Joel Grey approached Larry Kramer after seeing a preview performance of “The Normal Heart” at New York’s Public Theater in 1985.

“I was devastated and said to him, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, but if anything changes in the future or if there’s another production, please call me,’” Grey recalled in an interview on Wednesday shortly after learning about the writer and AIDS activist’s death.

About two days later, producer Joseph Papp called Grey and asked him if he wanted to join the show. It was bittersweet because he would be replacing Brad Davis, who had become too sick with AIDS-related illnesses to continue, as Ned.

Friends suggested that Grey seek a doctor’s advice about taking the job because it involved kissing other men. “Someone said you better call UCLA and ask a doctor there if you are putting yourself in harm’s way. I made that call,” Grey recalled. “I think it was the doctor taking care of Rock Hudson and he said to me, ‘I wouldn’t do it.’ He said, ‘I’m advising you not to do it.’ But I thought to myself, ‘I need to be a part of telling this story.’ I thought it was that important. I said this is one of the risks I am going to take in my life.”

Kramer was a consistent presence at the theater during those early days. “Every night you knew that that story was emblazoned on every audience member’s brain,” Grey said. “We cried with the audience at the end sometimes. Larry never let anything or anybody ever stop his force and passion to tell this story, and to make sure people were listening because no one would listen.”

In 2011, Grey and George C. Wolfe earned a Tony nomination for their co-direction of the play’s Broadway debut. The production not only won the Tony for revival of a play, but actors John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin also went home with statuettes.

“Larry was a lover and full of love,” Grey said. “There is so much romance in that play and in that story.”