NEW YORK — He refuses to go quietly into that good night. Larry Kramer continues to rage.
The playwright and activist turns 80 on Thursday and neither recent illness nor the glow of a new marriage has softened the urgency of his demands.
“There’s so many things I still want to do and there are so many fights still to win. I try to concentrate on that,” he said recently in his Manhattan apartment. “The fight’s never over.”
Kramer, who wrote “The Normal Heart” and founded the advocacy group ACT UP, is angry that AIDS infection rates aren’t falling and there’s still no cure, even as diseases like Ebola grab headlines.
“No one is talking about AIDS. It’s been 35 years, this plague, and we still don’t have as much to fight it as we should have,” he says. “Right now AIDS is worse than ever before.”
His fiery temper, which roused thousands to protests in the early years of the epidemic, is part of a new HBO documentary airing at 9 p.m. Monday that offers an intimate look at the crusader.
“Larry Kramer in Love & Anger” shows Kramer from his troubled relationship with his father to his suicide attempt at Yale, from his divisive 1978 novel to his role in both the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP.
“The one nice thing that I seem to have acquired, accidentally, is this reputation of everyone afraid of my voice,” he says with a smile. “So I get heard, whether it changes anything or not.”
Director Jean Carlomusto has known Kramer since 1986 and wasn’t afraid to show his irascible side. She admits there have been times when she’s wanted to scream at Kramer, but she also credits him with teaching her how to fight back.
“Larry has a very strong sense of justice. If something is wrong, he’s going to say that. He’s going to scream it in the face of whoever he feels is the evil-doer. That’s very much programed into Larry,” she says.
Among the film’s highlights is rare access to Kramer’s hospital room in 2013 when he got married to his longtime partner, David Webster, while recovering from complications following a liver transplant.
The moment is bittersweet: The legendary gay rights activist finally gets to celebrate his union legally but is so sick that he couldn’t sign his name. He had planned to exchange vows on his balcony but was knocked into a stupor two days before the event.
“It certainly wasn’t the wedding present one wanted to share,” he says. Pointing to his head, he adds: “I’m just grateful the old thing still works, because evidentially it didn’t for a while.”
If you expected Kramer to now be relaxing in post-wedding bliss, think again. There’s bureaucratic red tape to scream about and outbreaks of HIV to worry about and regulations that must be updated.
“I’m married,” he says. “But that’s only part of where we are. AIDS is still decimating us and we still don’t have protection under the law.”
Kramer, whose modest apartment overlooking Washington Square Park is crammed with books and medical equipment, is, not surprisingly, hard at work.
He has a deal with HBO to write a sequel to “The Normal Heart” and he’s working on a companion to the 775-page “The American People, Volume 1: Search for My Heart.”
“Work keeps Larry going. He’s a man with a mission, to say the least,” says Carlomusto, the director of the Television Center at Long Island University.
Perhaps Kramer’s last big mission is to retell — he would probably prefer the word reveal — the history of America to include the missing gay people.
Volume 1 of his magnum opus, billed as a novel, claims George Washington was gay. So, too, Kramer believes, were Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, among many others.
“We have to know our history,” he says. “It isn’t taught. I wanted to write a history of America putting gay people in all along and what happened to us.”
The first volume was 40 years in the making but Kramer isn’t scared to jump into a second. “Oh, God, yes. Let’s hope I can live long enough,” he says.