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Michael Kearns (actor)

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Michael Kearns
Born (1950-01-08) January 8, 1950 (age 74)
Occupation(s)Actor, writer, director, teacher, producer
Years activeEarly 1970s-present
Websitehttp://michaelkearns.net/ www.MichaelKearns.net

Michael Kearns (born January 8, 1950, in St. Louis, Missouri) is an American actor, writer, director, teacher, producer, and activist.[1] He is noted for being one of the first openly gay actors,[2] and after an announcement on Entertainment Tonight in 1991, the first openly HIV-positive actor in Hollywood.[3][4][5][6] Kearns attended the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles in 1972, where he has maintained a successful mainstream film and television career alongside an extensive theatrical involvement for over 25 years. He has been actively engaged in the Los Angeles art and political communities, incorporating activism into his theater works. Kearns co-founded Artists Confronting AIDS in 1984 and is a current commissioner of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

As an author, Kearns has contributed to various magazines and newspapers and has written five theater books, two of which were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards. Kearns has received numerous awards for his contributions to theater, activism, and his openness about his HIV status.

Early life and education[edit]

Kearns was born in St. Louis, Missouri. As a young man, he attended the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, Illinois, and graduated in 1972 and moved to Los Angeles.[3] For more than 25 years he has been active in the Los Angeles art and political communities, maintaining a mainstream film and television career with a prolific career in the theatre.[4] His activism is deeply integrated into his theatre works, and he has received grants from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the Brody Foundation, and PEN Center USA West.[6] In 1984, along with playwright James Carroll Pickett, he co-founded Artists Confronting Aids (ACA), and is a current commissioner of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).[6][7][8]


Kearns is a regular contributor to a number of magazines and newspapers, including the Frontiers, Los Angeles Times, L.A. Parent, IN Magazine, and L.A. Weekly.[9][10][11] He is also author of five theatre books: T-Cells & Sympathy,[12] Acting = Life,[13] The Solo Performer's Journey,[14] Getting Your Solo Act Together,[15] and Life Expectancies.[16] Both T-Cells & Sympathy and Acting = Life were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1995, Kearns began proceedings that resulted in his adoption in 1997 of a child. In a March 2013 appearance on The Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM Radio, Kearns admitted to affairs with actor Rock Hudson and Barry Manilow.[4][6][17] He presently lives in Los Angeles with his daughter who was born in 1994.[2][3]



Kearns made his Los Angeles theatrical debut in Tom Eyen's The Dirtiest Show in Town at the Ivar Theatre.[18][19][20][21][3] In 2005–2006, Kearns was the Artist Director of Space At Fountain's End where he curated and produced eighteen months of artistic expression including theatre, performance, jazz, fine art, photography, and poetry. Also in '06, Kearns directed Lan Tran's Elevator Sex (Off Broadway), The Tina Dance (throughout Los Angeles), and the twentieth anniversary production of Robert Chesley's Jerker.[1][22][23] The City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department awarded Kearns with a COLA Fellowship to create a new work,[24] Make Love Not War, that premiered in 2005.[25] The COLA performances "represent a non-thematic cross section of very current work by some of Los Angeles' best artists," according to Noel Korten, Curator and Director of Exhibitions of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.

His two widely lauded solo theatre pieces, Intimacies and More Intimacies,[26] in which he portrays a dozen culturally diverse people with HIV/AIDS, were produced in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Eugene, Minneapolis, Santa Barbara, San Antonio, Austin, San Diego, St. Louis, Tucson, Phoenix, Washington D.C., New York City, San Diego, Hartford, New Haven, Northampton, Sydney (Australia), Liverpool, London, and Manchester (England).[27] In addition to other solo performance pieces (including The Truth Is Bad Enough, Attachments, Rock),[20][21] and Tell Tale Kisses, Kearns has written several full-length plays: Myron, Mijo, Robert's Memorial, Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?, Blessings, Barriers, and the lyrics for Homeless, A Street Opera.[27] Kearns co-wrote the screenplay for Nine Lives, based on his play, Complications.[1] His solo piece Going In: Once Upon A Time in South Africa chronicles the time he spent in Johannesburg with his daughter, working at an orphanage.[28]

As a director[edit]

Kearns directed and co-produced the Artists Confronting AIDS' landmark productions of AIDS/US in 1986, AIDS/US II in 1990, and AIDS/US/TEENS in 1994.[6] He co-founded the S.T.A.G.E. (Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event) benefit, now in its 22nd year.[3][29] He served as Artistic Director of Celebration Theatre for their 1986–87 season and of Artists Confronting AIDS for a decade, from 1984 to 1994.[7] He directed the Los Angeles premieres of Robert Chesley's Night Sweat and Jerker, Rebecca Ranson's Warren, Eric Bentley's Round Two, Clark Carlton's Self Help, Syd Rushing's We Are One, Melanie DuPuy's Heroine and Doug Holsclaw's Life Of The Party.[1] Throughout '04 and '05, Kearns directed a series of Precious Chong's Porcelain Penelope Shows that played in several Los Angeles venues as well as Off-Broadway.[1]

As an actor[edit]

In 1993, Kearns played the title role in Charles Ludlam's Camille at Highways in Santa Monica,[6] garnering rave reviews from the Los Angeles critics, as well as a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award nomination for his performance.[30] "An actor giving the performance of his life," said Richard Shelton, theater reviewer for the Los Angeles Times.[31] In addition to winning a Drama-Logue Award and a Robby Award, he was nominated by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for Lead Performance.[30] The artist has received numerous acting awards, including the 1999 Garland Award for his critically acclaimed performance in Robert Harders' Bill and Eddie.[3] Kearns has both directed and appeared in Jerker (Los Angeles, San Diego, Des Moines),[23][32] and originated the role of Christopher, on stage and on video, in Pickett's Dream Man (which has played New York City, San Francisco, Des Moines, L.A., Portland, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Edinburgh, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and London). Two revivals of James Carroll Pickett's Dream Man (with American actor Jimmy Shaw) were directed by Kearns: at Madrid's DT Espacio Escenico as part of the Festival Version Original (2005) and the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (2007).[citation needed]

Television and film[edit]

Long before coming out of the closet was considered a career move in the entertainment industry, Kearns was the first Hollywood actor on record to come out in the mid-seventies, amidst a shocking amount of homophobia.[4] He subsequently made television history in 1991 by announcing on Entertainment Tonight that he was HIV positive,[5] and then in 1992, as an openly HIV-impacted actor, guesting on a segment of ABC TV's Life Goes On in which he played a character who had the virus.[4] He played Cleve Jones in the HBO adaptation of Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, appeared in A Mother's Prayer, It's My Party and had a recurring role on Beverly Hills, 90210... a variety of shows that depicted HIV/AIDS.[4] Other television and film credits include Cheers, Murder, She Wrote, The Waltons, L.A. Tool & Die, Knots Landing, General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, The Fall Guy, A River Made to Drown In, Kentucky Fried Movie, and Brian De Palma's Body Double.[4]



Kearns has been honored by the L.A. Weekly, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Chapter of the ACLU, National Coming Out Day and the Victory Fund.

1987: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, Lesbian and Gay Rights Chapter, award plaque.[33]

1989: Bay Area Theater Civics Award.[4]

1992: The Mayor of St. Louis, the artist's hometown, proclaimed November 19, 1992 as "Michael Kearns Day."[4]

1993: Won a Drama-Logue and a Robby Award for his performance in Camille and was nominated by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for Lead Performance.[5][30]

1999: Received the Victory Award from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.[4]

2000: Back Stage West Garland Award.[33]

2002: Playwrights' Arena Award for Outstanding Contribution to Los Angeles Theatre.[3]

2005: He received a 2005 Robert Chesley Playwrighting Award.[33]

2007: LA Weekly "Queen of Angels" award for his luminous track record in L.A.'s theatre history.[33]

2009: STAGE Producers Award for long-standing commitment to worldwide battle against HIV/AIDS.[34]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Tina Dance Speeds Into Town". WeHoNews. May 25, 2006. Archived from the original on November 13, 2006. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Sille Storihle: From Stonewall to Hollywood". KCET. 2015-01-08. Retrieved 2018-08-28.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Michael Kearns Papers". Online Archive of California. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Karvoski, Jr., Ed (2002). Award-Winning Men: Up Close and Personal with Gay Honorees. iUniverse. pp. 85–88. ISBN 9780595217694. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Forster, Evan. "Industrial Strength". POZ Magazine. No. January / December 1996. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Breslauer, Jan (July 3, 1994). "HIV-Positivist Michael Kearns has made a stage career of his activism, and a successful life in Hollywood-saying the heck with homophobia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Rothman, David (1998). Acts of intervention: performance, gay culture, and AIDS (illustrated ed.). Indiana University Press. pp. 73–85. ISBN 9780253211682. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  8. ^ "Commissioners". PFLAG. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  9. ^ Kearns, Michael. "Revelations: Exploring what's inside". Frontiers. 28 (3). Archived from the original on June 9, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  10. ^ Kearns, Michael. "The Spirit of Pride". IN Magazine. Vol. 10, no. 8. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  11. ^ Kearns, Michael (October 6, 2003). "Where the sidewalk ends". LA Weekly. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  12. ^ Kearns, Michael (1995). T-cells & sympathy. Heinemann. ISBN 9780435086763. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  13. ^ Kearns, Michael (1996). Acting=Life. Heinemann. ISBN 9780435086916. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  14. ^ Kearns, Michael (2005). The Solo Performer's Journey: from the page to the stage. Heinemann. ISBN 9780325007526. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  15. ^ Kearns, Michael (1997). Getting Your Solo Act Together. Heinemann. ISBN 9780435070328. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  16. ^ Kearns, Michael (2005). Life Expectancies. Heinemann. ISBN 9780325008318. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  17. ^ "Living Life - Michael & Tia Kearns". thebody.com. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  18. ^ Kearns, Michael (July 19, 2009). "The Legendary Michael Greer". Gay Today. VIII (167): paragraph 16 & 17. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  19. ^ Drake, Sylvie (March 5, 1972). "STAGE NEWS Reaching Out to All Minorities". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  20. ^ a b Sommers, Pamela (September 10, 1992). "Pieces of 'ROCK'; A One-Man, Many-Faceted Look at Hudson". Washington Post. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Arkatov, Janice (January 15, 1992). "Examining a Hollywood Legend Theater: Michael Kearns' says his 'encounter' with Rock Hudson prompted him to write a show about homophobia, artistic identity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  22. ^ "Michael Kearns Papers" (PDF). page 6. Online Archive of California. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  23. ^ a b Breslauer, Jan (August 6, 2006). "Drawing more out of 'Jerker'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  24. ^ "The City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department has presented its 2005 COLA Fellowships, worth $10,000 each". Art in America. Brandt Publications. October 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  25. ^ "The C.O.L.A. 2005 visual arts Fellows". artscenecal.com. ArtScene. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  26. ^ Sommers, Pamela. "More Tragic 'intimacies'". Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  27. ^ a b "Michael Kearns (1950 - )". Playwrights Database. Archived from the original on January 7, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  28. ^ DelVecchio, Peter (November 25 – December 8, 2008). "Michael Kearns to perform in West Hollywood" (PDF). IN Magazine. Vol. 11, no. 21. p. 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 22, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  29. ^ "25th Anniversary S.T.A.G.E. Benefit". Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  30. ^ a b c Cox, Dan (February 8, 1994). "'Sunset' dazzling, nabs 7 Critics Circle noms". Variety. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  31. ^ Shelton, Richard (November 6, 1993). "THEATER REVIEW - Good Performances Can't Cure Revival of 'Camille'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  32. ^ Collins, Scott (September 1, 1996). "It Still Rings True". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  33. ^ a b c d "Awards, Commendations, and Honors . 1987-2007" (PDF). Online Archive of California. p. 16. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  34. ^ Gans, Andrew (January 8, 2009). "25th Anniversary S.T.A.G.E. Benefit Will Celebrate Songs of the Gershwins". Playbill. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  35. ^ Warfield, Polly (May 30, 2002). "A Red Thread Runs Through It". allbusiness.com. Back Stage West. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  36. ^ "The works of Michael Kearns, 1974-2007". cdlib.org. Online Archive of California. Retrieved July 18, 2009.

External links[edit]