HIV and AIDS have been back in the news the last few days, for a fairly hideous reason. So we’d like to shift the conversation a little and highlight one of many who lived courageously with the disease. For today’s Track Down Tuesday, we’re taking a look at Tom Villard.

TOM VILLARD’S CAREER

Tom Villard

You might not immediately recognize his name, but his face will probably ring some bells if you saw pretty much ANY movie in the 1980s, particularly One Crazy Summer. Tom was born in Waipahu, Hawaii and grew up in Spencerport, New York. He attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, before moving to New York City to attend the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in the early 1970s. In 1980, Villard moved to Los Angeles and his acting career began with bit parts on shows like CHiPs and Taxi. (And he played “Greaser 2” in the vastly underrated Grease 2. It’s practically the title role.) In 1983, he got his first leading role in a sitcom called We Got It Made, starring alongside Matt McCoy (who can be seen on the most recent season of Silicon Valley). It was a show about two bachelor roommates who hire an attractive maid, much to the displeasure of both of their longtime girlfriends. Hey, it was the ’80s. If we could have a show about two guys dressing in drag to get a nice apartment, why not this? Here’s a little taste of the opening credits:

The show did well in the ratings but fell victim to a strange time in TV, when the networks were trying to shift primetime programming into the 7pm hour. We Got It Made was moved into the 7:30pm timeslot for its second season and was cancelled shortly after that.

That didn’t deter Tom’s career, though. He went back to work almost immediately, landing several guest star roles including this sting in 1986 alongside Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge. Here’s a little taste featuring Clint, Tom and a box of Cocoa Puffs:

TOM VILLARD’S PERSONAL LIFE

By the early 1990s, Tom’s personal life began to overshadow his acting career. Rumors about his homosexuality began to circulate as early as 1992. Then, in February of 1994, Tom appeared on an episode of Entertainment Tonight. During his interview, he came out to over 13 million people as a gay man living with AIDS. In Tom’s own words:

“An awful lot of people suddenly wouldn’t let me in the door for auditions. I started speaking a couple of months ago about living with AIDS and having hope,” he said. “It feels a little more useful than things (I’ve done) in the past.” (Courtesy of POZ Magazine)

After that, Tom made a few appearances on shows like Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Frasier, but he spent the majority of his time working as a spokesperson for AIDS victims. Tom passed away on November 14th, 1994 of AIDS-related pneumonia. His partner at the time was production designer Scott Chambliss. Soon after Tom’s death, Chambliss founded the Tom Villard Foundation to help AIDS victims. The Foundation was eventually disbanded, but Tom’s legacy lives on in other foundations like Being Alive. The attention that such a rising star brought to people living with AIDS simply cannot be measured. Nor can the courage it took for him to make the choices he did in his last days.

Tom Villard

Tom Villard as we’d like to remember him.

Thanks for all the laughs, Tom. You’ll always have a place on our lily pad.

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