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Onyx reviews: Love
is the Cure by Elton John
Sir Elton John's life has been interesting and varied enough that he could easily
have found a lot to write about in his first book. He's been a mainstay of the
pop charts for four decades. His flamboyant lifestyle has been fodder for
tabloids and mainstream media alike. He has moved in elevated circles, both in
his native England, where he was friends with Princess Diana, and in the US,
which he regards as a second home. He has played Madison Square Gardens more
than any other performer, and he has the biggest-selling single of all time
according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Instead, he chose to shine
the spotlight on the current state of the AIDS crisis. By his own admission, he
remained on the sidelines for far too long in the disease's early years. He was
consumed by his own personal issues: addictions to drugs, alcohol and food. He
learned about Ryan White, the young boy who became the most visible face of AIDS
in the 1980s, the same way everyone else did: through a cover article in People
magazine he read in a doctor's waiting room. He became incensed at the way the
boy, who was infected by a contaminated drug used to treat his hemophilia, was
treated by his community. He reached out to the family and supported them
emotionally for the duration of Ryan's short life.
Ryan's upbeat attitude
caused the musician to reevaluate his life. Before he could help anyone else, he
had to get clean, which he did in the late eighties. It's not as if the crisis
hadn't touched his life before then. He knew many people who were infected and
died of AIDS. In fact, he credits pure luck that he didn't contract the disease
because of his lifestyle. He needed a kick in the rear, and he got it. In 1992, he created
the Elton John Aids Foundation (EJAF) and for the past two decades he's been at
the forefront of the fund-raising effort to sponsor charities around the globe.
book's subtitle is "On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS." Its emphasis,
though, is primarily on the third component: ending AIDS, a goal that he feels
is attainable except for one factor. The disease's main victims are homosexuals,
drug users and prison inmates—not a group that attracts much sympathy from the
general populace. This is true in America, but the situation is even worse
in other countries, where homosexuality is illegal.
The musician hands out
blame and credit in equal measure. He reserves a significant dose of blame for
himself for not using his celebrity, connection and considerable resources
earlier. However, he directly blames politicians like Ronald Reagan, religious
figures like Jerry Falwell, and political leaders in other nations, such as the
Ukraine and South Africa for being responsible for hundreds of thousands—if
not millions—of deaths because of their policies and proclamations. On the
other hand, he mentions unlikely allies, people like Senator Orrin Hatch and
former President George W. Bush, with whom he shares almost no political views
but who both stood up on behalf of AIDS victims and encouraged the government to
open its coffers and fund research, treatment and education programs. Credit
where credit is due, he seems to say. He doesn't have to agree with every
politician's policies to find common ground on this one important subject.
EJAF made an important decision from the beginning. Rather than duplicating the
efforts of existing organizations, they would concentrate their efforts on
fundraising and on making sure the money ended up where it could make the most
impact. This kept their overhead down and made use of existing infrastructures.
The US branch handles North America and the Caribbean, while the British branch
covers most of the rest of the world. In his book Elton John discusses some of
the programs they have supported and why they've been so important and
He sees AIDS as a disease that could be essentially eradicated.
Current drug therapy has turned AIDS from a death sentence into a disease that
people can live long lives with. The drug regimen not only reduces the symptoms
in patients, it reduces the chance that it will be transmitted. With increased
funding worldwide that amounts to the rounding error of the US national budget,
AIDS patients could be treated globally. However, that will never happen so long
as the disease's primary victims are stigmatized. That is the essence of his
thesis: that love is the cure. Treating people with AIDS—or those at
greatest risk of being infected—humanely. His message is inspirational and
it's not a pie-in-the-sky hope. His foundation's successes demonstrate that the
approach can be effective.
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