When Hollywood Turned Its Back On AIDS .. Brad Davis’ Secret

In early September 1991 Brad Davis gave up his battle with AIDS. The handsome actor who came to prominence in the 1978 film Midnight Express had been keeping a career ending secret for by then almost six years. He was 41 years young when he died.

In 1985 Davis had been diagnosed with being HIV-positive which according to his wife Susan Bluestein, a casting director in Hollywood, was caused from his use of drugs after his career started to take off with his Golden Globe award winning portrayal of Billy Hayes in Midnight Express. After several years of drug use and excessive drinking Davis cleaned up and got sober in 1981.

1985 was the same year that legendary actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS which brought HIV/AIDS to the forefront in news coverage and put a familiar face on the “gay plague” which then caused Hollywood to become a champion of the HIV/AIDS cause with fundraising efforts spearhead by many but in particular Elizabeth Taylor.

But that notoriety of the disease also came at a cost for actors and actresses, as while Hollywood became a champion it also became a devastator of careers if it were found out members of the acting community were diagnosed HIV-positive or had full blown AIDS.

In true Hollywood fashion, the studios and executives who held actors’ careers in their hands, Hollywood went beyond the old studio days of hiding ones sexual preference or identity through its PR department to flat out turning their back on their own which caused those who were gay, lesbian or bisexual to stay further in the closet and those who, whether straight or LGB, suffered from HIV or AIDS to not only get in the closet but lock it and hope no one would ever find the key.

We do give money to AIDS and the homeless and the blind. But we’re not obligated to hire the victims of the various diseases or causes we support. It all boils down to business . . . dollars and cents . . . and those with an illness or the potential for becoming ill are an economic risk.” a quote from a well known but “anonymous” Hollywood producer in an article the LA Times published in 1991 two weeks after Davis passed.

In a 1997 interview with New York Times writer Alex Witchel, Davis’ wife described the great pains he went to seeking medical help only allowing doctors to visit him at home, ”Without the secrecy he may not have gotten better medical care, but earlier medical care,” she said. ”It might have given him a little longer time and better quality of life. We became so isolated. He let a lot of friendships go. He was afraid certain people would pick up on some things. Our world shrank to the bare bones.” In order to hide his illness Witchel wrote that Davis didn’t buy prescriptions in his name but was supplied with prescription “leftovers” from others after they died.

Davis was going to write a book about his ordeal of working in Hollywood and having to keep secret his illness. While he died before he could accomplish that his wife did write a book using Davis’ book proposal as the basis for her book, After Midnight: The Life and Death of Brad Davis.

In the proposal Davis wrote the following which speaks volumes of how Hollywood was then and some might ask ” still is ? ”

”I make my money in an industry that professes to care very much about the fight against AIDS — that gives umpteem benefits and charity affairs with proceeds going to research and care — but in actual fact, if an actor is even rumored to have H.I.V., he gets no support on an individual basis. He does not work.”

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About Lyndon Evans
Associated Press Award Winner

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