The legendary entertainer shares the story of how he created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which works to fund initiatives for prevention, outreach and treatment.
In 1985, a depressed and drug-addicted John read a magazine article about Ryan White, the teenager who had contracted HIV through a tainted blood transfusion. Inspired by White’s optimism in the face of overwhelming prejudice, John befriended the boy and his family. After White died of AIDS in 1990, John had an epiphany. He checked into rehab, got clean and set out to rectify the mistakes he had made during the 1980s, a decade that had witnessed the emergence of AIDS and the ensuing stigma surrounding it. With the support of fellow AIDS activist and gay rights supporter Elizabeth Taylor, he launched EJAF, first in the United States and then in the U.K. EJAF has not only funded programs in the West, but has also partnered with organizations in countries that face particularly daunting challenges such as homelessness (Ukraine), extreme poverty (Haiti) and high incidences of rape (South Africa). John’s commitment to tolerance and compassion shines through this testimonial, even as he relays his anger at governments that have either ignored the AIDS crisis or condemned their HIV-positive constituents. The author saves most of his justifiable ire for Bayer, which sold contaminated blood-clotting drugs overseas to save money, and for the Catholic Church, which continues to censure condom use. Still, many of the stories he recounts are uplifting, including that of Simelela, the first health clinic in South Africa to address the struggles of rape victims, and Project FIRST, the New York City–based program that supports former prisoners with HIV. John even relays a surprisingly heartwarming anecdote about meeting with George W. Bush, whose administration established the largest federally funded disease initiative in history.
An impassioned plea for understanding and a good layman’s guide to the current state of the AIDS crisis.