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10 Celebrity Icons of HIV Activism

In the three decades of the HIV epidemic, many celebrities have lent their talents and support to help raise awareness and to help those who suffer from the virus. But there are a few people who will forever stand out as the icons of HIV activism. Through their passion, commitment and support, these people have used their star power to impact the lives of millions living with HIV and will forever be remembered for their efforts to fight AIDS.

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    The “Material Girl” was anything but that when she first lent her support to HIV patients in a time when most people treated a person with AIDS like a pariah. Madonna’s dance teacher was one of those HIV-positive people, and when he publically divulged that he had the virus, the two appeared together at a 1989 Dance-a-Thon to support AIDS Project LA. Her support early on in the HIV epidemic even led people to ruminate about whether Madonna was HIV-positive herself. But the rumors didn’t stop her then and they certainly aren’t stopping her now as she continues to fight for those who live with HIV from around the world.

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    Dame Elizabeth Taylor

    Dame Elizabeth Taylor is a true cinematic legend. But when the film phenom began her humanitarian work in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 1984, she became a global icon of activism. When the Dame was asked to recall why she became involved so early on, this is what she said:

    “I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything. And then I realized that I was just like them. I wasn’t doing anything to help.”

    In 1985, Elizabeth Taylor joined with a group of doctors and scientists to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or what is now commonly known as amfAR. Today, she is equally remembered for the magnanimous impact that she had on the lives of so many through her activism as she is for burning up the screen with her beauty and talent.

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    The U2 front man and rock legend founded the (RED) Foundation in 2006 with Bobby Shriver to engage millions of people from around the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, where an estimated two-thirds of the world’s HIV-positive population lives. Bono used his global appeal to tap into the private sector by working with major brands to create a steady flow of corporate giving into the Global Fund. Since its inception, it has generated over $300 million for the Global Fund, which goes directly to finance HIV/AIDS programs in Africa.

    Who says a rock star can’t be a business prodigy?

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    Alicia Keys

    Alicia Keys has been a part of the fight against HIV/AIDS for years through the work of her organization, Keep a Child Alive, which promotes prevention and treatment in Africa. But when the R&B songstress teamed up with the Empowered project, she became the new voice of HIV awareness for women in the U.S.

     “Talking about HIV-AIDS, you know, it’s critical and it is our generation’s issue and if we don’t talk about it now, it’s going to continue,” she said to ABC News. “We tend to have a good international dialogue, like a good, healthy dialogue, but we’re not really discussing it in America. … We have to learn as much as we can and we have to share with as many people we can.”

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    President Clinton

    Although it may not have been his main priority while in office, President Clinton has spent his time post presidency fighting the AIDS epidemic in Africa and around the world. He has shown almost a singular focus on raising awareness and delivering aid through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and has taken multiple trips to a number of countries across Africa, working to post nurses in rural clinics in different countries, delivering medicines to people who need them and sending experts to train hospital workers throughout the continent.

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    Joan Rivers

    Joan Rivers was many things: a comedic legend, a feminist trailblazer, an uproarious fashion critic and an unconventional but devoted mother and grandmother. But with all her zings, slings and punch lines that made up the persona of Joan Rivers, she was also a relentless HIV activist with a lion’s heart. Rivers began her advocacy work decades ago when she first started volunteering with God’s Love We Deliver, a non-profit organization delivering food to HIV/AIDS patients in New York City. And in 2009 when she won “Celebrity Apprentice,” she gave all of her earnings from the show to GLWD. Her prize money bought 56,000 meals.

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    Elton John

    Sir Elton John has always been outspoken, which is why he wasn’t afraid to fight HIV/AIDS in a time when many celebrities were afraid to be attached to the disease. In 1992, he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which supports HIV prevention, education, and the care and support of people living with HIV. John was inspired to start the organization by his young friend, Ryan White, who died from AIDS complications in 1990 after being infected through a blood transfusion. Today, the organization is as strong as ever, and has raised over $200 million in over 55 countries to date.

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    Even though Rihanna is new to the world of HIV activism, we have a feeling she is going to bring the same passion and strength in her music to the fight against AIDS. The Umbrella singer has partnered with MAC Cosmetics to raise awareness and educate people about the virus. She also walked the red carpet for a new documentary called “It’s Not Over,” which is about three young people who are affected by HIV.

    “I am very close with my fans, and when MAC approached me about this, I got a whole lot of information [and] a lot of heartbreaking real statistics that I didn’t know,” Rihanna said to HIV Plus Magazine. “They were very shocking for me, and it’s something that I felt was important for me to get the word out, to spread the word, to educate young people, educate my fans on a matter that’s really killing us and killing the youth.”

    Rihanna’s iconic presence in pop culture has the potential to make an impact on a new generation and rally their support to raise awareness and fight HIV/AIDS.

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    Annie Lennox

    Annie Lennox brings passion and tenacity to everything she does, and her work in HIV activism is no different. The vocal powerhouse has championed many causes and is a celebrated social activist who has tirelessly worked to give a voice to women and children living with HIV in Africa and throughout the world. The UN ambassador launched the SING campaign, which works to raise support for HIV-positive women and children in Southern Africa. She also recruited 23 prominent female vocalists to contribute to the song “Sing,” which raised money and awareness for the HIV/AIDS organization Treatment Action Campaign.

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    Miley Cyrus

    Miley Cyrus may have shocked the nation with some of her more wild musical endeavors, but the former Disney star is quickly proving herself as an intelligent, talented and purposeful individual with a drive for social change. When the Wrecking Ball singer showed up to the 2014 amfAR LA Inspiration Gala, her barely-there dress got people’s attention. But it was her $500,000 check to fight AIDS that left people in shock. 

    "It’s so important for me of all people to represent because I have a voice and I want to start an open dialogue about prevention," Cyrus said to Variety Magazine. "Obviously I’m not too embarrassed to talk about these things, especially with young people."

    Cyrus is also the 2015 MAC Viva Glam spokesperson, and we are sure that the southern songstress is going to keep working to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS as only she knows how.