#NeverForget: Remembering Actor Brad Davis Who Fought For Work and Dignity While Batteling AIDS
Brad Davis: 1949-1991. Born Robert Davis on November 6th, 1949 to Eugene Davis (a dentist whose career declined due to alcoholism) and his wife, Anne (née Creel) Davis. According to an article in The New York Times published in 1987, Davis suffered physical abuse and sexual abuse at the hands of both parents. As an adult, he was an alcoholic and an intravenous drug user before becoming sober in 1981. Brad Davis took his stage name after learning that there already was a Bob Davis registered in Actors Equity. Acting was always his ambition, from appearing in productions at Theater Atlanta at the age of sixteen, and moving to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and at the American Place Theater. Television roles soon followed, in a short-lived soap opera and in the miniseries Roots and Sybil (both 1976). But it was his role as Billy Hayes in the film Midnight Express which rocketed him to fame and won him two Golden Globes.
Davis’s career should have taken off. Instead, it languished, due somewhat to homophobia — his bisexuality was generally known if not always acknowledged — and more directly due to his own drug and alcohol abuse. In 1976, he was cast in the television mini-series Roots, then as Sally Field’s love interest in the television film Sybil. In 1981 he sobered in time to take a minor role in Chariots of Fire he played American track star Jackson Scholz in the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. . In 1983, he took a professional risk playing a gay sailor in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle (which flopped), and a dying man of AIDS in Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart. That last role mirrored, somewhat, his own life.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, Davis kept his condition a secret until shortly before his death at age 41, on September 8, 1991, in Los Angeles. It was revealed in a book proposal that Davis had written before his death that he had to keep his medical condition a secret in order to be able to continue to work and support his family.
His wife, free-lance casting director Susan Bluestein said: “The Hollywood community may deny it. They will say he could have worked. All I know is that my husband was frightened, and that he wanted to be able to keep putting food on our table for his family,”
Davis was going to write a book about his ordeal of working in Hollywood and having to keep secret his illness. While he died before he could accomplish that his wife did write a book using Davis’ book proposal as the basis for her book, After Midnight: The Life and Death of Brad Davis.
”I make my money in an industry that professes to care very much about the fight against AIDS — that gives umpteem benefits and charity affairs with proceeds going to research and care — but in actual fact, if an actor is even rumored to have H.I.V., he gets no support on an individual basis. He does not work.”
In a 1997 interview with New York Times writer Alex Witchel, Davis’ wife described the great pains he went to seeking medical help only allowing doctors to visit him at home, ”Without the secrecy he may not have gotten better medical care, but earlier medical care,” she said. ”It might have given him a little longer time and better quality of life. We became so isolated. He let a lot of friendships go. He was afraid certain people would pick up on some things. Our world shrank to the bare bones.” In order to hide his illness Witchel wrote that Davis didn’t buy prescriptions in his name but was supplied with prescription “leftovers” from others after they died.
When Brad Davis died in 1991, news reports distinguished him as “the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS.” Not much of that description was true. His bisexuality aside, he also didn’t, strictly speaking, die of AIDS. He decided to end his life on his own terms and committed when it became clear that death from AIDS was imminent.
Querelle Brad Davis Fassbinder Jeanne Moreau… by jeanrossignol