How Elizabeth Taylor Got Ronald Reagan to Talk About AIDS

PBS reviews the history of how actress Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday at age 79, convinced President Ronald Reagan to finally speak about AIDS, six years after the syndrome was first identified:

Elizabeth Taylor was a tireless crusader in fighting HIV/AIDS, especially in the early years of its spread. It's estimated that she helped raise more than $100 million.

VIEW one particular episode in her battle where Taylor took on a big challenge: To get President Reagan to deliver a major speech on the crisis. It was 1987. The actress, who was serving as the national chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), wrote a letter to her old Hollywood friend and colleague, and his wife Nancy, asking him to talk about AIDS at amfAR's fundraising dinner. Her letter was from the heart, and it was persuasive.

"It was her personal appeal that got the president there," says Landon Parvin, who wrote the speech.

Seven weeks later Reagan gave the keynote address.

Read the full story -- and see the video -- at PBS.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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