'ER' Star Gloria Reuben Shares How Her HIV+ Character Influenced One Fan to Start Treatment

The actress opens up about playing Jeanie Boulet on the long-running medical drama and how it "broke down those barriers of the misconception about who gets HIV" — and made an impact in the real world as well

When she was starring on ER, Gloria Reuben knew what a cultural phenomenon the show was. But she couldn't have anticipated what an impact it would have had on people's everyday lives as well.

Reuben, 57, spoke to PEOPLE Every Day host Janine Rubenstein about the show's lasting legacy — and how she heard from one fan in person that her HIV-positive character influenced one man to take charge of his own health.

"I was in a drugstore. I needed to buy toothpaste," Reuben told PEOPLE. "I'm just standing there just not even knowing what I'm thinking. A young man came up to me, and he said to me 'Excuse me, Ms. Reuben. I don't mean to interrupt you. I watched the episode last night and I'm HIV-positive and after watching the episode, I'm on my way to start treatment. It inspired me to get help.'"

Gloria Reuben on ER
Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Reuben became famous for her role as Jeanie Boulet, a physician assistant that found out that she was HIV-positive during the mid-'90s.

"It was such an intense storyline and rightfully so," she said. "It broke down those barriers of those assumptions or the misconceptions about who gets HIV, how they get it, and how they can live their lives —particularly at that time."

Gloria Reuben on ER
Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Want to get the biggest stories from PEOPLE every weekday? Subscribe to our new podcast, PEOPLE Every Day, to get the essential celebrity, entertainment and human interest news stories Monday through Friday.

Reuben acknowledges that during the time of the show, medicine was beginning to act as a breakthrough and give people hope. That's what she wanted the role of Jeanie to do as well.

"Mid to late '90s, triple cocktails were starting, and people were literally getting their lives back," Reuben told PEOPLE. "But what we wrote for Jeanie, and it's one of the things that I've done that I feel most proud of, is how the storyline that we wrote for Jeanie tackled everything. But it didn't beat people over the head with it. It was integrated in her life in a such way that was so profound, so deep and so real."

Gloria Reuben on ER
Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Recently, the stars of ER reunited in April to raise funds for the Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that strives to make that sure clean water is available for countries throughout the world, and Reuben, a supporter of the organization for 15 years, used her star power to influence others to join the cause.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human-interest stories.

Related Articles