“It’s about gay people having to live through three plagues,” he said Tuesday from his apartment in Greenwich Village, where he is becoming increasingly isolated.
The three plagues are HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and the decline of the human body — specifically, a broken leg that Kramer, 84, suffered last April when he fell in his apartment and lay on the floor until his home attendant arrived hours later.
For Kramer, who has had several brushes with death since receiving an HIV diagnosis in 1988, these days have haunting echoes of the AIDS epidemic, which he feels never ended.
“The government has been awful in both cases,” he said, his voice softer than the old days but his anger undiminished. “They were terrible with AIDS and they’re terrible with this thing. One wonders what will become of us.”
As in the AIDS epidemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a fixture on the nightly news. The two men have a complicated history. In the 1980s, Kramer blamed Fauci for the federal government’s slow response to AIDS, calling him a murderer and an “incompetent idiot.”
But the adversaries developed a grudging friendship, and Fauci helped get Kramer into a lifesaving experimental drug trial after Kramer had a liver transplant.
“We are friends again,” Kramer said in an email. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”
Also as with AIDS, people’s casual encounters from the past have taken on potentially lethal significance, and the news brings a steady drip of death or diagnosis: playwright Terrence McNally, whom Kramer called a close friend and neighbor, dead at 81; AIDS researcher Dr. Michael Saag, diagnosed at 64 on his way home from organizing a medical conference on retroviruses and opportunistic infections, ill but not critical.
“It’s been so long that I have been losing friends that it becomes surreal,” Kramer said.
He did not find that his experience during the AIDS crisis gave him perspective on the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Rather, the two eras merge into each other.
“We certainly had our experience,” he said of his generation of AIDS activists. “But I find it very hard to stay in touch with the outside world because of the hardships we are all having to go through. You can read about everybody else’s experiences on Facebook, but it gets depressing after a while.”
For Kramer, who is largely homebound, a challenge of the pandemic has been isolation. His husband, David Webster, whom he married in 2013 in the intensive care unit of NYU Langone Medical Center, has been away on a work project, wary of bringing potential exposure into the home. Some of Kramer’s home attendants, also, have had to stop coming because of exposure to the disease.
So he has tried to lose himself in the new play, “An Army of Lovers Must Not Die,” which he has had to change almost daily as the news changes. “I wonder if it will ever be done now,” he said of the play.
But Kramer, for all his doom-saying, has repeatedly beaten the odds, surviving to finish his two-part epic novel, “The American People,” the second volume of which, at 880 pages, landed earlier this year.
“It’s a great book to read when you’re stuck for hours and hours,” he said.
Kramer was a maddening, titanic figure during the AIDS crisis, and at moments seems still to see himself in that thundering role. Death is his truth serum.
“Show me a plague,” he wrote in volume 1 of his epic, “and I’ll show you the world!”
The current plague, he said, calls for its own Larry Kramer to bring the rage — against disease, against governmental failure, against the unfairness of death. It just will not be him.
“I wish I could be,” he said. “I don’t know how. I would like to have a big movement,” he added. “But I’m not quite sure how to do that.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .