Elton John would give up everything to have a conversation with the boy he credits with saving his life, a letter reveals.
The gay singer has said that he was able to beat his drug addiction in the 1980s because of Ryan White, who died aged 18 of AIDS in 1990.
White was diagnosed with the disease aged 13, after receiving treatment for haemophilia. He was expelled from school and suffered discrimination but became a national spokesman for those living with the disease.
John recently recalled reading about White’s suffering in a magazine and became friends with the boy and his family. He was present for White’s final week and sang at his funeral.
After White’s death, he set up the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
In the letter, published in the Washington Post, he wrote: “Dear Ryan. Twenty years ago this month, you died of AIDS. I would gladly give my fame and fortune if only I could have one more conversation with you, the friend who changed my life as well as the lives of millions living with HIV. Instead, I have written you this letter.”
He went on to pay tribute to the teenager for changing perceptions of the disease and reminding “America that all victims of AIDS are innocent”.
John wrote: “When you became a celebrity, you embraced the opportunity to educate the nation about the AIDS epidemic, even though your only wish was to live an ordinary life.
“Ryan, I wish you could know how much the world has changed since 1990, and how much you changed it.”
However, John wrote that his friend would be saddened and frustrated by some issues, such as the high death rates for African Americans and the vast numbers thought to be unaware they are HIV-positive.
The singer concluded his letter: “I miss you so very much, Ryan. I was by your side when you died at Riley Hospital. You’ve been with me every day since. You inspired me to change my life and carry on your work.
“Because of you, I’m still in the struggle against AIDS, 20 years later. I pledge to not rest until we achieve the compassion for which you so bravely and beautifully fought.”
John is to play a concert in memory of White next week in Indiana.
He told Parade magazine recently: “Every time I stopped taking drugs, after a period of time I’d go back. It got worse and worse… What finally opened my eyes was Ryan White.
“I read in a magazine that Ryan was not allowed to go to school because he had AIDS. Firebombs were being put in his family’s letter box. I was enraged. I helped the White family move. I spent the last week of Ryan’s life in 1990 with him in an Indianapolis hospital.
“There was something wonderful in this family – they were losing their son, yet they were still able to forgive the hatred of others. I thought, ‘Look at me. I have everything I want, and I complain about a hotel room because I don’t like the wallpaper? What happened to me? I was a nice, decent boy, and now I’m a self-obsessed drug addict.’ So I got sober.”
To read the full letter, click here