By Nick Romano
May 27, 2020 at 01:09 PM EDT
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Larry Kramer, the fervent AIDS activist and award-winning writer behind The Normal Heart play, died Wednesday morning due to pneumonia, husband David Webster told The New York Times. He was 84.

Kramer was diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes in AIDS, in the late 1980s and has since suffered a series of health issues, including liver disease. He received a liver transplant in 2001.

As a writer, Kramer became a ferocious, outspoken voice in the time of the AIDS epidemic, which he witnessed level his community in New York City. His often outspoken and at times aggressive activism led to the founding of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the more militant Act Up. At a time when the U.S. government largely ignored the plight of LGBTQ individuals and issued an ineffective response, Kramer forced the nation to take notice. Today brings new poignancy to this loss as the current White House administration faces harsh criticism and demands for more action in the face of another virus.

The Normal Heart, Kramer's autobiographical 1985 play that opened at the Public Theater in New York City, marked one of his more widely known and more urgent writings about AIDS. Set in the early-to-mid-'80s, the production focused on Ned Weeks, the founder of an HIV advocacy group, seeing the trauma of the disease. Following performances, Kramer would often give out pamphlets about the real-life stories that inspired his characters.

"Don't know a soul who saw or read The Normal Heart and came away unmoved, unchanged," Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda noted of the play.

A 2011 revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and lead to the Ryan Murphy-directed HBO limited series adaptation.

Murphy reminisced about his first meeting with Kramer in an Instagram post, recalling out he spent the million dollars Kramer asked for to win the rights to The Normal Heart. "Larry knew the value of his work, his life, all gay people's lives -- and his fundamental stubborn belief in equality for all made him perhaps the single greatest and most important gay activist of all time," Murphy wrote. "His fight against government, discrimination, prejudice and big Pharma helped save millions of lives. His fight changed the health care system as we know it. I admired him above all others. He deserved the Medal of Freedom. I loved working with him, his passion. I eventually even came to love our fights."

After winning a Golden Globe, Murphy said he received a call from Kramer, who expressed his displeasure in seeing Murphy at the Globes ceremony instead of working on the series adaptation. "He was terrified after 30 years of development hell it wouldn't be made, that his tale of AIDS and rage and beauty would never be seen widely by young people," Murphy wrote. "But we got it made. He cried when he saw the first cut. 'All my friends, all my generation, gone...and it's f—ing unfair it didn't need to happen' he said."

"It was the greatest honor getting to work with you and spend time learning about organizing and activism," added Mark Ruffalo, who also starred in HBO's The Normal Heart with Julia Roberts, Joe Mantello, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Jonathan Groff, and Taylor Kitsch. "We lost a wonderful man and artist today. I will miss you. The world will miss you."

"Rest in power to our fighter Larry Kramer," a tweet reads from Act Up. "Your rage helped inspire a movement. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action. In the spirit of ACT UP, join us and chant this (three times). #ACTUPFightbackENDAIDS #ACTUPFightbackENDAIDS #ACTUPFightbackENDAIDS."

The likes of Zachary Quinto, Andy Cohen, Janet Mock, and Pedro Pascal joined the voices paying tribute to Kramer and his legacy on Wednesday.

"Larry Kramer’s contributions to the LGBTQ movement and the fight against HIV/AIDS are incalculable," GLAAD's Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. "[GLAAD] and so many LGBTQ people and allies recognize Larry as an undeniable accelerant who not only fearlessly demanded change, but made it come to pass. We send all of our love to Larry’s loved ones during this time, and though we are saddened by his passing, we are forever grateful for his leadership and heroism."

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