Was an Actor Nearly Denied Appearing in the Film Philadelphia Because of His HIV Status?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: An actor was almost denied appearing in the film Philadelphia because of his HIV status.

Ron Vawter does not have a very large role in the film, Philadelphia, but he has some key scenes (he plays a partner who acknowledges that he suspected/knew that Hanks’ character had AIDS and did nothing about it).

Vawter also appeared in Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme’s previous film, The Silence of the Lambs.

However, Vawter almost did not get the role in Philadelphia, and for a movie about a man being treated unfairly because of having AIDS, it was for an odd reason – it was because Vawter was HIV positive.

Because he was HIV positive, the insurance company for the film would not insure him, and because he was not insured, TriStar (the company that made the film) refused to cast him.

Demme, though, stood up for his choice, and insisted that he be included, not only because he was Demme’s choice, but because the irony of turning him down was just too much for Demme to live with. TriStar eventually backed down.

Vawter actually WOULD become ill right as filming began, but Demme actually re-scheduled the filming of the movie so as to give Vawter time to recover, which he did.

Sadly, Vawter was just too weakened from various treatments over the years, and in 1994, just a month or so after Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the film, Vawter suffered a fatal heart attack on a flight to New York from Switzerland.

All in all, of the 50 or so openly gay people cast in the film Philadelphia, at least 40 of them were dead by 1995.

That’s pretty damn tragic.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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