Read On: A health crisis hits home

Ray Richmond

I’m supposed to write a column right now, but as I type these words my brother Len is fighting for his life at home battling AIDS. It’s tough for me to think of a whole lot else. So please indulge me.

Len has never set foot in Burbank or Glendale as far as I know. He doesn’t drive despite having lived in Southern California his entire life — presently in Santa Monica. The Valley is too gauche for him. So are most things. Like sports. And heterosexuals. At least, most heterosexuals.

To call my brother an eccentric is way too tame. He’s an odd duck, but an entirely charming one. He will overshare what he did in bed last night as if he were describing what he ate for breakfast.

He came out of the closet as a gay man while still in his teens back in the late 1950s long before it was fashionable. But Len never hid, wearing his gayness like a golden ticket to a club of which he was defiantly proud to be a member. He was never ashamed of himself, and so neither was I of him.


This isn’t to say he and I were particularly close. Part of it is the 14-year age gap between us. I’ve also thought him childish and self-absorbed. He found me uptight and judgmental. But aside from a few flare-ups, we ultimately accepted each other’s foibles.

I’ve also respected Len’s chosen routine as much as I could someone for whom weed was the center of the universe, in all of its forms: smoked, squirted, sprayed, eaten. If he could figure out a way to ingest it through his hair follicles, he would.

But Len, 70, has been able to incorporate marijuana into his creative life in a way few others have. He wrote and directed a film documentary in 2011 called “What If Cannabis Cured Cancer,” which explored the idea that weed not only could relieve chemotherapy’s side effects but might actually rid the body of malignancy entirely.

A year ago, he also put out a CD of songs titled “Marijuana: The Musical.”


Besides being a jolly old stoner, Len’s always prided himself on working a supremely healthy lifestyle. He pops vitamins like candy corn and subscribes to every crackpot alternative medicine theory there is, tossing down everything from shark cartilage to colloidal silver as part of his regular regimen. No sugar. No doctors. No hospitals. No pharmaceuticals. It was natural or nothing, baby.

He also has practiced only the safest sex since shortly after the AIDS crisis exploded in the mid-1980s. But Len also never got tested for HIV. He didn’t want to know. As the decades passed, he figured since he was still alive, he’d dodged that particular bullet.

Then last fall, out of the blue, Len started to lose weight and energy. When he was down 30 pounds, he finally relented and went to a doctor. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma came the diagnosis. And then the same doctor thought it prudent to finally give him an HIV screening, just in case.


Then full-blown AIDS. Just like that.

That was less than a month ago.

The devastations and the ironies pile up. A man who fought to avoid doctors and drugs and hospitals his entire adult existence now endures invasive chemotherapy and dutifully swallows the HIV pill and antibiotics cocktail while plopped atop a bed from which he rarely rises.

He also struggles to fight off a rare, HIV-borne pneumonia. It’s the ‘80s all over again.


“How did this happen to me?” Len asks, his body failing him, his eyes uncomprehending.

I have no answers. But I still have plenty of hope. So does his doctor. So does Len. Because we know that AIDS need not be a death sentence any longer.

It’s amazing how quickly and completely those past resentments disappear when you see someone you care so deeply about gripped by such monumentally debilitating disease and despair.

I never told Len how much I loved him before. Lately, I tell him every day.

Six months from now, as we’re taking a vigorous walk together on the beach, I’ll show Len this column and make sure he knows it was my love that helped to bring him back. And he’ll laugh and tell me I’m full of it.

RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter