How did Freddie Mercury contracted AIDS?

Reposted from Quora

Dave Setchell
Dave Setchell, former Programmer 
Originally Answered: Who gave Freddie Mercury AIDS?

Question: “Who gave Freddie Mercury AIDS?”


No one gave him AIDS per se. He was infected with HIV, or GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency) as it was known in the early days.

I personally think – from reading a lot of information on the timeline of HIV/AIDS in general, and in New York, and San Francisco, as well as reading about Freddie’s life, and watching several documentaries on the subject, all of which had interviews with his friends, their friends, their families, etc., and people who worked with him – that Freddie was infected in the mid to late 70’s tbh – Essentially on his first visit (or second) visit to New York, which was the epicentre of the GRID (as it was known then) epidemic.

By 1982 he was starting to show – as another answer rightly says – symptoms of being infected already, and by 1984 he had the first appearance of possible KS (Kaposi Sarcoma) on his body, which he thought was bruising to start with, until more started to appear on his body and face – hence the thicker makeup, and later covering of his legs, and areas where they were.

He wasn’t officially diagnosed with AIDS (not HIV) until 87 – so they say, but band members and friends have said that he had mentioned that he wasn’t well long before, and that he had a good idea that he was not very well. Even back when without meds it was possible to live for more than 10 years HIV positive before starting to rapidly deteriorate from AIDS. The average time period was between 5 and 11 years of being HIV+ before succumbing to AIDS. There were very rare cases of people having super aggressive infections and going from being freshly infected with HIV to full blown AIDS in a matter of 5 years, but this was the exception, not the rule, and doesn’t appear to be the case in Freddie’s case.

He was worried about being infected with GRID (HIV) when it was first mentioned in the press, and it was known to be infecting approx. three thousand gay men every year in New York alone. This was when he stopped partying so much, and tried to settle down more. However, when more and more people who he had slept with in the early years – 1975 to 1979 – started to show up as infected, dying, or dead; he began to worry more and apparently kept switching his mind from “I’ve got it…seems we have all got it…So there is no point changing…” to a mindset of “Maybe I’ve been lucky, and I’m just worrying over nothing, but and I should continue to be careful for myself and others.”

The early tests he went for were very unreliable and Drs told him he would need LOTS of tests, and then the Dr would basically ‘guess’ based on how many of the tests had the same result. e.g – “4 said positive, but 6 said negative, so you ‘might’ be negative.” He decided to give up on tests until they were more accurate. Long before his apparent 87 diagnosis with AIDS he was having secret treatments of radiation therapy at 5am at his local hospital – to treat the Kaposi Sarcoma. Which he soon gave up as he was worried he would be recognised, and have to explain himself. 
He then began taking the drug AZT, the first AIDS treatment in early 1987, which is when his face started to look a little fuller/bloated/bigger – a side effect of the drug. He stopped taking the AZT after it stopped working as well, and the side effects of it he was suffering outweighed the benefit of taking it, and instead stuck to just taking painkillers.

Three of his close friends who he partied hard with in the New York club scene all became infected, and started to get sick and die by 1980. They had slept with each other and shared lovers, so he was worried about being afflicted with this disease way back then. Remember back then they thought GRID (as it was known) was a cancer that only affected gay men – they didn’t know it was an infectious virus.

As to ‘who’ infected him with HIV (not AIDS), most probably there were several people who exposed him to the virus over the years, and he may well have been re-exposed to the virus more than once by the same person/people. 
That’s another thing that can affect how long it takes someone to develop full blown AIDS. Someone exposed to a tiny amount of infected body fluid ‘once’, will take longer (assuming they have a healthy body and lifestyle, and good genetics) to develop full blown AIDS than someone who is constantly being exposed to infected body fluids from various people who are at various stages of infection. The bigger the virus load in the body the quicker, and more aggressively it ‘may’ attack the host.

Having unprotected sex with someone ‘once’ who is HIV+ doesn’t always mean the other person will then get infected. The chances of being infected with HIV from someone who was themselves newly infected, or in early stage HIV back in the early 80’s was approx 500 to 1 (for vaginal heterosexual sex).
These odds changed dramatically once the HIV virus has worked its way into the body, and the odds of a healthy person being infected after having sex ‘once’ with someone who is in late stage HIV, or early onset AIDS – and thus has a much higher virus load in their body – became a 1 in 10 chance of being infected

Personally, from what I’ve read he was showing symptoms of early AIDS by 1984/early 85, that being Kaposi Sarcoma which he had on his leg, a small amount on his arm, and eventually was visible on his face – hence the thick make up in the videos for the Magic albums videos, and performances. That’s when he admitted to many close to him he had AIDS, even though they admitted they had suspected for several years at that point. His manager had also known longer than the band, and suspected he was sick long before he was told – which was well before 87. 

For him to have full blown AIDS by 1987, and with average HIV incubation period it means he could have been infected as far back as 1976–1978. If we take the shortest incubation period of 5 years, then it takes us to 1982 he was infected. 
However, if we go from the date that the first symptoms of AIDS (not HIV) infection were apparently noticed by Freddie, and others around him – which was certainly by 85 with a visible KS spots on his body, and the earlier marks seen on him in 84 which he had put down to being bruises, it means he was early onset AIDS by 84/85.
The shortest of the ‘average’ time to go from HIV infection to developing full blown AIDS, and you have 1980 as infection date. Take the longer of the average and you can go back to around 1974 – which was in fact the year he had his first encounter with a man while on tour in the US. From them to 1976 his relationship with Mary Austin became strained, as he was struggling to suppress his attraction to men. Upon returning from a tour in 1976 he told Mary that he thought he was bisexual. Mary herself has said that their relationship had been different for the last 18 months to 2 years (1974–1976), and they split the same year. After which Freddie began to spend more time in New York and explore that side of his sexuality having numerous one night stands with men, as well as with some women.

As an aside: It’s interesting to note that he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody around the time he had his first same sex encounter(s) while still with Mary. If you listen to/read the lyrics it’s easy to draw the same conclusion that his gay friends, and his manager did – that it was his coming out song, and the lyrics referenced him killing his old self, the one that had it all – the bright future with a woman he loved, a conventional life – for a ‘Bohemian’ (meaning unconventional) lifestyle, and his inner struggle with it (“Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me” – he went to a Church of England boarding school, and was born into a Parsi Zoroastrian faith family).

But I digress.

We know New York was the epicentre of the HIV epidemic, and we know Freddie was starting to hit the gay bars in New York during his early visits to the US as he found the freedom to explore that side of himself there. Mapping Freddie’s travels to New York gives a good ballpark area for an infection period.

So for me, the one thing that is almost 100% certain is that is he was infected in New York during one of his early visits to the US , as its when he first started to have one night stands with men in the very active gay scene there. Then you need to look into ‘who’ he was hanging around with back then, and what they were doing – partying hard, and sharing lovers. 

He was hanging around with a Russian called Nicolai at this time, who was ‘very’ promiscuous and who would later go on to die from – apparently -the same strain of HIV/AIDS as Kenny Everett. Kenny and Freddie both slept with Nicolai, and shared several lovers with each other, and Nicolai; although Kenny and Freddie never slept together- apparently. 
Kenny’s wife said in an interview that she thought Nicolai would be the death of Kenny, and Freddie. She said Nicolai was a very bad influence on both Freddie and Kenny.
More of this part of Freddie’s life can be gleaned from the story of Kenny Everett, and his own struggle with his sexuality at this time, and the friendship he had with Freddie. As well as the looking at the people they shared as lovers and what happened to those lovers.(All of those early friends died long before Freddie and Kenny).

People have tried to say that Freddie couldn’t have been infected so far back because Mary Austin wasn’t infected. However, as I mentioned earlier Freddie was always away on tour, and not long after getting back from touring in 1976 he told Mary he thought he was Bisexual, and their sexual relationship ended. So they may well have not been intimate with each other with each other towards the end of their relationship.

EDIT: Please remember I did not ‘ask’ this question. I simply answered it with information I have gotten from being alive at the time, and as I was worried I too would die from it I read everything I could on the subject of AIDS, and later HIV when it was named as being the cause of AIDS in 1986. Also from watching many documentaries, and reading many books on Freddie Mercury and the history of GRID/AIDS, and the medical community’s response to it, and how they dealt with it etc.

For more information on why I think the illness he had prior/on Queens appearance on SNL in 1982, and his seeing a Dr. for hairy leukoplakia at that time isn’t Freddie’s initial infection date please see my comment in response to Victor Motas below.

There is more information in my comments below in reply to James Fuller too, if anyone is interested. (Who incidentally made a very good good point in his comment, which I wholeheartedly agree with.)

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