Paul Popham

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Paul Graham Popham
Born (1941-10-06)October 6, 1941
Emmett, Idaho[1][2]
Died May 7, 1987(1987-05-07) (aged 45)[1]
New York City[1]
Cause of death Complications arising from AIDS[1]
Known for AIDS activist, Vietnam War veteran
Military career
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service ?–1969
Rank Major
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Bronze Star Medal

Paul Graham Popham (1941–1987) was an American gay rights activist who was a founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and served as its president from 1981 until 1985.[3][4][5] He also helped found and was chairman of the AIDS Action Council, a lobbying organization in Washington.[1] He was the basis for the character of Bruce Niles in Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, which was one of the first plays to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Popham was born in Emmett, Idaho, and graduated from Portland State College, Oregon.[1]

He was a Vietnam War veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor in 1966, serving as a first lieutenant in the Fifth Air Cavalry. He retired in 1969 as a Special Forces major in the United States Army Reserve.[1]

After his time in the army, Popham worked as a banker on Wall Street for the Irving Trust Company, leaving as a vice president in 1980.[1][4] Thereafter, he joined McGraw-Hill Inc. as a general manager.[1][2][4]

Popham didn't become politically active until reading a newspaper article in 1981 about the disease that became known as AIDS. Richard D. Dunne, president of the Gay Men's Health Crisis at the time of Popham's death said: "His history had been quite the opposite from a gay activist. It was only an issue like AIDS that galvanized people like Paul."[1] Popham was diagnosed with AIDS in February 1985 and remained active with GMHC until his illness became too severe.[3][4]

Larry Kramer, who later left GMHC to found ACT UP, frequently fought with Popham.[4] Kramer wrote in Reports from the Holocaust that, as a result, when writing the roman à clef play The Normal Heart, Kramer made the protagonist Ned Weeks (the cypher for himself) be obnoxious and Bruce Niles (the cypher for Popham) be a clearly sympathetic leader, by way of contrition.[4] On his deathbed, Popham repeated to Kramer on the phone, "keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting".[4] He was survived by his mother, brother, two sisters and his longtime partner Richard DuLong.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rosentham, Andrew (May 8, 1987). "Paul Popham, 45, a founder of AIDS organization, dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Paul Popham, AIDS activist". Los Angeles Times. May 9, 1987. Retrieved April 26, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Gay Men's Health Crisis records". New York Public Library. Retrieved July 20, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Normal Heart study guide" (PDF). TimeLine Theatre. 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2014. 
  5. ^ Graham, Jeff (January–February 2006). "25 years of AIDS and HIV: A look back — 1981–1986: In the Beginning...". The Body. Retrieved July 20, 2014.