While being an openly gay actor throughout the Seventies was indeed a manifestation of activism, it was the AIDS crisis that fueled Michael’s political instincts. While attaching himself as an actor and director to numerous projects “that mattered,” he says, it was the degree of rage that resulted in his articulate responses concerning the bigger political issues—specifically questions concerning AIDS in Hollywood—that foreshadowed a dramatic cultural turning point. When Rock Hudson died, Kearns was interviewed for a number of news outlets, including Nightline. He did not hold back.

Michael with LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl
Michael and LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

When Brad Davis, another accomplished Hollywood actor, died of AIDS six years later, Michael appeared on NBC’s A Closer Look and chose to come out as HIV-positive, activating the controversy, casting a light on Hollywood’s insidious homophobia and AIDSphobia. That appearance was outdone the following night by the lead story on Entertainment Tonight which forever merged Kearns’ reputation as the first openly gay, publicly HIV-positive actor in Hollywood with his newfound spokesperson identity as someone determined to break through the barriers that have perpetuated homophobia at all levels within the entertainment industry for decades.

Activism equals leadership which Michael has proven throughout his career, beginning with the creation of two organizations in the early Eighties that he co-founded with his artistic partner, James Carroll Pickett: Artists Confronting AIDS (which Michael served as Artistic Director for ten years) and S.T.A.G.E. (the Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event), the longest running AIDS benefit on record which raised over $5 million during its thirty-three year run.

Most recently, Michael founded QueerWise, an artistic-activist Spoken Word collective entering their eleventh heralded year. In 2022, he oversaw the conjoining of QueerWise with the Purple Circuit. 

QueerWise at the Silver Lake Library
QueerWise at the Silver Lake Library
QueerWise Group
QueerWise Group
Michael Kearns with John Rechy
Michael with John Rechy

Video Interviews and Podcasts

Silverlake Historical Committee Interview – Part 1
Silverlake Historical Committee Interview – Part 2
Podcast (2022) with Steven Leigh Morris
White: A provacative poem by Michael Kearns
Mae & Me: My Time With Mae West


Washington Blade article:

Michael Kearns, the godfather of LGBTQ authenticity