was diagnosed with AIDS during its height at the end of the decade, dying in 1990. The picture was taken moments before David died, though it wasn't until 1992 that the photo became viral, for the Benetton campaign.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Sword Art Online, the "Mother's Rosario" arc is about Yuuki Konno, a girl who was born with AIDs due to an infected blood transfusion given to her mother before she was born. Her whole family contracted HIV and had passed away, leaving her as the only one left alive (which included losing her twin sister). She goes on to form a guild called the Sleeping Knights with several other kids who are also terminally ill, where they go on to play lots of VRMMOs together with their numbers dwindling as they succumb to their illnesses. When Yuuki debuts in the story, she and her friends decide to join the most fantastical game they can find (ALFheim Online) and permanently leave their mark. While there Yuuki made gained fame as the World's Best Warrior and recruited Asuna to help them defeat a Boss for a highscore. Upon succeeding, Asuna finally manages to discover the truth behind Yuuki and finds her in the clean room of a hospital using a medicuboid VR device 24/7. No longer able to keep it a secret, Yuuki confesses her last wish is to attend a normal school, which Asuna arranges via a portable probe that allows her to see the real world without having to leave the hospital. Eventually Asuna is informed that Yuuki's condition has deteriorated and log into ALO one last time. Yuuki passes on her Original-Sword-Skill as a parting gift before collapsing into Asuna's arms, as thousands of players come to visit her and honor her last moments.

    Comic Books 
  • Alpha Flight writer Bill Mantlo had wanted to have Northstar die of AIDS in a Very Special Issue, but the idea was vetoed by editor Andy Mangels. Mangels explained his decision by saying he thought killing off Marvel's only gay superhero at the time by giving him AIDS was rife with Unfortunate Implications.
  • In Circles, the only character who dies is Paulie and he dies from HIV. His husband Douglas was devastated but soon he was comforted by everyone else. While everyone else was alive and had an Earn Your Happy Ending, at least Doug had a Bittersweet Ending.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dallas Buyers Club Only after Rayon's death does Ron truly have a change of heart, and begins to show compassion towards gay, lesbian, and transgender members of the club.
  • In Philadelphia, Andrew Beckett dies of AIDS. However, his lover Miguel lives and, it is specifically noted, has not been infected with AIDS.
  • An Early Frost is about a gay man dying of AIDS who attempts to reconcile with his family.
  • Longtime Companion is about AIDS impacting the lives of several gay men, some of which die because of the disease.
  • Gia is about model Gia Marie Carangi, who had a substance abuse problem and wound up contracting HIV from an infected needle. She dies from complications from AIDS at the age of 26.
  • The Cure (1995) is about two boys trying to find the cure to AIDS, since one of them, Dexter, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. He dies from complications by the film's end.
  • Holding the Man, an Australian movie adaptation of a memoir with the same name depicts the love story of said memoir's writer, Timothy "Tim" Conigrave, and his partner John Caleo which ends in John dying from the disease's complication and Tim following suit few years later, ten days after he finished the memoir in October 6th 1994. Both the book and the movie adaptation didn't hold back in describing/showing John's deteriorating progression of the disease and Tim's anguist coming from the guilt of infecting John.
  • The plot of The Living End centers around two gay men who, after discovering they have AIDS and not long left to live, embark on a nihilistic and murderous road trip. Neither character definitively dies or survives the film, but the film is a rumination on the interconnectedness of life, sex, and death for queer men in a world with AIDS.
  • The Perfect Guy (Jeanne et le Garçon formidable in French) is a love story between a young woman and a HIV positive young man.

  • In Clive Barker's Imajica, a fantasy novel by British horror author Clive Barker (published in 1991), a subplot introduces an openly gay male couple who are friends of the Christ-like protagonist Gentle. One of the gay men, Taylor Briggs, dies of AIDS near the beginning of the story, while his partner Clem survives and goes on to help the protagonist. It is mentioned in passing that both men were in a lot of open relationships during the 1970s and "slept around" a lot, back before HIV became public knowledge; but only Taylor, the party animal, contracted HIV while his partner was plain lucky and never did, something for which Clem feels Survivor Guilt. Subverted Trope in that both men had been lovers for a long time and their love and relationship are depicted in a very positive light. Later on, Taylor returns as a ghost and reunites with Clem. At the end of the story, after the Reconciliation of all five realms, when all the souls of the dead of Earth and the other four Dominions are free to travel on to... somewhere else, before he departs Taylor asks his lover not to forget him but to go on with his life.
  • In Tout contre Leo (Close to Leo), Leo is very young, gay and dying of AIDS. The book is told from the point of view of his little brother Marcel.
  • Given that it's about AIDS in the gay population in the eighties, Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves, obviously.
  • The Line Of Beauty is set as the AIDS crisis emerges, and the disease figures heavily into the characters' arcs. Leo, a boyfriend of Nick's, dies from the disease before the third act, and Wani, who is gay and closeted, ends the novel wasting away because of it and will likely die soon. Nick muses that his own HIV test will likely come up positive as well.
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home: June's beloved uncle Finn dies because of AIDS as the novel starts, and much of the book is centered around his lover Toby, who is similarly suffering from the disease. Toby deteriorates rapidly near the end of the novel and dies, much to June's heartbreak.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Cold Case has an episode where the detectives are re-investigating the murder of a gay man in the 1980s. The victim became an AIDS activist after his lover contracted HIV. Flashbacks show him receiving a lot of grief from many gay people who were not yet aware of the seriousness of the situation and thought it was another ploy to destroy the subculture they have build, The present day investigation is complicated by the fact that many of the witnesses have died of AIDS in the meantime. The victim's lover actually survived the disease and went into remission. He is the one who comes to the Cold Case detectives asking for the case to be reopened.
  • General Hospital's landmark 1995 storyline in which Stone Cates developed AIDS (he'd caught it from a previous girlfriend) and was devastated to learn that his current girlfriend Robin was now HIV-positive.

  • The Normal Heart, a 1985 play about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in the gay community in the early '80s. Painfully Truth in Television; it is an essentially autobiographical account of Larry Kramer's founding of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and, later, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). The main character, Ned Weeks, is essentially Kramer; his "great, true love" Felix dies of AIDS at the end of the play, as do several other main characters and hundreds offscreen. The play's raw fury at the government's and the rest of the world's refusal to help — even as the death toll exceeded that of the American Civil War — when the play debuted in '85 is in part credited with bringing national attention to the crisis for the first time.
  • In RENT, many characters have and die from the disease, the most prominent being Angel. Mimi, a drug addict, comes close, and likely dies soon after the play ends, but still makes it to the final curtain. Roger's ex-girlfriend killed herself because she didn't want to live with it shortly before the events of the musical, and Roger himself suffers depression from it. The message implied was that Angel was Too Good for This Sinful Earth.

     Video Games 
  • Introduced in Sonic Adventure 2, Maria Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog was a child who had NIDS, which has similar attributes to HIV-AIDS, and died several decades in the past. Maria had it most of, if not all her life. Her grandfather raised her in a special center in space trying to find a way to cure Maria. Maria doesn't end up dying of the illness, however. She ends up shot during a massacre and delivers a Heroic Sacrifice for Shadow. Maria is of the Too Good for This Sinful Earth variety.