The actor, who won a Golden Globe for his work on Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, shares his tribute to the legendary LGBTQ icon in an exclusive essay for PEOPLE

By People Staff
June 04, 2020 03:05 PM

Matt Bomer first met Larry Kramer when he was cast in the movie adaptation of The Normal Heart in 2015. But he knew his work and words much earlier. Kramer, who died of pneumonia May 27, will be remembered for his relentless activism, anger, and intellect. And, as Bomer says exclusively to PEOPLE, “for taking an epidemic and making it human and relatable.”

We can’t love who we are if we don’t know where we came from. It’s because of Larry Kramer — his courage, his founding of ACT UP and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, his activism for HIV-AIDS, and his inspiring books and plays — that we in the LGBTQ community are proud of who we are now. He stood up at a time when it was not widely acceptable to do so. Larry said: "We are worthy of the rights we deserve. We are worthy of the self-love we deserve."

He’s an icon. He was a trailblazer. Larry saved countless lives and inspired me — and hopefully many generations to come — to take pride in who we are. We needed his anger, his poetic, relentless anger. Today, we’re seeing more than ever that it’s one thing to post an inspirational quote on social media. It’s another to be boots on the ground. Larry was that guy. He embodied Silence Equals Death.

larry kramer and matt bomer
Credit: Walter Mcbride/Wireimage

I first learned of Larry when I was 14. I was living in the Bible belt, in suburban Texas. I was very fortunate to have a drama teacher who brought in all the plays happening on and off Broadway. I read The Destiny of Me first and then The Normal Heart, a play based on Larry’s own life. He was the son of a teacher and an attorney, who struggled mightily after he was born in the Great Depression. He struggled to come out in high school,  but attempted suicide while a student at Yale because he felt so alone. He started writing to explore love and its obstacles. In The Normal Heart — which later won a Tony award — he took an epidemic and made it human and relatable. He made AIDS something that anyone, regardless of their age or sexuality, could understand.

the normal heart
Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo in The Normal Heart
| Credit: Everett

I will never forget reading a passage from the play about how Alan Turing, who cracked the German’s Enigma code, was responsible for winning World War II. After the war he died by suicide because he was hounded by being gay. “Why didn’t they teach any of that in schools,” Larry wrote. “If they did, maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself and you would be so terrified of who you are. That’s how I want to be remembered. As one of the men who won the war.”

That cracked my world open. Larry’s play was a clarion call. It was a call to arms. And it not only destigmatized and took the shame out of people struggling with AIDS but it was a call to action; to take pride in who we are. To stand up for who we are and what we need to do to survive.

A little more than 20 years went by before I got to read those words again. And read them in front of Larry. I was cast in the movie adaptation of The Normal Heart in 2015. Larry being Larry — which is to say he was fiercely protective of his work — had to sign off on whether I could play the role of Felix, his lover who ultimately succumbs to AIDS. I was able to visit him and his husband in his apartment. I brought him cupcakes because I knew he liked sweets.

matt bomer
Matt Bomer after winning the Golden Globe for best supporting actor in a series, mini series or TV Movie for The Normal Heart
| Credit: Kevork Djansezian/NBC/Getty

His apartment was filled with reams of notebooks and papers. He was still writing so much. Larry was a firebrand; bold, acerbic and passionate. But he could listen as much as he talked. It’s not often that you meet your hero and they supersede your unreasonable expectations. I saw Larry’s sense of humor; his curiosity, his tenderness and heart. When you play the role of Felix, your job is to fall in love with all of those things about him. He was all of those things. And I did.

One of my favorite pictures I have was the last time I saw Larry. He came to The Boys in the Band opening in 2018. He, his husband David, my husband Simon, and I all rode to the after-party together. We laughed the whole way. And it was, well, normal. (And surreal — one big reason I am able to call Simon my husband is because of the work the guy sitting next to us in the car had done.)

Even before I met him, Larry’s words taught me to value myself and to connect with my community. To support those who are struggling. To love and care for myself — not only my sexual health and well-being — but as a gay man and a human being.

I hope I told him that he saved my life. Because he did.