AIDS activist and Lexington actor Michael Thompson dies

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By Linda B. Blackford, HERALD-LEADER

Michael Thompson, a Lexington actor and long-time survivor of AIDS who helped nourish thousands of Kentuckians with the same disease, died Monday. He was 51 and had been suffering from cancer.

Thompson founded Moveable Feast, which delivered hot meals to people in Central Kentucky suffering from HIV and AIDS, in 1998. He got the idea after nursing a destitute artist with AIDS who starved to death just a few blocks from Lexington’s city hall, said fellow activist and friend Robert Morgan.

The operation started in the basement of St. Augustine’s Church with one volunteer, Thompson himself. But thanks to his will and personality, it soon grew to an organization that still feeds 100 people a day. The group served its 100,000th meal just four years after it started.

“Michael was the driving force, he went after the grants, he went to churches to plead for money and drivers,” said Mary Ellen Slone, a volunteer who became a close friend of Thompson. “Moveable Feast would never had gotten off the ground if it were not for Michael Thompson; he gave his life and soul to it.”

A Harrodsburg native, Thompson was diagnosed with HIV soon after the first commercial tests were developed in the early 1980s. Over the years, he suffered many bouts of complications from the disease.

But that suffering turned him into a storehouse of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, which greatly helped his work with Moveable Feast, Morgan said. “People were starving to death with refrigerators of food because we didn’t understand wasting,” a symptom of AIDS, Morgan said. “It had to do with making the food nutritionally sound.”

Sometimes, Morgan said, Thompson also would advise Moveable Feast clients about other aspects of their disease and help them try to understand the often complicated medical regimens used to treat the disease.

Thompson also used his expertise to become a political force for HIV/AIDS prevention statewide, testifying numerous times at the Capitol in favor of research-based prevention methods. He served as chair of the Kentucky HIV Prevention Community Planning Group and was a member of AIDS Volunteers of Lexington’s Advisory Board and the Governor's Task Force on HIV/AIDS.

“He was a great advocate,” said state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington. “He brought some humanity to the issue. He was very strong but very diplomatic and reasonable.”

Scorsone also called Thompson “quite a presence on the stage.” Thompson had a varied career in Lexington theater, working with Actors’ Guild, Lexington Children’s Theatre, the ActOut Theatre Group, Studio Players, Lexington Shakespeare Festival and Woodford County Theatrical Arts Association. He was also founder of Wet Soup, an improvisational comedy troupe in Lexington, and was treasurer of the Imperial Court of Kentucky, a group of local female impersonators who raise money for Moveable Feast and other charities.

The magnetism that he exhibited on stage appeared in all facets of Thompson’s life, friends said.

“He was very funny and he just knew how to talk to people,” said Terry Mullins, the current director of Moveable Feast. “Everybody loved him; they’d follow him anywhere.”

The charisma used to keep HIV/AIDS on people’s minds will be greatly missed, said Richard Greenberg, an HIV researcher and physician at the University of Kentucky.

The epidemic is “still a very dynamic situation that could very quickly get out of hand if it was out of sight, out of mind,” Greenberg said. “Losing Michael will have a cost associated with it in terms of keeping HIV and AIDS in the eyes of the commonwealth.”

Greenberg said that Thompson’s long and often lonely fight against AIDS qualified him as a hero.

“I hope there will be people to pick up the gauntlet and follow it — we were very lucky to have a man like him in a community ... Hopefully he’s paved the way for others to pick up where he left off.”

For Morgan, Thompson’s legacy shows the results of a person who could talk — and listen — to many different people, then engage them in his fight.

“He was known and loved by rich businesspeople and prostitutes suffering from HIV and AIDS, and that’s a big gamut,” Morgan said. “To me, the important thing is that one person can make a big difference in the community.”

Thompson is survived by his partner, John Ridener; a sister, Cheryl Wilson of Harrodsburg, and two nephews. Arrangements are incomplete at W.R. Milward Mortuary-Broadway.

source Lexington Herald-Leader 

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on January 3, 2007 3:56 PM.

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