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13 Random Victims of an Indiscriminate Killer--AIDS : Some of the Stories Behind the Death Toll Include a Businessman, Wife and Mother, Former Priest, Child and Ballet Dancer

May 24, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

"We lost all our friends," she said. "They dropped us like a hot potato. I guess they couldn't deal with it. AIDS back then was so new. Only my sister-in-law and my girlfriend hung in with me. And the kids, they were very supportive and understanding. But there was nobody to help us. I had to go to the gay community for help, to Shanti and Aids Project Los Angeles, and neither turned me away."

After Don Reynolds died, and his family publicly admitted he succumbed to AIDS, they found four separate notes in their mailbox saying things like "People like you shouldn't live around normal people" and "Why don't you move away from this neighborhood?"

A week later, son John, now 19, found the family dog poisoned and rushed him to the vet. "He was able to save him," his mother said. "But we found a new home for him. Then I put a note on the mailbox that said, 'We can handle prejudices against our family, but it is inhumane to take it out on our dog.' Some neighbors came and said they hoped we didn't think they were the ones who did that."

Pat Reynolds said she suffered severe depression after her husband's death, and eventually entered therapy. She still attends individual and group sessions weekly. But she credits much of her emotional recovery to her performance in the play "AIDS/US," which was presented last year at the Skylight Theater in Hollywood. Her daughter, Vicky, 20, also appeared in the production.

A 'Minor' Mastectomy

"During the play run, I had to have a mastectomy," said Pat Reynolds. "But I only missed one performance. The mastectomy seemed such a minor thing after all the things to deal with AIDS."

The play featured 13 Los Angeles area residents--some with AIDS, others bereaved like Reynolds--telling their own stories.

Of those 13, five have died of the disease: Lyn Hilton, 41, a record industry executive; Steve Tracy, 33, an actor best known for his portrayal of Percival Dalton in "Little House on the Prairie"; Jerry Minor, a black female impersonator in his 30s; Andrew Hiatt, 35, an airline flight attendant; and Don Staiton, 50, a dancer and singer.

"We were all so close doing the play," said Reynolds. "But when Lyn (Hilton) died, it seemed to be a break in the magic circle. It seemed to break the faith. An actress took her place, but it just wasn't the same anymore.

"I'll tell you what," Reynolds said. "People better change their attitudes about AIDS. This disease is not going away, and people better start dealing with the reality of it. People don't realize how many heterosexual families have had to deal with it already. . . .

"We were a normal family in all respects and, if it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody. I ache for the pain they are going to have to go through because they won't face facts and deal with this disease."

JAVIER VASQUEZ

Javier Vasquez and Arturo Olivas had been living together only eight months when Vasquez was diagnosed with AIDS. Not only was the news a terrible shock to the two men, but also to Vasquez's former wife and children, and his friends in Belleville, Ill., where he served as a brother in a Franciscan order of the Catholic church for four years.

Vasquez left the priesthood in the late '70s to marry Sue, a former nun. The couple had three children.

Vasquez visited his wife and children in the Midwest twice during his illness. He died Sept. 7, 1986, shortly after his 37th birthday. His children were barred from their school until they and their mother took the HTLV-3 virus test.

"When Javier was diagnosed, that's when AIDS became my life," said Olivas who now works with AIDS patients at the Hollywood Sunset Community Clinic and recently received a state grant of $47,000 to start an AIDS project in the Latino community.

"Latinos are still not mobilized against AIDS. And the church isn't doing much either," said Olivas. "Before he died, Javier talked a lot about gay life inside the seminary. He was worried about AIDS there.

"And with Latinos, it's also a cultural thing," Olivas said. "There's such a stigma about being gay. . . . It's so taboo the Latinos say, 'It's our secret. And we'll have to die with that secret.' "

JAY PHILLIPS

Joan Gordon, who runs Newspace Gallery on Melrose Avenue, gave young artist/sculptor Jay Phillips his first showing in 1979.

"He was in graduate school at Claremont and working part time in a gallery around the corner," Gordon said. "He comes in and sits here on his lunch hour every single day. One day he says, 'I'm a painter, you know. Why don't I just bring in my work?'

"The next day, he walks in, takes down everything I have and puts up his work. He was doing paper paintings then. And he was handsome as could be. Very elegant, beautiful bone structure. He had unusual confidence in himself and a presence about him."

Gordon said she was so impressed with Phillips and his work, she scheduled a show.

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