Michael Kearns: HIV-positive -- The actor will appear on ''Life Goes On'' as a patient in hospice

This season, ABC’s Life Goes On is the only prime-time network TV series to feature a recurring character with AIDS — a straight teenager (played by Chad Lowe) who became infected through a heterosexual liaison at a college fraternity party. This week, the family drama breaks new ground again, with an openly gay, HIV-positive actor guest-starring on the March 15 episode (”Hearts and Flowers”). He’s 42-year-old Michael Kearns, and he’ll play an AIDS patient dying in a hospice who is befriended by the show’s 16-year-old Becca (Kellie Martin).

”It made me really fear what I could potentially become,” Kearns says of his character’s illness (the actor also has appeared on Cheers and Murder, She Wrote). ”But I don’t mind dealing with the fear. I have no symptoms. I live for the moment and my life is completely filled every day.” Competition for the role wasn’t quite as fierce as the show’s producers had expected. Michael Nankin, Life‘s supervising producer, says only ”seven or eight” HIV-positive actors auditioned.

Says Martin: ”It’s not an easy show to watch. AIDS is reality. It’s not going to go away.” And here’s one series that isn’t going to ignore it.