This week I got the sad, anger-provoking news that Spencer Cox died, in New York City, of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, aka AIDS. He was only 44 years old. The pandemic continues to claim lives, even in the USA, and among the rarified elite of treatmernt activists who, like Spencer, have consistently had access to the very best state-of-the-art medicines.
I first met Spencer in 1990 when he was a terrified boy/man living in Manhattan and fighting for his life. Spencer grew up in claustrophobic, homophobic Georgia, fled for college at Bennington, and then gay liberation in New York when he was 19.
He wasn’t in town long before Spencer got infected with HIV, back in the day when nobody understood what the virus was, or realized the terrible toll it would exact all over the world. When I first met Spencer I was a newspaper reporter and he was a sort of Tennessee Williams/Truman Capote southern case of gay tragique trying very hard to sound like a hard-boiled AIDS activist.
Spencer helped found the most successful AIDS activism organization in the U.S., Treatment Action Group or TAG. He was part of a core group of about a dozen young men that were prepared to do just about anything to get the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its snail’s pace new drug approval process, and the National Institutes of Health to streamline its search for HIV treatments.
TAG completely redefined disease advocacy in America, forcing staid federal agencies to go on an emergency footing, testing and approving drugs more rapidly, and frankly more accurately, than had ever been accomplished for any clinical condition.
On Tuesday Spencer drew his final breath, and that really pisses me off.