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Isaac Asimov died of AIDS.
March 10, 2002 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Isaac Asimov died of AIDS. His widow, Janet Jeppson Asimov, reveals that Asimov acquired AIDS from a blood transfusion during bypass surgery in 1983 in a condensed version of his biography just published this month ("It's Been a Good Life"). Apparently his doctor advised that they not disclose his AIDS infection.
posted by maudlin (39 comments total)

 
Amazon.com listing for It's Been a Good Life.

I'm stunned (and was on my way here to post same; maudlin beat me to it). Isaac died just too damn soon.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:49 PM on March 10, 2002


Wow.
posted by SpecialK at 4:59 PM on March 10, 2002


*crying*

I loved the man, for more reasons than I can possibly express. I don't give one shit why he died. I will read his biography for the same reasons I will re-read everything the man wrote. Thanks maudlin, for reminding me that I care about what is beautiful in life.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:59 PM on March 10, 2002


The thing that gets me is how *anybody* anymore can think that AIDS is just a gay disease. And how awful that Asimov got a fatal disease in the hospital, of all places.
posted by diddlegnome at 5:06 PM on March 10, 2002


The horrible thing is that *was* the thinking back then. Remember, it wasn't until 1985 that Rock Hudson's AIDS was known to the public. He was the first major public figure known to have been infected and this fact was firmly linked to his homosexuality.

Perhaps Asimov's infection was diagnosed by the time Hudson was known to be ill, perhaps it wasn't until several years afterwards, but he had no reason to suppose that public response would not include some snickering supposition. In addition, imagine having to bear the burden of a terminal disease for years and years, then add to that a lot of intense interest in your every move, cough and age spot. It should not matter how he died -- but in the end it did, because the public knowledge of his illness and the varying reponse to it would have affected him greatly.

(And Wulfgar!, I'm sorry if my initial post was too abrupt. I honestly stared at the screen for a while after I finished typing what you see and I didn't have the faintest idea what to add. I was never a great fan of Asimov's fiction but I loved his non-fiction books. I wish that he could have had a peaceful old age).
posted by maudlin at 5:23 PM on March 10, 2002


There's not much information on the web about this, there's a Publishers Weekly review I was pointed to, but not much else beyond that and some blog entries. It's not mentioned on the Prometheus book site (apologies, I can't get a direct link working). Where did this early information come from and why hasn't it been better publicized? It seems like a big, very sad, item.
posted by lesingesavant at 5:33 PM on March 10, 2002


Biographical material on the Good Doctor:

The first two volumes of Asimov autobiography are In Memory Yet Green, covering 1920-1954, and In Joy Still Felt, covering 1954-1978. At over 1500 pages total, reading these books is a feat, but worth doing if you're really, really big on Asimov.

A third volume, I. Asimov: A Memoir, written when he was in failing health, was thematic rather than chronological, and deals with certain topics (ex-wife, children, opinions of other writers) that were tactfully omitted in the previous two volumes.

According to the publisher's information for It's Been a Good Life, this book is a condensation of the previous three.

Other books with autobiographical material include the notes to Before the Golden Age and The Early Asimov, the Opus series (every hundredth book, a summary of previous work: Opus 100, Opus 200), and, I'm told, Asimov Laughs Again. Also check out Yours, Isaac Asimov, a collection of his correspondence. But his personality manages to interject itself in most of his later work, and I never minded.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:44 PM on March 10, 2002


That's just sad. The Foundation series is my favourite, and Asimov is my favourite author.
posted by riffola at 6:27 PM on March 10, 2002


I was a teenage Asimov fanatic, and I actually read In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt when I was about 13.

I remember something he said in one of them...talking about how it always disgusted him to see other men naked, and he quickly followed this fact up with something close to "Anyone who reads latent homosexuality into that statement can go straight to hell."

I'm not putting him down or saying that he was a homophobe...if he ever had anything to say publicly about homosexuality itself, I didn't read it, but he was a very liberal person, very insightful and of course, a genius. I'm just saying that there's evidence to suggest that for whatever reason, he really disliked the idea of anyone thinking that he was gay. To be fair, he was born in 1920, you can't have expected him to be liberal and progressive about everything.
posted by bingo at 6:28 PM on March 10, 2002


And how awful that Asimov got a fatal disease in the hospital, of all places

actually, hospitals kill about 90,000 people a year by giving them infections of various sorts. And then of course there's the 180,000 people a year that die as a result of medical errors.

It's too bad that this didn't come out sooner. He might have been able to help spur hospitals to reform some of their practices.
posted by boltman at 7:31 PM on March 10, 2002


I'm just saying that there's evidence to suggest that for whatever reason, he really disliked the idea of anyone thinking that he was gay.

You know, I am not fond of the idea of people thinking that I'm gay. That doesn't make me a homophobe.

Incidentally, I'm reading Asimov's Chronology of the World, a compelling read. A very poignant excerpt of Asimov's introduction follows: posted by SilentSalamander at 7:31 PM on March 10, 2002


Who cares?

Asimov left a fantastic body of work. What difference does it make if he died of AIDS, or tuberculosis, or Ebola, or a goddamned heart attack? He's dead. He wrote some great stories. He died, and now all we have to remember him by is what he wrote. Celebrate him, regardless of how he died.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:44 PM on March 10, 2002


What difference does it make if he died of AIDS, or tuberculosis, or Ebola, or a goddamned heart attack?

Maybe he would have lived longer. His writings in the last few years seemed to indicate that he was in astoundingly poor health — he seemed less sharp — so maybe the quality of life of his last years would have been better.

What difference does it make if you die at 72 or at 80? Let me tell you, it will make a big difference to me.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:52 PM on March 10, 2002


perhaps someday we won't think that it's bad to be different.

here's to hope.
posted by will at 8:09 PM on March 10, 2002


Wow. Isaac Asimov was a freakin pimp. I enjoyed the sh*t out of his foundation series... *sigh*
posted by spidre at 8:09 PM on March 10, 2002


perhaps someday we won't think that it's bad to be different.

Give me a break. He was "different" in all sorts of ways, and he flaunted it.
posted by bingo at 8:15 PM on March 10, 2002


I'm sorry if my initial post was too abrupt. I honestly stared at the screen for a while after I finished typing what you see and I didn't have the faintest idea what to add.

No harm, no foul. Isaac Asimov is one of the beautiful humans that have existed that I conscider to be a personal hero, (in the sense that there are none I will look up to more). He was a man of absolute genius, unbelievable integrity, and deep wisdom. Til I myself pass from this earth, I will morne his death. I truly hope that we can learn about the evil influence of AIDS by his death, though most will look towards Magic Johnson for some inspiration. But it really doesn't matter to me. The greatest critique and support of the Bible ever written, the greatest expose of the terror of AI, the finest example of culture building, and the deepest love of all that makes us human, all these things were shown me by Isaac Asimov. I will miss Isaac, forever.
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:17 PM on March 10, 2002


bingo: what i'm saying is that i hope that someday it we won't think it's bad to be different in any way.
posted by will at 8:21 PM on March 10, 2002


Holy crap.
posted by rushmc at 9:39 PM on March 10, 2002


I've often been fascinated that science fiction can emcompass some of the most original and embracing writing about issues of sexuality and gender, while simultaneously containing a genre I think of to myself as "rabidly straight guy." While some writers have probably expanded a lot of people's thinking about these topics, others seem meant to reinforce perceived stereotypes held by an audience I'm guessing is thought to consist of adolescent and post-adolescent guys with strongly held notions of masculinity, femininity and heterosexual primacy.
posted by ltracey at 9:44 PM on March 10, 2002


Isaac was one of the sweetest people it was ever my pleasure to meet. He was a perfect gentleman and a perfect "dirty old man" and he could be both at the same time and be howling funny on top of it.

Bingo: I never saw any suggestion of homophobia on his part. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, one of the few places a straight person could meet and party with an [openly] gay person was in science fiction fandom. I never saw Isaac treat a gay fan any differently than he did a straight one, nor did I ever see him treat a gay writer any differently than he did a straight writer.

He flirted outrageously with any female he met, gay or straight, and all the lesbians I ever saw him put the make on seemed to appreciate his flirtations as much as the straight women did. He could even make Joanna Russ giggle.
posted by realjanetkagan at 10:02 PM on March 10, 2002


So the sideburns had nothing to do with it?
posted by pracowity at 11:02 PM on March 10, 2002


This hurts. When I lived in New York back in the 80s, I had the opportunity to see him twice. First was at an SF con at a grand, now-defunct hotel near Penn Station, where he was the featured speaker. Introduced to warm applause and welcome, began speaking generally about the sf community when from the back of the room came a yell, "Asimov -- you old fraud! You haven't written anything worth reading in ten years!" It was Harlan Ellison. Asimov still had the mike and insulted him back, asking security to take this heckler away, wondering how he even got himself admitted to a science fiction convention seeing as how he was mostly a television writer -- and so on.

Of course Harlan and Isaac were the fastest and oldest of friends, and this nuclear exchange was an act already ancient by the time I saw it, honed to a fine degree.

The other was a lunch hour in Midtown, about 49th & 2nd, right by the famous chess set on the building wall. I was walking back to work reading my freshly-purchased Cerebus and trying not to bump into anyone when I looked up, and there he was, potbelly and all stuck out with nary a thought to how ridiculous his gait appeared, marching straight at me double speed.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 PM on March 10, 2002


People are dead wrong when they say AIDS is just a gay disease, but it is predominently passed through anal sex and drug needles. CDC data demonstrates this rather concretely. Sorry to troll, but it annoys me when people use these rare cases to say "SEE, it affects EVERYONE". No, it is mostly linked to high risk behavior except for the brief window of time when transfusions were tainted.
posted by McBain at 11:15 PM on March 10, 2002


Bingo: "I remember something he said in one of them...talking about how it always disgusted him to see other men naked, and he quickly followed this fact up with something close to "Anyone who reads latent homosexuality into that statement can go straight to hell."
... I'm just saying that there's evidence to suggest that for whatever reason, he really disliked the idea of anyone thinking that he was gay."


I don't take his statement as homophobia. Asimov was a man who took speculative fiction very seriously, and examined cause & effect with rational logic. One cannot speculate on potential scientific discoveries of the future without contemplating humanity's response to such discovery. Therefore as a writer, Asimov became an observant scholar of the human condition.

To him, any human being assuming that someone with AIDS was automatically gay was as absurd as assuming because someone has cancer they're automatically a smoker. He probably wanted to go public with it, but knew how public opinion works all too well, and didn't want to be remembered in a way distorted with untruths.

In fact even now, after his death, there will be people out there who hear that Asimov died of AIDS and think "Ah-ha! I knew he was gay." Bastards.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:00 AM on March 11, 2002


You know, I am not fond of the idea of people thinking that I'm jewish. That doesn't make me an anti-semite.

Does it?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:09 AM on March 11, 2002


You know, I am not fond of the idea of people thinking that I'm black. That doesn't make me a racist.

Does it?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:10 AM on March 11, 2002


You know, I am not fond of the idea of people thinking that I'm disabled. That doesn't make me lame.

But if we don't get anti-discriminatory thinking, lame is what we are.

Ain't it?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:13 AM on March 11, 2002


The point being, that if there's no perception of wrongness/ inferiority/ taint/ attached to an attribute, then there can be no shame. I am of Irish extraction: if you thoght I looked Italian, why should I take offence? If my daughter's short haircut and and slim hips get her mistaken for a boy....


Anyways, back on topic: clearly a man of his time, a literary giant in the 2oth Century, and cut short by a dreadful disease in the year (1992) when HIV/AIDS had a straight/gay ratio of 1:2.5 in the UK.

(- no name calling)
posted by dash_slot- at 5:25 AM on March 11, 2002


We may never know the full story as Asimov may well have settled out of court and part of this settlement may have stipulated that he remain silent about the source of his infection, a common occurrence in that era when blood was not accurately tested.

"AIDS is just a gay disease, but it is predominantly passed through anal sex and drug needles."

Boy, that's an insular view of AIDS and AIDS transmission. It is now infecting heterosexual populations in greater numbers than ever before. The greatest statistical rise is among third-world countries such as South East Asia, Africa and The Far East. It's predominantly now a heterosexual disease.

"You know, I am not fond of the idea of people thinking that I'm gay. That doesn't make me a homophobe."

It doesn't bother me one whit if someone gets my sexuality wrong. How can you know anything about anyone's sexuality unless they tell you? I imagine that if I asked my gay friends if they were offended or even cared at all every time someone assumed that they were heterosexual they would laugh.

Nor do I care if people think I am black, Jewish, or disabled. Not a problem to me.

All I am saying is that I'm surprised that anyone is bothered by it at all. It seems like a trivial thing.
posted by lucien at 6:04 AM on March 11, 2002


lucien, you cropped one quote badly: what McBain wrote was People are dead wrong when they say AIDS is just a gay disease, but it is predominently passed through anal sex and drug needles.

That said, while North American cases do seem to be linked to certain types of behaviour, it seems as if AIDS has become an epidemic among the heterosexual population of Africa. This may be due to a more virulent strain or to some set of risky behaviours, or both.
posted by maudlin at 6:41 AM on March 11, 2002


I don't know that this story has any there, there. If Isaac died of AIDS, so what? He was taken too soon, in any case; that he died of AIDS matters little if at all. He is simply one more victim among millions affected by this terrible disease.
posted by mrmanley at 6:43 AM on March 11, 2002


I think it's worthwhile to discuss Asimov's cause of death because he could've helped numerous people by disclosing his condition. It's a tragedy when one of the most prolific authors in the world felt like he had to be silent on a subject, especially when the coverage of his disclosure could have awakened people to the risk and saved lives.

Back in 1983 when he contracted the disease, it was still a little-known disease to millions of people -- President Reagan hadn't even mentioned the word "AIDS" yet.
posted by rcade at 8:05 AM on March 11, 2002


lucein- That is grossly improper the way that you quoted my post. You cut out part of the sentence, totally distorting the meaning.
posted by McBain at 11:37 AM on March 11, 2002


>This may be due to a more virulent strain or to some set of risky behaviours, or both.

No, it is more likely because general health care is many times better in America. No one in America is walking around with open sores on their genitals because we go to the doctor right away if something is wrong. In Africa this is not the case.

And thanks for pointing out lucein's mistake.
posted by McBain at 11:42 AM on March 11, 2002


mcbain: general health care may be better in the US, but if you think no one is walking around with open sores on their genitals, you are most certainly mistaken. And there are quite a few who cannot see a doctor.ever.let alone once in a while.
posted by bittennails at 11:55 AM on March 11, 2002


We are talking in generalities. The incidence of people getting that sort of thing treated in America compared to Africa is far greater, hence transmission of HIV through heterosexual sex is much lower. Of course there are exceptions.
posted by McBain at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2002


You know, it just breaks my heart that Isaac Asimov died in general. The method of death isn't important. He was good at what he did, and he loved it, for which I am jealous of him.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:16 PM on March 11, 2002


"lucien, you cropped one quote badly"

Yes I did. My apologies. And my apology to McBain, who's post it was. I did respond to his post in its entirety, but didn't take enough care when cutting and pasting it.

McBain - "That is grossly improper the way that you quoted my post."

"grossly improper"(?) Do you really say that to yourself, every time you make a mistake at Metafilter, McBain?

"We are talking in generalities. "

We are? Good to know.

"Of course there are exceptions."

Is America the rule? I always assumed that the greater part, statistically, was the rule. I suppose that means that there are an awful lot of "exceptions". Whole countries full, in fact.

"You know, it just breaks my heart that Isaac Asimov died in general. The method of death isn't important. "

Well put.
posted by lucien at 12:44 AM on March 16, 2002


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