Danny Pintauro Discusses Life After Revealing He Is HIV+: 'I'm Much Happier as a Person with No Secrets'
Danny Pintauro made headlines when he revealed he is HIV-positive during a 2015 episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now?, but the former Who's the Boss? star reveals he almost didn't go through with it.
"That half hour before the interview I was on the verge of vomit, tears, sweating; it was a moment," he explains in PEOPLE's video series, Stories of Positivity. According to Pintauro, 45, it took the comfort of the television icon to make him confident about the decision.
"She said, 'Just take a deep breath. You'll be fine. It's just going to be really monumental'... I don't think there's anyone else who I could have told and who would have treated it as importantly and as respectfully as she did."
The former child star broke boundaries as one of the first high-profile names to get candid about living with HIV, nearly two decades after he chose to come out as gay after the National Enquirer threatened to out him. While he was initially nervous about his name becoming synonymous with the virus, he came to realize going public with his diagnosis brought him much more joy.
"It used to be hard to walk down the street without someone recognizing me, and that was initially because I was on Who's the Boss?. Then it was, 'He was on Who's the Boss? and he's gay.' Now, it was going to be, 'He was on Who's the Boss?, he's gay, and he's another one of those HIV-positive guys,' " he recalls. "That was a little bit terrifying, but it didn't really make me second guess it because I'm much happier as a person with no secrets."
"I'll tell you about my meth use. I'll tell you about being positive. I'll tell you about how hard it was to be gay. I'll tell you about any of it. It feels so good. It's so great to have that," he adds.
Pintauro contracted HIV through a sexual encounter in 2003, a time when he was living in New York City and actively using crystal meth, and says the "very vivid memories" of receiving the diagnosis are cemented in his brain. It took time for him to tell the people in his life because of the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, especially as someone growing up in the '80s, when the issue first became part of the national conversation and was often explicitly — though misleadingly — labeled a "gay" disease.
"Back then, it was still a very big deal to tell that to people," he recalls. "We were barely advancing in terms of medications and barely advancing in terms of our thought process on your future, and especially for these people in my life who had no context. It was very scary."
Pintauro couldn't be happier with the "wonderful" response he has received in the years since opening up about being HIV-positive, with many calling him "brave" for being so open about his journey: "All of that was nothing but positive, so I'm happy about that, for sure," he adds.
The Cujo alumnus and his husband of seven years, Wil Tabares, now live in Austin, where he works as a technician for veterinary clinic Firehouse Animal Health Center and teaches acting at the Georgetown Palace Academy. He wishes he could go back in time and reassure that scared young man that everything will work out for the best.
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"The number one thing to say is, 'Just relax and take a deep breath. In 10 years from now, you're going to be married, undetectable, very healthy and very happy, and living life to the fullest,' " he muses. "I think that's not unique to me. Anyone who has a secret that they're going to share, or an issue that they're trying to deal with, it's always going to be better, especially if you believe that and especially if you do the work to get there."
"It's the most wonderful feeling to be able to just live your life and not have anything to hide from people, and to feel that openness is really great, especially as a celebrity," he continues.
Pintauro looks back on coming out as both gay and HIV-positive as "so hard," and as one of the earliest famous faces to do so, he sometimes forgets how influential his honesty has been.
"I said to my publicist, 'Do people really want to hear more about that?,' " he says. "He said, 'You just have to remember the sheer number of people you have helped, and even if you haven't heard from them, even if you're not getting endless letters, they're out there.' "
"If there's one thing I wish I could be better at, it's just remembering the impact that I've had on people. It's nice to remember that, feel good about it, and feel like it's all worth it, for sure."
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