Leading Article: Suffering in public

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The Independent Online
MAURICE COLE is HIV positive. So is William Johnson. This is undoubtedly distressing for them and for their friends and families, but it is hardly, in 1993, remarkable to the rest of us. Except that Maurice Cole is Kenny Everett and William Johnson is Holly Johnson, of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Because these men are famous, their misfortune has made the newspapers. Public figures live in the limelight and so, some would say, they must die in the limelight. Anything that happens to them - burglary, divorce, HIV - is deemed to be news. They may not like it, but it is the life they have chosen.

There is another view, which suggests that public figures carrying the HIV virus have an obligation to make their condition public. By being open about Aids, they have the power to dispel ignorance and to bring the young who admire them to a greater awareness of the danger of unprotected sex. By remaining silent, they may give an impression of furtiveness and shame. These are both stern attitudes. People confronting any disease that is usually fatal, whether or not they are disc jockeys or singers, are surely entitled to do so in conditions of their own choosing.

The experiences of Kenny Everett and Holly Johnson in the past week have been different. Everett was 'outed' in speculative press reports which he was ultimately obliged to confirm, while Johnson chose to volunteer the state of his health in a formal interview. Both men deserve credit for their dignified behaviour. At a time of great difficulty and pain, when they might reasonably expect some privacy, they have gone some way to meet the demands of the media (and the public) for personal disclosure. What they do not deserve is to be put in the public stocks erected by those who say that they have only themselves to blame.