For reporter Johnny Greene, this week’s cover story has a personal poignancy. “I don’t have clinical AIDS,” he says, “but I’ve been exposed to the virus.” For the past year Greene, 39, has been battling ARC (AIDS related complex), sometimes a precursor of AIDS. “AIDS is a mysterious stranger,” he says. “I lead a normal life, but it’s like walking pneumonia. Wondering when it will strike can drive you crazy. Like the one million other people exposed to the virus, I am in a waiting zone.”
Greene, based in New Orleans, flew to Los Angeles recently to investigate how AIDS has affected the lives of people there. “Everyone I interviewed, whether gay or straight, is touched by fears,” he says.
He already knew the public stigma that AIDS victims endure. Earlier this year, while working as the editor of an in-house corporate magazine in Louisiana, Johnny sent a free-lance article to PEOPLE describing his ordeal (June 17 issue). Almost as soon as the story appeared, he says, “Most of my New Orleans co-workers avoided me. A few days later I was fired and told to leave the building. It surprised me; I thought that, if anything, they would be supportive. I was heartbroken. My parents were devastated, but I think they’ve adjusted; they’re still my two best friends. All my other close friends rallied and called constantly to make sure that I wasn’t freaking out.”
A distant relative of U.S. Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor, Greene grew up in Demopolis, Ala., where his parents, Frances and John, ran a cattle farm. While attending the University of Alabama, Greene became active in a civil rights agency, the Selma Inter-Religious Project. “It sort of marked whatever coming of age one has in his early years,” Johnny says. He received a B.A. in history in 1971 and went on to earn a master’s degree in nonfiction writing two years later from Columbia University, where he studied under the poet W.H. Auden and anthropologist Margaret Mead. As a free-lance writer, Greene has covered stories ranging from civil rights to the Moral Majority for such magazines as Psychology Today, Playboy, the New Republic and Harper’s, where for several years he was a contributing editor.
Now under contract to PEOPLE, Greene is pleased to have been assigned to this week’s AIDS report. “If we convey useful information that will dispel the myths about AIDS, and if this helps people understand the disease and not panic over it,” he says, “then we will have done our job.”