Elton John Celebrates Ryan White’s Legacy

In 1984, a young boy from Kokomo, Indiana was diagnosed with a strange and fatal disease. At the time, doctors and the community at large new little about this new disease, the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. Ryan White’s youth and innocence made him a national poster child for HIV/AIDS, as it began to spread across the country. After facing discrimination and eventually losing his battle against the newly discovered infliction, his legacy remains an important lesson about humanity and the mistakes people can make when they are ill-informed. Prior to his death on a trip to New York, Ryan stated that his favorite celebrity was Elton John, who later played at Ryan’s funeral. Now twenty years later, Elton John returns to Indiana for a benefit concert in honor of Ryan White’s life and legacy at Clowes Memorial Hall.

Ryan White acquired HIV/AIDS from a routine blood transfusion in treatment of his hemophilia. When he became sick in December of 1984, doctors predicted that he had only six months to live. Because AIDS was so poorly misunderstood at the time when White tried to return to his school in Kokomo, parents and teachers rallied against his attendance. The lengthy legal battle placed Ryan in the center of the media spotlight, proving that AIDS was not just a “gay” disease. White soon became a national celebrity for the media attention his brave fight against the Kokomo school system gave to the AIDS epidemic.

Ryan was seen with a number of celebrities including Elton John, Michael Jackson and Phil Donahue. Eventually an Indiana Department of Education officer ruled that the school must allow Ryan to return. Though by the time Ryan was infected scientist knew the disease was spread via blood and not transmittable through casual contact, as late as 1983 the American Medical Association had though the “evidence suggests household contact may transmit AIDS. When he finally did return to school for one day in February, ignorance and misinformation kept 151 of 360 enrolled students at home.

Though he was permitted to return, school officials insisted he use disposable utensils and a separate bathroom. Ryan was often unhappy and had few friends in the close minded community. Threats continued to plague him at school and in public. When a shot was fired through the White’s front window, they moved to Cicero, Indiana. White lived to experience his senior year in high school. He died in April of 1990 at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, one month before his graduation.

As a teenager, he became a national spokesman for AIDS. His work on educational campaigns and fundraising efforts helped many Americans to understand the truth about HIV/AIDS. His efforts are directly linked to the beginnings of the destigmatization of socializing with people with AIDS. White even spoke before President Reagan’s AIDS Commission, where he shared his experiences of discrimination in school and expressed the importance of AIDS education. Shortly after his death, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, the United States’ largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS.

His legacy live on in many ways, even today. His death catalysed a score of fundraising movements of both AIDS and Riley Children’s Hospital. His personal physician and close friend, Dr. Martin Kleiman, became the Ryan White Professor of AIDS at the Indiana University School of Medicine. His death also inspired Elton John to create the Elton John AIDS Foundation. John also donated proceeds from his Ryan White inspired song “The Last Song” to the Ryan White fund at the Riley Hospital. Both Michael Jackson and Tiffany wrote and dedicated songs to Ryan. And the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis opened “The Power of Children: Making a Difference” exhibit, which features White’s legacy.

Join Elton John for a special concert to remember White’s incredible legacy, Wednesday, April 28 at 8:00 pm. The concert takes place at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University. Tickets range from $150.00 to $500.00. All proceeds got to benefit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Special guests include Phil Donahue, Judith Light and Jeanne White-Ginder.

Before this Indianapolis music event head to the nearby Indianapolis cultural district, Broad Ripple Village for a bite to eat. Check out any of the many Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars waiting to satiate you. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City Finder.com for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis arts to Indianapolis sports and more! Get out in Indy and find some fun!

Greater Indianapolis performing arts venues

A Special Benefit Concert with Elton John
Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Ryan White
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Clowes Memorial Hall

4602 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208