‘Band’ author Shilts dies of AIDS

AIDS has claimed the life of Randy Shilts, the author and reporter who wrote the preeminent chronicle of the disease, “And the Band Played On: People, Politics and the AIDS Epidemic,” recently made into an HBO movie.

Shilts died at his home in the Sonoma County community of Guerneville late Wednesday or early Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He was 42.

His most recent book was “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military.” He previously wrote “The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” a biography of the slain San Francisco supervisor that has been in development with producer-director Oliver Stone since 1990.

“Conduct Unbecoming” was acquired by HBO Pictures last June. Stone’s Ixtlan Prods and Steve Golin/Sigurjon Sighvatsson’s Propaganda Films will produce. No director or actors have been announced, but Shilts was to be a consultant on the project.

The adaptation of “Band” took more than six years, with a string of talent attached to, and then withdrawing from, the project. The HBO Pictures production finally began filming in November 1992, directed by Roger Spottiswoode and exec produced by Aaron Spelling and E. Duke Vincent. Though there was a last-minute flap over the content, the vidpic aired, with Shilts’ blessing, to strong ratings on HBO.

“And the Band Played On,” published in 1985, was an exhaustive history of the AIDS epidemic, chronicling the neglect of governments and the medical establishment in the early years of the epidemic.

“He single-handedly probably did more to educate the world about AIDS than any single person,” stated playwright Larry Kramer, one of the founders of both ACT-UP and Gay Men’s Health Crisis of New York, the first U.S. AIDS org.

The Aurora, Ill., native moved to California in 1976. He was hired by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981. Before covering the AIDS epidemic, he worked as a general assignment reporter.

In 1993, Shilts was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Assn. He was too ill to attend the group’s New York convention but sent a videotaped acceptance.

Shilts tested positive for HIV in 1985 and admitted publicly, early in 1993, that he was suffering from AIDS.

The disease advanced by 1992 and he suffered a collapsed lung that December while writing “Conduct Unbecoming.”

Toward the end of his life, Shilts lived in a cabin where he could write and enjoy the solitude with his partner Barry Barbieri and their golden retriever Dash.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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