The singer paid tribute to Ryan White, a boy who changed his life as well as those of millions of others with AIDS, through his story.
Twenty years after his friend died due to AIDS, Elton John penned a heartfelt letter in memory of his friend Ryan. The note is an ode to Ryan's life's work in spreading awareness about AIDS as well as a continued need to put in work to prevent and treat the disease. In December of 1984, Ryan White was given six months to live after contracting AIDS due to receiving a contaminated blood transfusion for his hemophilia. He had lived with this blood condition since birth. By June 1985, Ryan was keen on going back to school and resuming a life as normal as possible. But people were scared due to a lack of information about the virus and the school authorities had to deny White's request to return because of petitions signed by teachers and parents. Ignorance and misinformation were rampant about the disease at the time. So before White died in 1990, he had returned to a normal education and spent his life speaking about his disease and spreading awareness about it through television. He became a beacon of hope for people with AIDS across the country.
Elton John, who was by White's bedside when he died, wrote a letter after twenty years saying that he missed him a lot and would give all his fame and money to have one more conversation with him. White was a friend who changed the singer's life and that of millions of others living with HIV. The singer remembers that when he first met White, he was a young boy suffering from a terrible disease, but he carried himself with incredible grace. He never blamed anyone for his disease or for being tormented or shunned by people because of it. He also shared that when White was shunned by parents and teachers and expelled from the school, he did not respond with hate but with wise words, saying that those people were just scared of something that they didn't know about.
In the letter, Elton John writes touching words that say, "When the media heralded you as an 'innocent victim' because you had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, you rejected that label and stood in solidarity with thousands of HIV-positive women and men. You reminded America that all victims of AIDS are innocent," showing the depth of understanding the boy had. White became a celebrity and used it to tell his story, but according to John, he wanted nothing more than to live a normal life. The singer wished that he could tell his friend how the world had changed since his death and how much he had helped change it. Young boys and girls could go to school and lead normal lives with medicine. Almost no one is born with it or gets it through blood transfusions. The society doesn't tolerate the shunning of people with AIDS either.
In 1981 when the first case of AIDS was diagnosed, there was no hope for a cure. But we now have the tools to end AIDS once and for all. Sadly, growing levels of stigma & marginalization prevent us from making this a reality.— Elton John AIDS Foundation (@ejaf) January 3, 2024
On the flip side, he also highlighted that "it would sadden you that today, in certain parts of the United States, some poor people with AIDS are still placed on waiting lists to receive treatment. It would anger you that your government is still not doing enough to help vulnerable people with HIV and populations that are at high risk of contracting the virus, including sexually active teenagers. It would upset you that AIDS is a leading cause of death among African Americans. It would frustrate you that even though hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive Americans are receiving treatment in your name, more than 200,000 don’t know their HIV-positive status, largely because a lingering stigma surrounding the disease prevents them from being tested." Elton John is working towards taking his friend's message of awareness and compassion even today and promised through the letter that he would do it throughout his life. Elton John launched Elton John's AIDS Foundation after getting inspired by his friend's story.