Harry and Meghan had their royal coming out at a world AIDS event. Princess Diana, Liz Taylor, and Aileen Getty were pioneers in helping victims.
AIDS was first identified back in the early 1980s. By 1983, scientists at the CDC had already concluded that the disease could not be transmitted through casual contact, but the public had become terrified. Reports from that era tell heartbreaking stories of AIDS patients — even children — who were shunned and stigmatized because of the disease. In 1985, the Los Angeles Times conducted a poll and found that 50% of respondents favored quarantining people with AIDS.
When she shook the hand of an unidentified AIDS patient, Diana used her public platform to challenge that irrational fear.
Aileen became an activist early in the epidemic before she was diagnosed. At that time, the hospital rooms were quarantined. When a visitor arrived, they had to don surgical masks and gloves before seeing the patient. Sometimes a whole body suit was required. “As soon as I was aware of the disease, I went into high gear…,” she reflects intensely, her serious big browns squinting. “I may have been one of the first people around the amfAR offices. I could be wrong. There was an office in Beverly Hills and I remember I was alone there and learning how to use Microsoft Word.”
In 1985, Elizabeth Taylor co-founded amfAR with Drs. Michael Gottlieb and Mathilde Krim. One of their fundraisers was called Art Against AIDS. Aileen nonchalantly points to a piece of assemblage art hanging on the wall. “I created this for Art Against AIDS years ago.” I rise from the table to view it. It’s roughly three feet-tall and four feet-wide, with the words “Death Row” repeated in the same typed font throughout the piece. Diagonally across the bottom are double zeroes with the word “zeros.” Framing the piece is slate-grey barbed wire fencing, which brings to mind the crown of thorns Christ wore for the crucifixion.
Last year, L.A.’s Project Angel Food honored Ms. Getty with its inaugural Elizabeth Taylor Leadership Award. She also serves as Ambassador to her former mother-in-law’s organization, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). Aileen married Elizabeth’s son, Christopher Wilding.
Taylor played an important role in Aileen’s life. Aileen and Chris had just moved into a Los Angeles apartment when his father, British actor Michael Wilding, died. Aileen and Elizabeth met at the Wilding homestead in England when attending his funeral. “To this day, it is just such a good family. I’ve been so fortunate,” she admits with admiration.
Though Aileen and Chris divorced in 1990 after eight years (though together for ten) and two kids, Elizabeth and Aileen remained family. Taylor, who Aileen calls “Mom,” was never judgmental and supported Aileen until her death in 2011. Interviewed for A&U by this reporter in 2003, Elizabeth proudly said, “Aileen is magic. What a survivor. She’s been in and out of hospitals so many times but she fights. Aileen is a tiny woman yet she uses her courage, her brain, and every power in herself. Her spirit is keeping her alive.”
“Mom made me feel loved,” Aileen says softly with heartfelt passion. “This was huge for me but I was never able to reciprocate. I needed somebody to be totally unafraid because I ended up turning people’s fear of me into a weapon that I turned against myself,” she recalls. “To have Mom in my court was an incredible gift. I wasn’t able to engage because I just didn’t have the courage to do so at the time. But none of it went unacknowledged by me. Today I’m here in large part because of Mom and some other anchors who expected more of me.” Aileen takes a sip of Kombucha. “Even to just be attached in name to Mom is huge for me. I feel privileged to be in the same energy field as she’s in. I’m honored to be Ambassador of her Foundation. It’s a direct activity with mom’s spirit and to stay connected with her.
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In typical British fashion, Markle, 36, joined Harry, 33, for her first royal walkabout, greeting the people of Nottingham and getting used to a role that will become a part of her life when she joins the royal family.
Supporters in the crowd shouted Harry’s and Markle’s names and waved both U.S. and U.K. flags.