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ACT UP Activist Spencer Cox Has Died at 44

By Karen Ocamb
News Editor

In this day and age, when the CDC is simultaneously touting the possibility of the “End of AIDS” and the rise in new HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men of color, those of us who fought hard to even draw attention to the AIDS pandemic—who tried to hold back the tsunami of death—are sometimes flummoxed by the relative inattention today, as if HIV medications will always be available and will work for everyone. It’s as if no one dies of AIDS any more. Not true. On Tuesday, Dec. 18, Spencer Cox, one of the AIDS activists who helped push the FDA to test those life-saving drugs faster, died of AIDS-related illness. He was 44.

“Spencer single-handedly sped up the development and marketing of the protease inhibitors, which currently are saving 8 million lives,” says Treatment Action Group executive director Mark Harrington in an obit by filmmaker David France. “He was absolutely brilliant, just off-the-charts brilliant.”

France, the producer/director of the Oscar-nominated documentary about ACT UP in New York entitled How to Survive a Plague posted an outtake from the film in which Cox describes lessons from the AIDS crisis that could inspire us all:

What I learned from that is that miracles are possible, miracles happen, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I wouldn’t trade that information for anything. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’d going to happen day to day. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. I just now, you keep going. You keep evolving and you keep progressing, you keep hoping until you die. Which is going to happen someday. You live your life as meaningful as you can make it. You live it and don’t be afraid of who is going to like you or are you being appropriate. You worry about being kind. You worry about being generous. And if it’s not about that what the hell’s it about?