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Tragic AIDS Story

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"Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow,
from this nightmare?"
— "Will I?", RENT
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A story about someone being diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which can develop into Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), formerly known as GRID (Gay-related Immune Deficiency), and not surviving. In most of the 1980's and 90's, the virus was pretty much a death sentence until antiretroviral medications in the early 2000's became more effective and accessible in keeping the virus under control.

Most storylines featuring AIDS 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 their loved one die or watching how they dienote , and run away? Expect a lot of angst. A lot of characters who end up with this line of treatment are gay and usually men, but that's not always the case. Still, it was a common way to Bury Your Gays.

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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 seemed 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 alive today.

This trope is less common in work set after the 1990's, as advances in medicine mean most HIV-positive people in the developed world are able to keep the virus in check. It doesn't become AIDS until the immune cells fall below a certain level, and most people with the virus today are able to live their lives without ever reaching that point. In fact, when you do see characters with HIV in modern-day works, unless it's Historical Fiction and/or set in a developing country, their plotlines usually have more to do with living with the virus rather than dying from it. Still, AIDS was a defining specter for an entire community for almost twenty years, and to this day it still affects millions around the world.

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Contrast with the unsympathetic Karmic STD, which involves people contracting STDs for malicious behavior (or at least what the writer assumes to be malicious).


Examples:

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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 high score. 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 logs 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.
    • John Byrne planned to bring Northstar out and have him die of AIDS in Issue 50 of the first series and had laid the groundwork, dropping hints as to Northstar's homosexuality and giving him a mysterious disease. At the last minute, this was changed, with Loki telling Northstar that he was half Asgardian elf and his illness was an allergy to Earth. Northstar moved to Asgard briefly and when he returned he was shown bored out of his mind and kicking himself for believing such a ridiculous story told by the god of lies.
    • Northstar's actual coming out issue still addressed AIDS. Jean-Paul adopts a baby girl with the virus and names her Joanne, and she becomes a media darling across Canada. Seeing this drives retired superhero Major Mapleleaf insane with grief, as his own son had died of AIDS, but because he was gay, nobody cared and Mapleleaf had to watch him die. He shows up to kill Joanne, which naturally leads to an epic fight across Toronto with Northstar. Northstar comes out as gay as he defeats Mapleleaf, but realizes the man is utterly broken and consoles him in the end. The issue ends with Joanne dying of AIDS while Northstar comes out to the general public in a press conference.
  • 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.
  • The Incredible Hulk of all things had a particularly poignant AIDS issue. The character who died, Jim Wilson, wasn't some random one-shot but a friend of Bruce Banner's who had been a recurring character for years. The issue dodges the tricky subject of whether or not the Hulk's blood can cure AIDS (the same way it saved his cousin from a gunshot wound) by having Banner not want to risk creating another monster, and he only pretends to give his blood. Jim later reveals that he wasn't fooled by the ruse but still dies on good terms with his friend.
  • In The Sandman the inseparable lesbian couple Chantal and Zelda both die from AIDS. Chantal contracted it from an infected kidney transplant, Zelda is implied to have deliberately infected herself so she wouldn't have to be alone.

     Comic Strips 
  • In Doonesbury, Joanie met a gay man, Andy, in the 1970's. Flash forward fifteen years, and Joanie meets him again in his final days before he dies of AIDS.

     Films — Live-Action 
  • The central problem in And the Band Played On, which is why its main focus is on the scientists trying to isolate the cause of what was initially, seriously, called "gay cancer".
  • The last quarter or so of Bohemian Rhapsody inevitably brings up Freddie Mercury's AIDS diagnosis and plays it for existential drama, positing that it motivated him to get back to working with the rest of Queen and to perform at the 1985 Live Aid concert. (In reality, however, he didn't get an AIDS diagnosis until 1987.)
  • 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.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: Only after Rayon's death does Ron truly have a change of heart, and he begins to show compassion towards gay, lesbian, and transgender members of the club.
  • It was not intended as this by writer-director David Cronenberg, but The Fly (1986) — coming as it did at the height of the panic over the disease — was interpreted as this trope couched in fantastical terms by many critics and commentators: The Doomed Protagonist Seth, not long after he has entered into the first romantic relationship of his life, accidentally and unknowingly merges himself with a housefly via a Teleporter Accident. Now a Half-Human Hybrid his body begins to mutate from the inside out, with one of the first physical signs of the transformation being facial lesions. His entire human body effectively begins to painfully, inexorably rot — he refers to it as "a bizarre form of cancer" — and there seems to be no hope of staving it off or curing it; while it becomes clear that he's becoming a new lifeform, it is still going to be the death of him as a person. His faithful lover Veronica is discouraged by her ex-lover Stathis from being in contact with Seth because his condition might be The Plague, and when she learns she is pregnant by Seth, realizes she might be bringing a mutant into the world. In the Downer Ending, she must Mercy Kill him when his attempt to cure himself — at her expense — goes disastrously wrong. Cronenberg's story is actually a metaphor for aging, disease, and death in general, and if it's referring to a more specific illness it's The Topic of Cancer, but the AIDS interpretation is still discussed and debated to this day.
  • In Forrest Gump, Jenny dies of a newly-discovered illness that made her "real tired all the time." It's never stated what the illness is, but given the time period (sometime in The '80s by the end of the movie), and the wild bohemian lifestyle she led in [1] and 70's to cope with her painful childhood, it likely was AIDS.
  • 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.
  • 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 a few years later, ten days after he finished the memoir on 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 anguish coming from the guilt of infecting John.
  • Jeanne and the Perfect Guy is a love story between a young woman and an HIV-positive young man. It ends with the latter dead.
  • Jeffery is about a gay man in mid-90's New York City who had sworn off sex due to the AIDS crisis. He falls in love with an HIV-positive man but is afraid to commit to him due to the possibility that he could die soon. One of the supporting characters is an older mentor figure played by Patrick Stewart, whose ditzy younger partner ends up succumbing to AIDS.
  • 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.
  • Longtime Companion is about AIDS impacting the lives of several gay men, many of which die because of the disease. The film ends with a heartbreaking Imagine Spot where the three surviving main characters are walking along the beach and are reunited with their lost friends before it cuts back to the three of them alone and wondering if anyone will ever find a cure.
  • In Philadelphia, Andrew Beckett dies of AIDS. However, his lover Miguel lives and, it is specifically noted, has not been infected with AIDS.
  • When RENT was adapted to the big screen in 2005, it was a deliberate choice on the filmmakers' part to portray Angel's death from AIDS in a realistic manner (as opposed to the more abstract "Contact" from the stage musical) so that younger viewers—a generation removed from the AIDS crisis—could see the effects of the disease first-hand.
  • The biopic Saint Laurent has a subplot involving Yves's torrid affair with a young Frenchman named Jacques de Bascher, and it eventually flash-forwards to his death from AIDS and Yves being haunted by his memory.
  • Team America: World Police ruthlessly spoofing RENT in a Show Within a Show (LEASE) meant that this trope was inevitable. It's parodied in the form of the musical number "Everyone Has AIDS", in which the protagonist's best friend has died of the disease, while a number of his family members, his dog, and the Pope has contracted it.

     Literature 
  • 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.
  • "Funny Boy", one of the Ford County Stories by John Grisham, about a Southern gay man who returns to Ford County to die despite his family's disowning of him, and where he finds friendship with a kindly old black lady in his final days.
  • In 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.
  • 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.
  • Given that it's about AIDS in the gay population in the eighties, Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves, obviously.
  • 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.
  • Was tells the story of a gay man dying in the 1980s. He is obsessed with The Wizard of Oz and wishes to meet Dorothy Gael, the woman who inspired the original books, before he dies.

     Live-Action Television 
  • In the finale of 13 Reasons Why, teenager Justin dies of AIDS just as his life was starting to look up; he'd unknowingly contracted HIV a few years earlier while working as a prostitute to support himself and his heroin addiction. The plotline was actually criticized for coming off as inaccurate and outdated ( Justin's condition was unlikely to have progressed to AIDS and death in the given timeframe, and by 2020 there's enough research around HIV that it can be treated).
  • In the Babylon 5 episode Confessions and Lamentations, a ship of the Markab people comes to the station carrying a disease that is 100% deadly to their race (and some others with similar blood). Because it originated on an isolated island known for its immorality (their version of Sodom and Gomorrah), the Markab believe the cause was immorality, and refuse to even speak of it, let alone allow Dr. Franklin, chief medical officer, to try to help them. Insisting they are moral and won't contract the disease, they lock themselves into quarantine, away from the other "immoral" races. Delenn, ambassador from the Minbari and trusted by the Markab, insists on trying to minister for them. Later, when the crew has found a cure, using other species to test, they open the quarantine area to find a shattered Delenn, and all the Markab on the station succumbed to the disease.
  • A storyline in Beverly Hills, 90210 sees Kelly befriending Jimmy Gold, a Magical Queer patient in the AIDS hospice she volunteers at. He succumbs to the disease soon after.
  • 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 built. 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, and he is the one who comes to the Cold Case detectives asking for the case to be reopened.
  • An Early Frost (1985 U.S. television) is about a homosexual man dying of AIDS who tries to reconcile both of these truths about himself with his family. It was and still is considered a landmark for its time as the first of any kind of movie (in its case made for television) about this subject when the disease and its virus were both very new and were both largely confined to male homosexuals and poor intraveneous drug users, especially in America's large mostly liberal especially coastal cities where so many of these people and reported AIDS cases were from.
  • 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.
  • Hill Street Blues: During Season 3, Detective Belker befriends Eddie Gregg, a gay prostitute who will eventually become one of his snitches. He returns in an episode of Season 6 to reveal that he has been diagnosed with AIDS.
  • The Hogan Family: One of the final episodes involves the recurring character Rich having AIDS. David avoids him at first, but reaches out to him and helps him enjoy life. At the end of the episode, David speaks at a high school assembly about the disease and says Rich died one night earlier.
  • Midnight Caller has Jack's ex-girlfriend Tina Cassidy, who gets AIDS from a one-night stand in "After It Happened," sells most of her belongings to pay for healthcare, and finally dies in a hospice in "Someone to Love." Also, a number of side characters from "Someone to Love," including a woman who got it from a blood transfusion, another woman who tells her family she has cancer because of the stigma, and a man who was abandoned by his lover after he got sick.
  • Invoked on Rupauls Drag Race with Season 9's Charlie Hydes. As the oldest contestant in the history of the show (52 during filming), she had lived through the worst of the AIDS crisis. Many of her friends have died from the virus and she feels a bit of survivor's guilt for it. Also, two contestants, Ongina and Trinity K. Bonet, have come out as HIV-positive during their seasons, and Rebecca Glasscock was too distraught to complete an HIV PSA due to having a friend dying from it, which yes, does still happen in the present day in the western world.
  • Discussed in Sense8 — after actor Lito is outed as gay to the public, most of the roles he is offered are of gay men who die of AIDS.
  • Averted, of all places, on Takalani Sesame, the South African version of Sesame Street. Muppet character Kami is HIV-positive due to a blood transfusion she received as an infant but is otherwise perfectly healthy. The character was created to teach children that the disease is nothing to be ashamed of, hoping to reduce the stigma in areas of Africa where HIV was at epidemic levels. (Unfortunately, the news took some flak from Moral Guardians who wrongly thought the character was intended for the American version of the show.)
  • Why Women Kill: Karl contracts AIDS in 1984 when there was huge stigma toward sufferers (especially gay men like him) and a death sentence for most due to limited treatments. We see him visit a man dying from AIDS who he knows, too. He decides to kill himself rather than suffer until the end. Later, Simone euthanizes him at his request.

     Music 
  • In a case of this trope mixing with The Cover Changes the Meaning, Michael Jackson's 1991 cover of "Gone Too Soon" is a eulogy to Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who was infamously expelled from school in 1985 after contracting HIV from a faulty Factor VIII blood treatment the year prior; White, who died of complications from AIDS in 1990, had befriended Jackson in the waning years of his life.
  • Lou Reed's "Halloween Parade" is about how the disease had claimed so many of the regular participants in the Village's annual parade.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Doonesbury's Andy Lippincott first appeared in 1976 as a law school classmate of Joanie Caucus, who pursued him romantically until he confessed that he was gay. In 1989, after a long absence from the comic, Andy was diagnosed with AIDS, and made sporadic appearances over the following year before dying while listening to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" on the then-new CD release of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The NAMES Project honoured Andy with a panel on the AIDS quilt (although it was never actually sewn into the quilt and currently hangs in the organisation's Atlanta office).

     Theatre 
  • In Falsettos, Whizzer spends most of Act Two hospitalized because of this and dies just before the show finishes.
  • Jerker is a short play about two men with AIDS who connect over a phone sex line. Their relationship quickly moves beyond the erotic. Then one day the phone goes unanswered; soon the line is disconnected.
  • 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 the disease and one character, Angel, dies from it. Mimi, a drug addict, has a Near-Death Experience and likely dies for real 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, if not all, of 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 getting shot during a massacre and delivers a Heroic Sacrifice for Shadow. Maria is of the Too Good for This Sinful Earth variety.

     Web Original 
  • In the AlternateHistory.com story For All Time, HIV/AIDS is known as SPID or Sindrom priobretennovo immunodeficita (syndrome of acquired immunodeficiency) due to the Soviets discovering it before the United States. Sadly, due to a combination of constant warfare (it's that kind of story) and the inefficiencies of the Soviet blood donation system, by 2002 35% of the Eurasian continent has contracted it. It's revealed that Patient Zero for the Eurasian pandemic was a Soviet soldier who contracted it from a blood transfusion he received in the Congo, and unwittingly spread it by donating his blood once every three weeks.

     Western Animation 
  • Deconstructed in South Park. Cartman contracts HIV after receiving a blood transfusion during routine tonsil surgery (even though donated blood has been screened for HIV since the early 90's but it could speak to the incompetence of South Park doctors for having that happen), but he and his mom have a hard time finding anybody who cares since AIDS is viewed as a "forgotten" illness compared to cancer. He and Kyle seek out Magic Johnson and find out the reason he has been healthy all these years is because he sleeps with all his money, and scientists discover that the cure for AIDS is cash...which means precisely jack to the people of Africa. The world is apathetic to this development because it wasn't the cure for cancer.


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