Distinguished AIDS Activist Spencer Cox Passes Away

GLAAD sincerely mourns the loss of Spencer Cox, a noted activist in the fight against AIDS who passed away Tuesday morning at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital of causes related to the disease. He was 44.

Born in Decatur, Georgia, Spencer Cox had been involved in AIDS-related activism for over two decades, beginning as an intern for amfAR while attending Bennington College in the 1980’s and eventually becoming their Director of Public Affairs. Shortly after moving to New York in 1989, he was diagnosed with HIV. He then became a spokesman for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) and sat on their Treatment & Data Committee. Later, he co-founded the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and established himself as a “citizen expert” of the basic science of the virus. From 1994 to 1999, he was the Director of the HIV Project at TAG, where he revolutionized the drug trial design in AIDS research.

Mark Harrington, the Executive Director of TAG, says “Spencer single-handedly sped up the development and marketing of the protease inhibitors, which currently are saving 8 million lives… He was absolutely brilliant, just off the charts brilliant.”

Cox was also a co-founder of the Community Research Initiative on AIDS (now the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, ACRIA) where he handled public affairs and oversaw all publications. After the drug revolution transformed the treatment of AIDS patients, he also founded a think-tank named the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health, which focused primarily on addressing the emotional heath of gay men who had survived the epidemic.

In his final piece of writing published on POZ, Cox wrote of his experience watching David Fance’s documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” for which he was also interviewed. In it, he wrote “If I have one piece of advice for young, aspiring activists, it is to always hold on to the joy, always make it fun. If you lose that, you have lost the whole battle.”

Below is a tribute to Spencer made by David France using outtake footage from his interview in the documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”