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Top 10 Celebrities whose HIV/AIDS Diagnosis Shocked Fans

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Aaron Cameron The world was shocked by Charlie Sheen’s HIV/AIDS announcement in 2016, but it was unfortunately not the first time that fans had heard such a tragic diagnosis of the deadly disease. Of course, this disease isn’t exclusive to any one group of people, so we will be looking at the most notable and famous cases of HIV and AIDS within the public conscience: music artists, actors, activists, politicians, athletes and many more who both survived and fell victim to this tragic disease.

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Top 10 Celebrities whose HIV/Aids Diagnosis Shocked Fans

Some diseases just don’t care who you are. Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 celebrities whose HIV/AIDs Diagnosis Shocked Fans.

For this list, we’ll only be looking at individuals who had a place in the public eye prior to contracting HIV/AIDS. This means we’ll be ignoring people who exclusively became known because of their diagnosis or related activism, as that’s a list for another day.

#10: Gia Carangi

Turning professional at just 17, Gia Carangi was quite possibly the world’s first supermodel. Unfortunately, she was also one of the first high profile female HIV causalities. A model for both Versace and Armani, and a familiar face to Vogue and Cosmo, Carangi was also a Studio 54 regular and cocaine user. As she pushed harder into drug use and developed a serious heroin addiction, Gia’s career began to go off the rails - but the shift to heroin ultimately proved fatal. A hard drug user throughout her brief adult life, Carangi most likely contracted HIV from a shared needle, and was diagnosed HIV positive following a bout of pneumonia in June 1986. Carangi died of AIDS-related complications in November of the same year.

#9: Rock Hudson

When HIV and AIDS were thought to be the disease of junkies and promiscuous homosexuals, 59-year-old, old-guard actor Rock Hudson became the first mainstream celebrity to fall victim to AIDS. Although a closeted homosexual, it’s thought that Hudson actually contracted the virus through a blood transfusion in 1981 while undergoing heart surgery. Diagnosed in 1984, the actor publicly denied his status until 1985 when his declining health made it impossible to hide, and he died of AIDS-complications that same year. Coming out with his diagnosis not only made Rock Hudson the face of AIDS, it also triggered a change of public opinion on HIV/AIDS as well as an almost instant increase in government funding for treatment and support programs. Unfortunately, Hudson’s death also brought out a lawsuit from his former partner, Marc Christian, for emotional distress due to his failure to disclose his HIV positive status.

#8: Pedro Zamora

HIV positive at 17, Pedro Zamora had already gained some attention as an AIDS activist but it was his appearance on MTV’s The Real World that made him a household name. Sexually active by his mid-teens, the future-advocate hadn’t taken precautions as he thought AIDS was only a risk to sex workers and drug users. Following his diagnosis - of which he learned after attempting to donate blood - Pedro dedicated his life to making sure others would not repeat his mistakes. Openly gay and open about his status, Zamora used the show as a platform to raise awareness and educate the public - even if the audience didn’t know he was doing it. Pedro allowed The Real World to follow him even as his health took a sharp decline and, in a sad note of irony, died hours after the final episode aired.

#7: Greg Louganis

A three-time Olympic veteran, multi-medalist, and absolute picture of health, Greg Louganis’ 1995 HIV reveal and frank talk about his homosexuality were absolute shockers to the sports world. Diagnosed just prior to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, the diver kept mum about his status knowing that it might prevent him from entering the country. At the games, Louganis competed through a concussion he acquired when a poorly executed drive saw him split his head on the diving board - an accident that took on a whole new weight in light of his later HIV reveal. At the time, the gold medalist never expected to live past 30, while his 1995 announcement came at the cost of the bulk of his sponsorship deals. By the 2000s, Louganis began giving up on treatment and even sold his life insurance policy, but as of late 2016 he was not only very much alive but also thriving.

#6: Isaac Asimov

An elderly, card holding member of Mensa and a revered author known as much for his friendly mutton chop sideburns and horn-rimmed glasses as he was for his Three Laws of Robotics, Isaac Asimov wasn’t exactly the stereotypical ‘80s HIV victim. One of science fiction’s “big three”, Asimov contracted the virus from tainted blood during heart bypass surgery in 1983. The author began to show symptoms within a few years of the procedure, but the revelation of his diagnosis was initially delayed by doctors, who later advised him to remain quiet about his condition rather than subject his family to the stigma. By then, Asimov’s heart had been infected, and his 1992 death was falsely attributed to heart and kidney failure. It was only in 2002 that Asimov’s widow revealed the true cause of his death.

#5: Eazy-E

Fathering multiple children with multiple women, Eric Wright - aka Eazy-E - was of the opinion that he’d contracted AIDS through unsafe sex. Suffering from what he thought was asthma; Wright was instead diagnosed with AIDS in February of 1995. The rap mogul broke the news of his condition on March 16, dying just 10 days later. Although the details of his death have since become rife with conspiracy theories - some involving tainted acupuncture needles, others allegedly involving Suge Knight - E himself did not question his fate and instead used his last days to make amends and urge fans to educate themselves about HIV and AIDS.

#4: Charlie Sheen

Coming from a legendary Hollywood family and once TV’s highest paid actor, Charlie Sheen has been in the public eye for much of his life – and not always for positive reasons. The spotlight turned towards him even more glaringly in late-2015, when he disclosed that he’d been diagnosed with HIV four years earlier – and that he’d been blackmailed into paying out millions of dollars to keep the story quiet. Though Sheen had been known for his bad boy ways and an extravagant lifestyle filled with women and addictions, the reveal made headlines around the world, with mixed reactions. While Sheen said he doesn’t expect to become the face of the disease, he did say he hopes to lessen the stigma of HIV/AIDS in the public eye.

#3: Liberace

Capable of pulling in $50,000 a week in 1955, Liberace was one of the most successful - and certainly highest paid - entertainers of his lifetime. However $138,000 from a stop at Madison Square Garden didn’t make Mr. Showmanship immune to the tabloid press questioning his sexuality, even as early as 1956. Never coming out during his lifetime, Liberace proved to be just as cagey when it came to his health. Diagnosed as HIV positive in August of 1985, the pianist was determined to take his secret to his grave - denying not only his condition but also the potential to become a high profile spokesman for AIDS-related causes. With his health continuing to dwindle, the self described One Man Disneyland played his last concert in November of ‘86 and he passed away due to AIDS related pneumonia in February of 1987.

#2: Freddie Mercury

Shy and retiring off stage, and rarely granting interviews, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unsurprisingly reluctant to share his HIV diagnosis with the world. Never quite establishing his exact sexual orientation, Mercury denied AIDS rumors throughout the ‘80s, even after being diagnosed in 1987. When Queen failed to tour after releasing The Miracle in 1989, speculations only picked up, while Mercury’s increasingly frail appearance did little to dissuade the rumor mill. Privately, Mr. Bulsara buckled down to record as much music as he could before the end came, when he’d given up on his AIDS medication in favor of painkillers. Publicly, Mercury only confirmed his AIDS diagnosis a day before his death.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Keith Haring
- Arthur Ashe
- Gil Scott-Heron

#1: Magic Johnson

After 13 seasons with the Lakers, including 5 championships, Magic Johnson was forced to cash out early when he announced his HIV positive status in 1991. Learning of his diagnosis following a pre-season check up, Magic was urged to become a spokesman for the disease by AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser. Becoming an advocate for AIDS causes and crusading against AIDS discrimination, Johnson was instrumental in helping dispel the notion that HIV is a “gay disease” and that a positive diagnosis is a death sentence. Proving that it’s not, Johnson actually returned to basketball in 1992, taking part in the All Star Game where he was named MVP, earning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics with the US men’s basketball team, and staging a 32 game comeback during the 1996 NBA season before retiring for good.

Do you agree with our list? Which celebrity AIDS reveal shocked you the most? For more eye-opening Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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