AIDS hit America rapidly in the 80s and it took a lot of lives, especially Black gay men. The AIDS virus can be transmitted in many ways, such as by sharing needles, unprotected sex, blood transfusions, and more. A lot of celebrities like Arthur Ashe, Eazy E, and Bobby Debarge have unfortunately succumbed to the AIDS virus. Check out 16 Black celebrities below you probably forgot or didn’t know died of AIDS.
Esteban De Jesus
Esteban De Jesus was born August 2, 1952 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was a former World Boxing Council lightweight champion from 1976 to 1978 in Puerto Rico. He is best known for knocking out Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran.
On Thanksgiving day in 1980 De Jesus injected himself with cocaine and then headed to a family gathering. Before he arrived he got into an argument with 18-year-old Roberto Cintron Gonzalez. De Jesus shot him in the head ending his life. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1981 to a life sentence for killing the teenager who died four days later.
De Jesus admitted to drugs publicly. He snorted cocaine and was shooting up speedballs of cocaine and heroin. According to a friend, De Jesus, his brother Enrique and friends shared syringes to shoot up heroin and cocaine
De Jesus said on “Pulso Preciso” a Puerto Rican news show. “You start with friends and you get so wrapped up with the drugs that before you know it, you’re hooked”. He also admitted to having AIDS.
De Jesus’s brother Enrique died of Aids in 1985 who he had shared needles with. Later that year De Jesus tested positive for AIDS and in 1989 De Jesus’s health got worse.
The parole board released De Jesus after nine years and he was sent to the Faith Home of the Americas a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and patients with AIDS. He only weighed 90 pounds.
He died of AIDS in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico at the Centro Medico hospital less than two months after being released from prison. He was only 37 years old.
2. Kenny Greene
Kenny Greene was a songwriter and lead singer of the 90s R&B group INTRO. INTRO had several hit songs like ‘Ribbon In The Sky, and ‘Come Inside’. Greene also was a songwriter who wrote hit songs like “Reminisce” and “Love No Limit” for Mary J Blige. In July 2001 Greene did an all-tell interview about his sexuality with Sister 2 Sister magazine, admitting he had the AIDS virus for years.
He said he was bi-sexual and had girlfriends but was intimate with men.
Allegedly, his male partner was the one who gave him AIDS but it was never confirmed. Greene ended up springing his ankle, and a ball came under his foot that swelled up to the size of a tennis ball. It’s called Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related disease. 3 Months after his interview with Sister 2 Sister Kenny Greene died on October 1, 2001, at 32 years young.
“Keep protecting yourself with condoms and don’t have unprotected sex”- Kenny Greene
3. Arthur Ashe
Arthur Ashe was the only African-American male to win a single title at the Wimbledon Championship Tennis Tournament and the U.S. and Australian Open. He was also the first African-American Tennis Player selected to play in America’s Davis Cup Team. In 1965, he won the individual NCAA championship.
After suffering a heart attack in the late 1970s and being hospitalized for 10 days, Ashe decided to retire from tennis in 1980 with 818 wins and 260 losses.
Following a second bypass surgery in the late 1980s, he received a blood transfusion in hopes of a speedy recovery.
Unfortunately, because of the blood transfusion, he contracted the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. In the early 1990s, Ashe held a press conference announcing that he had contracted the AIDS virus. He said he had known since Sept 1988. Sadly, on February 6, 1993, at 49, he died of AIDS. That same year he was pronounced Sportsman of the year by Sports Illustrated.
4. Howard Rollins
Howard Rollins was a Oscar nominated actor for his role in “Ragtime” and “A Soldier’s Story”. He was also best known for playing a detective from Philadelphia named Virgil Tibbs in the 90s hit show “In The Heat of The Night”.
The showed aired from 1998-1994. After the 92-93 season of “In the Heat of The Night” he was fired because of his drug issues. In 1992 Howard Rollins was sentenced to two days in jail and was fined $1,000 for driving under the influence of a tranquilizer. He licensed was also revoked.
In 1993 Rollins did a month in jail for driving under the influence and driving recklessly.
After several drug and alcohol-related arrests, his career ended with the TV series Heat of The Night. He was gay and a well-known drag queen in the gay community.
After several drug and alcohol-related arrests, his career ended with the TV series Heat of The Night. He was allegedly gay. Many who knew Rollins reported he lived a secret double life and often visited gay clubs cross-dressing as a woman.
Unfortunately, Rollins was found unconscious in his New York apartment with blood spilling from his nostrils and mouth. He later died in New York at the St. Luke Roosevelt Hospital. He died of lymphoma a symptom of the AIDS virus on Dec 8, 1996 at the age of 46. He allegedly wanted to get buried as a woman but was instead cremated.
5. Bobby DeBarge
Bobby De Barge got his first start singing for the group Hot Ice and the 70s r&b group Switch. In 1981 he left the group Switch and started to mentor his younger siblings. He then joined his brothers group DeBarge in 1986. After several albums in 1989 the group would break up after Bobby De Barge and Chico got incarcerated for drug related charges.
Unfortunately, while Bobby was incarcerated he learned he had contracted HIV. DeBarge had a heroin drug addiction which caused him to contract HIV. The DeBarge brother died of AIDS in August 16, 1995 at 39 years old in Rapids Grand, Michigan two weeks after his release of his last album “It’s Not Over”.
6. Wayne Cooper
Wayne Cooper is a writer, producer, and vocalist. He was a background singer for Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations and many other groups before he became a part of the band cameo as a lead and background singer. He was one of the members of the legendary group Cameo from 1977 to 1982. He sang as one of the leads on the song “Shake Your Pants” and “Why Have I Lost You”. He was well known for his unique high-pitch falsetto singing voice.
He allegedly was gay and died of A.I.D.S. but there are also rumors of him dying in a plane crash. In fact, we have confirmed none of the rumors. Cooper passed in 1984 at the young age of 29 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York. He was cremated.
7. Sylvester James
Sylvester James Jr. born Sept 6, 1947, is known as the “Queen of Disco” was a proud openly gay flamboyant, disco singer in the 70s and 80s. He was from Watts projects in Los Angeles, California. He wore drag costumes and took over disco when it was at its height. His genres also included rhythm and blues, and soul.
He is well-known for his soprano, falsetto voice and outlandish appearance. He started the Cockettes, and five of his songs became gold record hits. He had a platinum hit “Dance (Disco Heat) ” that sold over 1 million records in 1978. His music and fashion style influenced The Pointer Sisters and even Bette Midler.
James died in 1988 from complications of the AIDS virus at 41. Mostly, he left all his future royalties to the San Francisco AIDS/HIV organization.
8. Alan Wiggins
Alan Wiggins was from Los Angeles, California, and was a professional baseball player for the San Diego Padres. He had a habit of doing hard drugs and got AIDS. Because of his drug addiction, he was arrested several times and suspended from playing baseball. He died on January 6, 1991, at 32. He was one of the first baseball players known to die of AIDS.
His daughter Candice Wiggins now plays in the WNBA and his son Alan Jr. is a professional basketball player.
9. Chad Kinch
Chad Kinch was a professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Dallas Mavericks in the early ’80s. He was the number one draft pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also played in the final four for North Carolina – Charlotte in 1977. He became the schools third leading career scorer. His position was the point guard and shooting guard.
He played in 29 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 1981. He played in 12 games with the Mavericks and never played again. Unfortunately, under hospice care he died of AIDS complications at the age of 35 years old in 1994 at his parents home in New Jersey. He was survived by his wife and son.
Sadly, Chad Kinch had also lost a brother 16 years prior to his death named Ray Kinch who was a Rutgers football player who lost his life in a fire.
10. Charlie Barnett
Charlie Barnett was a comedian and actor from West Virginia born on September 23, 1954. Instantly he made a name for himself in the late 1970s and early 1980s while performing comedy acts in Washington Square Park in New York. He worked his way up to acting in movies like DC Cab in 1983 and he had a recurring role in Miami vice from 1984 to 1987. He starred in other movies throughout his career but unfortunately, drugs would be Barnett’s downfall.
Sadly, he contracted HIV through his use of drugs and heroin. He was only 41 years old when he died on March 16, 1996, because of AIDS in Flushing, New York. Dave Chapelle said Barnett was the greatest.
Esquerita whose actual name is Eskew Reeder Jr. Esquerita was an incredible pianist, R&B singer, and songwriter from South Carolina. He is well-known for influencing Rock’ n Roll legend, Little Richard. Some say Esquerita is the true originator of Rock’ n’ Roll.
Right before his death, someone rumored he was washing car windows for tips in Brooklyn. Soon after he died of AIDS on October 23, 1986.
12. Essex Hemphill
Essex Hemphill was born April 16, 1957 in Chicago Illinois. He was a poet and essayist who did spoken word at universities, bookstores, clubs, museums and other venues like the Kennedy Center For Performing Arts. Hemphill was from Chicago but raised in Washington, D.C. Most people knew of Hemphill for being an openly gay poet and activist.
He was educated at the University of Maryland. Essex wrote about identities, and race especially pertaining to the African-American gay community. Essex wrote the book “Ceremonies” and he also edited the book Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men which was a 1992 Lambda Award winner.
In 1994 he talks about his experience with AIDS in his writing ‘Vital Signs’. He later died on November 4, 1995, at 38.
AIDS activist David Acosta said in 1995 that Hemphill was “one of the most important voices of the last decade”.
13. Eazy E
Eazy E or Eric Wright was 1/3 member of the gangsta rap group N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitudes). He is one of the most well-known celebrities to have died of AIDS, but there is suspicion surrounding how he got the AIDS virus.
A week after revealing he had contracted AIDS, on March 26th, 1995, he shockingly died from the AIDS virus. Speculations of how he contracted AIDS are still unknown and some, including members of Bone Thugs and Harmony and Wright’s daughter Ebie Wright, believe that after a motorcycle accident someone injected him with HIV.
Rapper Frost, the first Latino to get signed to Ruthless Records, also believes after Wright got hurt riding quads in Honda Valley, Ca that tainted needles were used for his acupuncture treatments after his accident. Young Eazy or Marquis Wright, Eazy’s son, believes that the President of Death Row Records Suge Knight played a role in Eazy-E’s death following an interview that he did with Jimmy Kimmel saying, quote;
“Technology is so high. So, if you shoot someone, kids, you don’t want to go to jail forever. They got this new thing out, people sell them all the time. They get blood from someone with A.I.D.S. and shoot you with it. That’s a slow death. And Eazy-E thing, you know what I mean.”
14. Fela Kuti
Fela Ankiulapo Kuti was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1938. He was an African activist, singer, songwriter, composer, and was a saxophone player. He was known as the father of Afro-Beat, which is a mix of Yoruba, Jazz, and Funk in the 50s till the mid-90’s.
During his music career, he traveled to England where he attended The Trinity College of Music. He also lived in the United States, where he became interested in civil rights and politics. Kuti was known for his flamboyant personality and was outspoken recording songs criticizing Nigeria’s own political, military authorities. Even urging young Nigerians to get more politically involved. In 1977, it is said that Nigerians troops burned down his home in Lagos, Nigeria.
On August 3rd, Kuti’s brother, a former Minister & Doctor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti shared with the world that 58 year old, Fela had died. In a news conference, he had confirmed his brother died of heart failure caused by the AIDS virus.
He recorded over 50 albums and was very popular in his continent. His best selling records were, Army Arrangement and Vagabond in Power. He had 27 wives at the time of his death.
15. Jermaine Stewart
William Jermaine Stewart was born September 7, 1957 in Columbus, Ohio. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1972 and Stewart started his career by dancing on the Chicago Soul Train show. From there he rose into an instant star. Stewart became a soul/pop singer in the late ’80s.
He is best known for his hit songs “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” and “The Word Is Out”. He was also a background singer for the legendary trio group Shalamar. They had the hit song ‘This Is For The Lover In You’. Unfortunately, Stewart died on March 17, 1997, at 39 in Chicago because of AIDS complications.
16. David Cole
David Cole was the co-founder and creative team behind the legendary 90s group C+C Music Factory. CC Music Factory had hit songs like “Gonna Make You Make Sweat” and “Here We Go Let’s Rock & Roll”. He was also a songwriter and record producer. Cole was a Grammy Award winner for his work on the “Bodyguard” soundtrack. He produced and remixed dance songs for Natalie Cole, Janet Jackson, Luther Vandross and Grace Jones.
Unfortunately, Cole died of spinal Meningitis from complications from the AIDS virus on January 24, 1995, at the young age of 32. He had been sick since the middle of 1994. Mariah Carey released ‘One Sweet Day’ in memory of David Cole.
Cole sang in the church choir as a boy and eventually moved to New York and became a well-known DJ before forming C+C Music factory.