In the Beginning: Leading up to November, 1985
Since Angels in America is set in the later months of 1985, we wanted to provide you with some real-life events which lead up to the beginning of the play.
March 11, 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev takes power in the Soviet Union following the death of Konstantin Chernenko. Gorbachev begins his policies on Glasnost [“new openness”] and Perestroika [“rebuilding”]. AIDS is reported on every populated continent of the earth. U.S. cases surpass 9,000, with 4,300 deaths.
July 12, 1985: Rock Hudson (Pictured) collapses in a Paris hospital while undergoing experimental treatment for AIDS. The news of his diagnosis creates the first real mobilization against the disease. The Reagan Administration responds by increasing AIDS funding to $100 million.
September, 1985: Four years after the outbreak of the epidemic, Ronald Reagan publicly utters the word “AIDS” for the first time, although he would not make a statement on the issue itself until 1987. More than 12,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., with nearly 6,000 deaths.
On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control reported a cluster of a rare form of pneumonia in five gay men in Los Angeles. Soon, doctors were noticing more people – homosexual men, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians (called “the 4Hs”) – developing this disease as well as other rare diseases such as the blood cancer Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), with an extremely high fatality rate. In July 1982 the acronym AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome) was introduced. A year later, French and American researchers working separately identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the root cause of AIDS. It wasn’t until 1987 that AZT, the first drug capable of slowing the disease’s progress, was discovered and approved for use.
Today there is still no cure for the disease. HIV/AIDS is considered a world pandemic. More than 33 million people (0.6% of the world population) are infected, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa. 25 million people are estimated to have died from the disease, with an additional 2 million dying every year. In the U.S., more than 18,000 people with AIDS die each year: gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men represent the majority of deaths. Pennsylvania ranked 8th out of 50 states in the total number of AIDS diagnoses in 2008. The rate of HIV infection in Philadelphia is five times the national average.