C. Everett Koop Dead At 96

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who was a hero to some gay activists and the enemy of conservative Christians for his handling of the early years of the AIDS crisis, has died at the age of 96.

Koop wielded the previously low-profile post of surgeon general as a bully pulpit for seven years during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. An evangelical Christian, he shocked his conservative supporters when he endorsed condoms and sex education to stop the spread of AIDS. He carried out a crusade to end smoking in the United States – his goal had been to do so by the year 2000. A former pipe smoker, he said cigarettes were as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Koop’s impact was great, although the surgeon general has no real authority to set government policy. He described himself as “the health conscience of the country.”

Although he personally “opposed homosexuality,” Koop drew fire from the religious right when in 1988 he mailed an AIDS information brochure to every American home.  While Koop advocated for the civil rights and compassionate treatment of AIDS patients while many were calling for quarantines, I do recall that some activists were angered that he almost exclusively talked about the danger of unprotected anal sex between men.  Also at issue was his focus on prevention and not the search for a cure. Below is the front cover of the above-mentioned brochure.