Ryan Murphy on How the AIDS Crisis Propelled Him to Success: When 'You Don't Think You Have a Tomorrow, You Wring Every Last Drop Out of Today'
The Scream Queens and American Horror Story creator was honored at the amfAR gala Thursday
Ryan Murphy is opening up about how his experience with the HIV/AIDS crisis pushed him to tackle as much as he could in his professional life.
The creator of the American Horror Story franchise, Nip/Tuck and Scream Queens was honored at the amfAR Inspiration Gala Thursday in Los Angeles, and he gave a powerful and personal acceptance speech.
After thanking Julia Roberts, who presented him with the Inspiration Award, and joking that he was being honored as “amfAR’s big gay of the year,” Murphy detailed how his fear and panic during the 1980s HIV/AIDS crisis served as his drive.
“Recently, in the media, whenever articles are written about me and my career, there is one word that is used over and over to define me, to describe me and the work that I do, and that word is prolific,” Murphy said. “I do too much, I attempt too much.”
And while he admitted his plate “does overflow sometimes,” he said he realizes now this is because of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
“When it’s engrained in you as a young person that you don’t think you have a tomorrow, you wring every last drop out of today because you may not get another one,” he said. “I was in my 20s, and all my friends were getting sick around me and dying, many of them refusing to admit what was happening to them because of the stigma and the shame.”
Murphy, now 49, revealed that he used to “literally have a panic attack” and go to the local emergency room for an HIV test “once or so a month.”
He went on to say that in a 10-year span, he did more 60 blood draw tests: “I know so many of you in this room can relate to this. And with these tests, which young people today don’t know, came two weeks of waiting. Waiting for the results. I would waste away from nerves. I would not eat. I would break into tears at odd times. And I would wait for the eventual death that I knew was coming my way.”
The married father of two went on to describe how he would pray for his well-being and vowed to do what he could to help in the future.
“I would say, ‘Dear God, please let me be okay, and I’ll start working at an HIV hotline,’ which I did. I would say, ‘Dear God, please let my friend Mason live, I’ll give money when I make some,’ which I did, and he did not live,” said Murphy. “All of this somehow, to me, has felt like small potatoes and not enough payback to the community that I love. And that is why this honor tonight is so important to me, because I now feel that I do have something to offer, which is to pledge my total support to being a lifelong ambassador to amfAR and to this organization’s vital and important mission.”
Addressing the crowd, he said, “I look out here tonight, and I want to tell you guys that this is an important room. And this is a room that literally can, and has, changed the world in my estimation. This is the room that can help to find a cure for HIV/AIDS by 2020.”
Murphy, who said the AIDS crisis would go on to give birth to “the dream of equality” in his life – something he said he never thought he would see – acknowledged the epidemic affected himself and others “as a community in so many ways.”
“I can remember first getting involved in the entertainment industry in 1996 and asking myself: ‘Is it okay to be me? Can I be out of the closet and still get work?’ As if I would ever pass as anything else,” Murphy recalled.
As to whether he dared “pitch stories about HIV/AIDS and gay characters” or preferred to “remain neutral,” Murphy said: “For myself and so many others who have been to countless funerals, the answer was clear, to me at least, and that was just, ‘F— it.’ ”
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“You only get one life, you only get one chance to tell your story,” he continued. “And I think others here in this room will agree with me that an entire generation was propelled out of the closet because of the HIV/AIDS crisis, myself included. And was it easy? Not always. But was it worth it? Absolutely.”