As we honor World AIDs Day today, it’s got us thinking about all the icons we’ve lost to the virus. Some, like Freddie Mercury and Rock Hudson, are well-known. Others come as something of a surprise.
Isaac Asimov is one of the best known names in science fiction: before his death on April 6, 1992, he wrote hundreds of novels and short stories—including I, Robot and the Foundation series—and inspired new generations to challenge the boundaries of science.
What wasn’t known until a decade after his passing, though, was that he died from complications caused by HIV.
Asimov had triple bypass surgery in December 1983, and was infected via a tainted blood transfusion. At the time of his death, at age 72, Asimov’s brother Stanley reported heart and kidney failure as the cause.
But the renal and myocardial complications he suffered were the result of HIV.
Reportedly, Asimov’s family considered disclosing his status right after his death, but the controversy surrounding Arthur Ashe that very same year when he announced he was HIV-positive convinced them otherwise.
Janet Jeppson wrote to Locus magazine in 2002:
A few years after Isaac’s bypass surgery, he had some symptoms that made me read the medical journals—and then I wanted him tested for HIV. The internist and cardiologist said I was wrong. Testing was done only when he was seriously ill and in the hospital for surgery on his by-then-infected heart valves. The surgery was canceled, and the doctors told us not to reveal Isaac’s HIV.
I argued with the doctors privately about this secrecy, but they prevailed, even after Isaac died. The doctors are dead now, and when Prometheus books asked me to write It’s Been a Good Life, Isaac’s daughter and I agreed to go public [about] the HIV.
It’s tragic Asimov and his family had to suffer in silence, especially considering he was an early ally to the LGBT community. In 1962, he declared “I see nothing ’wrong’ with homosexuality and, what´s more, nothing dangerous either. I am not a homosexual myself, but the population explosion is so dangerous that any device that cuts down the birthrate without doing significant harm should be positively encouraged and defined as a ’right.’ Homosexuality is one of these.”