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Leading AIDS Activist Spencer Cox Dies at 44

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Dec 20, 2012

Spencer Cox, a pivotal AIDS activist who was the spokesman for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power and a co-founder of the Treatment Action Group, died Tuesday morning in New York from AIDS-related causes. He was 44.

The activist was featured in the 2012 documentary "How to Survive a Plague," directed by David France. The filmmaker announced that Cox lost his battle to the disease in a statement.

Cox became the spokesman for ACT-UP in 1989 when he was 20 years old and shortly after he was diagnosed with HIV. He later helped found TAG, where he pioneered quick approval of drug and psychological treatments for those infected with the deadly disease. In 1995, Cox wrote the drug trail protocol for the first protease inhibitor drug, which led to the Food and Drug Administration quickly approving the medication.

Protease inhibitors are a class of drug used to treat or prevent infection by viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C. The so-called "drug cocktail" changed the nature of AIDS from immediately fatal to something long term.

"Spencer single-handedly sped up the development and marketing of the protease inhibitors, which currently are saving 8 million lives," TAG's executive director Mark Harrington, said. "He was absolutely brilliant, just off the charts brilliant."

Before working with ACT-UP, the activist interned for amfAR, where he eventually worked his way up to assistant director of public affairs. While there, he worked on the organization's communications and policy.

He then co-founded the Community Research Initiative on AIDS, now called the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and Marisa Cardinale. He managed the group's public affairs and edited all of its publications.

Cox also tackled gay men's' mental health and founded the Medius Institute for Gay Men's Health, a think tank that aimed to improve gay men's emotional well being. The organization was responsible for a number of important reports but it did not receive the funding it needed to continue its work and folded.

Cox's body initially responded to the medications used to treat his HIV but around 2000 he began developing a resistance to the drugs, In 2009, he was hospitalized with AIDS related symptoms. He finally succumbed on Dec. 18, and died at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

"If I have one piece of advice for young, aspiring activists, it is to always hold on to the joy, always make it fun. If you lose that, you have lost the whole battle," Cox wrote in his last blog for POZ.

Watch French's final interview with Cox from "How to Survive a Plague."


  • BlondieSL, 2012-12-21 08:57:35

    We so need a real cure for this. We’re losing way too many wonderful people. In my mind.... 1 is too many.

  • GAG'EM, 2012-12-22 12:23:20

    Tragic proof that AIDS drugs are not 100% effective and won’t guarantee a long life. Honor Spencer. USE CONDOMS!

  • , 2012-12-22 19:29:07

    A close friend of me and my fiance found out she got hiv earlier this year. she may live 3 states away, but i still was able to get her all the resources she needs.

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