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Elizabeth Taylor's crusade against AIDS.

It's a 20th-century rerun of Beauty and the Beast-the internationally celebrated actress Elizabeth Taylor being the Beauty, the AIDS epidemic taking the role of Beast. Though rumor has it that she became involved because of her good friend Rock Hudson, her associate Sheila Sweeney says this is not true. One of the reasons Miss Taylor took up the crusade against AIDS, Sweeney tells us, is because the terrible illness was not being recognized for what it was; no one was coming forward. "She just desperately wants to see someone find a way to stop this disease," Sweeney says.

Toward this goal, the actress has raised millions of dollars, and she uses her talent as an entertainer to make impassioned pleas around the country for people to come forth and get involved. She is also the founder and spokesperson for Amfar, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

"Her work for Amfar completely overshadows everything else," Sweeney tells us. "That's really her first consideration." The efforts of Elizabeth Taylor to kill or at least cripple the killer AIDS have been recognized by the government of France, which has awarded her the Legion of Honor medal.

It's not that the actress has nothing else to occupy her time. Sweeney practically ran out of breath briefing us on Elizabeth Taylor's schedule.

In view of such a schedule, how did the Post have the good fortune to intrude successfully upon Elizabeth Taylor's time? We credit it not only to her graciousness, but also to her sincere determination to see the AIDS epidemic knocked into a cocked hat.

Post: What prompted your interests and efforts on behalf of AIDS?

Taylor: First, I became aware of the fact that there was a new and very serious disease that was destroying many young people in the arts community at the very prime of their lives. Second, I had a strong sense of compassion for these people for whom literally nothing could be done. And finally, I was outraged that nothing was happening, that no one was doing anything, that no one seemed to care-and then I realized that if I didn't become involved, I had no one to blame but myself.

Post: Why have you made this a priority?

Taylor: Someone had to be willing to stick out their neck! Although I realized that there would be risk and criticisms if I became involved in a controversial issue, I felt it was time for me to pay my dues-to begin giving back to society something in return for all that society has given me.

Post: How do you feel about making a voluntary, anonymous, free AIDS test available to: a) all recipients of blood transfusions and their spouses and b) couples contemplating having a baby?

Taylor: I am totally supportive of voluntary, anonymous testing, provided it includes appropriate counseling. Any individuals concerned about their status should have access to such testing and it should be done in such a way that there is no risk of discrimination regardless of the results . Our goal in testing must be to better inform individuals regarding the status of their health rather than to punish or brand the unfortunate [people who have this disease].

Post: If you could bring one message to the American people about AIDS, what would it be?

Taylor: We all are in this together! As President Reagan has said, "AIDS affects all of us"--as he said, "AIDS calls for urgency, not panic-compassion, not blame-understanding, not ignorance."

Post: How have you gone about your fund-raising efforts?

Taylor: By talking about the importance of this issue, by reaching out to encourage the involvement of friends, by challenging our leaders and others to be involved, by setting up the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and by personal appeals and appearances on behalf of this issue.

Post: What kind of response have you gotten?

Taylor: An overwhelmingly positive response from those whom we have reached! But the vast majority of Americans have not yet been reached, and they are still not aware that this crisis affects us all-our families, our friends, and ourselves. Reaching these Americans is the challenge-helping them to understand and to feel more comfortable about becoming involved with a controversial issue.

Post: How has the public's response to AIDS changed since the disease has spread quickly among the heterosexual community? More interest? More tolerance?

Taylor: The spread of this disease into the heterosexual community has simply affirmed what has been true from the beginning-AIDS is a disease of high-risk behavior, not of high-risk groups. However, the spread of this disease has both literally and figuratively brought AIDS home to the majority of people. People's initial reaction is understandably fear-but that fear can and must be replaced by knowledge and a commitment to take personal responsibility for our own behavior and to provide support and compassion for the victims ofthis disease.

Post: How would you like to see funds used-research? Education? Testing?

Taylor: Research and education are the pillars of our attack against AIDS; testing is only a very minor tool. At the local level, patient care and support are crucial issues, ones which depend on community support and involvement.

Post: Share with us any anecdotes about people who have joined in your fight; victims who have expressed gratitude; progress that has been realized.

Taylor: My friends from the artistic community who have had the courage to get involved have expressed great personal satisfaction once they made a commitment. The song "That's What Friends Are For" is one example of people coming together and making something happen. Carole and Burt Bacharach, together with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight, express what love and life is about and how we should all work together.

Obviously, the victims of this dreadful disease are very appreciative of anything that is being done; unfortunately we are only beginning to take care of their needs. As for progress, a lot of research effort has been expended, but it is too soon for results. Our current educational efforts are clearly inadequate; we must discuss controversial issues in clear and unambiguous terms if we are going to change behavior of our young people-and they are the ones who are now at the greatest risk.

We must care, we must reach out, we must join together in this battle against an indiscriminate killer.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:special AIDS report
Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:interview
Date:Sep 1, 1987
Previous Article:The wild side of television advertising.
Next Article:Stand up to AIDS.

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