Joel Weisman: Physician who alerted the world to the Aids virus

Dr Joel D Weisman, a brilliant and compassionate general practitioner and pioneer in HIV/Aids care and research, died at his home in Los Angeles, California on 18 July. He was 66. He had been suffering from heart disease and was being looked after by his partner of 17 years, the singer and actor Bill Hutton.

In 1978 in North Hollywood, Weisman had been noticing some vexing symptoms in some patients – skin cancers that would normally afflict an older age group, and some patients with swollen lymph glands, often an indication of lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the immune system. In 1980, after Weisman expanded his practice in Sherman Oaks with Dr Eugene Rogolsky, alarm bells started to ring when he observed that several gay male patients of his had similar symptoms of pneumonia, as well as serious ailments ranging from persistent diarrhoea and fungal infections to low white blood cell counts.

In 1981 Weisman was put in touch with the immunologist Dr Michael Gottlieb at UCLA Medical Centre, who also had a patient with similarly unusual symptoms. The two doctors collated their observations and came to the conclusion that something not seen before was happening. They wrote the seminal report that signalled the official start of the Aids epidemic and which sounded an alarm which was heard around the world. Aids deaths in the US rose exponentially, from 618 in 1982 to almost 90,000 by the end of the decade. By 2002, the death toll, still climbing, passed 500,000.

"I had a feeling that what this represented was the tip of the iceberg," Weisman told the Washington Post two decades later in 2001. "My sense was that these people were sick and we had a lot of people that were potentially right behind them."

On top of these early referral cases, the journalist and author Randy Shilts noted in his Aids chronicle And the Band Played On (1987), "another 20 men had appeared at Weisman's office that year with strange abnormalities of their lymph nodes" – the very condition that had triggered the spiral of ailments besetting Weisman and Rogolsky's original, very sick patients.

Weisman pressed for services for people with HIV and Aids as founding chairman of Aids Project Los Angeles in 1983. He advocated for research dollars as an original board member of amfAR, which was formed in 1985, and served as its chairman from 1988 to 1992.

Described by Shilts as "the dean of Southern California gay doctors", Weisman was loved and respected by patients and colleagues alike. He continued to see patients, building his partnership with Rogolsky at what is now Sherman Oaks Hospital and Health Center, one of the largest private practices in Southern California for the treatment of Aids and HIV.

As soon as he became convinced that Aids was sexually transmitted, Weisman began to urge patients to change their sexual behaviour. But during the early years of the crisis, his warnings were too often ignored. "I couldn't even make some of my friends listen, and they're dead now and that's disconcerting," he told The New York Times in 1988. Among the casualties was his partner of 10 years, Timothy Bogue, who died in 1991.

Battling the epidemic on the front lines "made me look at issues of death and dying in a very different way," he said in 1988. "What makes somebody a good physician in this situation? Is it just winning? Keeping people alive? If I looked at every death as a defeat, I would not be able to continue." In 1997, he stepped away from the front line, just as new drug cocktails were extending the lives of Aids patients.

In 2000, he moved to upstate New York, where he ran an inn with Hutton. They returned to Southern California five years ago where he remained an active ambassador for Aids Project Los Angeles until illness overtook him this year.

My wife and I got to know Joel in 1993 when he walked into The Redfern Gallery and bought several paintings of mine for his beach house in Malibu. He and Bill also made a studio visit to the East End of London, when, much to my dealer's annoyance, I refused to part with a painting they liked which I didn't think was good enough.

This episode cemented a bond between us and we were asked to stay in their beautiful modernist house in Beverly Hills. For a youngish artist it was an intoxicating experience. Joel became like an uncle and over the next 15 years his passion for the theatre meant that he would come and visit and regularly take us and our children to plays and musicals in the West End, some of which he had part funded.

In addition to Bill Hutton, Joel Weisman is survived by his brother Mark, his daughter Stacey Weisman-Bogue Foster, his granddaughter, and two nieces. He was a wonderful man.

Joel Weisman, physician and advocate for Aids research: born Newark, New Jersey 20 February 1943; died Los Angeles, California 18 July 2009.

Suggested Topics
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

SAP HCM/PAYROLL CONSULTANT

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP HCM/PAYROLL...

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £52000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Excellent oppor...

SAP GRC/SECURITY CONSULTANT

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP GRC/SECURIT...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game