More than twenty years ago, A&U featured Joan Rivers in a cover story interview, written by Glenn Gaylord. October 1996, to be exact. We were over the moon that we could share with our readers Ms. Rivers’ deep commitment to the AIDS cause. Joan had been in the fight early into the epidemic: “And then in 1982, somebody said, ‘Let’s give a little fund-raiser at Studio One Backlot in Los Angeles.’ Nobody wanted to do it with me. We got such death threats. I performed with armed guards in front of the stage, which was hilarious. They were doing what they were supposed to do, scanning the room the whole time…and I’m in the middle [snaps fingers] doing comedy!” Until her untimely death in 2014, she remained, steadfast in her efforts to raise awareness and funds, so much so that God’s Love We Deliver named its bakery after her to honor Joan’s volunteer and administrative service to the nonprofit.
Her daughter, television host, producer and actress Melissa Rivers, was often by her side in these efforts, or sometimes finding her own way to contribute to the cause. In this issue, we feature a cover story interview with Melissa. It’s our first legacy cover, and we are pleased to share it with our readers.
In the interview, penned by our intrepid Senior Editor Dann Dulin and lovingly photographed by Senior Editor Sean Black, Melissa shares: “Growing up, AIDS was never hidden from me. It was so prevalent in my parents’ social circle. I remember when it was called ‘gay cancer’ or ‘gay pneumonia.’ It’s always been on my radar. So many people who were close to our family have died. A lot! More than I think we even realized.” This early introduction to fighting for AIDS awareness and the needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS, combined with her parental role models, made it easy for Melissa to pick up the torch, and also light fires under other causes dear to her heart as well. And now Melissa is helping her son Cooper find his own way to give back to the community.
If we are going to end AIDS, we need this kind of intergenerational continuity, as well as a dialogue between younger and older family members and community members that strengthens what we know about HIV/AIDS. Because without knowing, we cannot act with purpose or intelligence. Many of our features touch on this dialogue (see the work of Suzanne Poli in Gallery by Lester Strong), but three in particular take this dialogue as their subject matter. To discuss a new film, Summer 1993, writer Ren Jender talked with director and cowriter Carla Simón about the loss at the story’s heart: Frida’s mother has died of AIDS-related causes and relatives move the young protagonist from the city to the country. Simón’s own parents died of AIDS-related causes and so the movie is a way to build upon the past, create something new out of the ashes. In Arts Editor Alina Oswald’s article about After Louie, we find out that director and cowriter Vincent Gagliostro has made a film that explores the intergenerational divide among gay men, making sure the story of the early epidemic is told and affirming that AIDS activism is still very much needed. Editor at Large Hank Trout’s interview with Will St. Leger and Hazel Coonagh, who helped to organize an anti-stigma photo exhibit, brings to the fore the need for representations of HIV/AIDS in the here and now. Said St. Leger, “The genesis of the exhibition was…to start a new conversation about HIV in its modern context. Some people still have a…visual narrative of HIV that’s stuck in the 1980s.”
The future is in our hands. By bridging the past and the present, we can ensure that our legacy keeps on living—and so do we.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.