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Hydeia Broadbent, HIV/AIDS activist who bonded with Magic Johnson, dies

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Hydeia Broadbent started speaking publicly about her experiences as someone with HIV/AIDS when she was a young child.

“I want people to know that we’re just normal people,” a 7-year-old Broadbent told Magic Johnson during a Nickelodeon news special that aired in March 1992, four months after the Lakers superstar announced he was retiring from basketball because he was HIV positive.

Broadbent never stopped speaking out about the virus and disease — and Johnson thanked her for her courage.

A leading activist in HIV/AIDS awareness, Broadbent, who was born with HIV, died Wednesday at age 39, her father said in a Facebook post. The cause of death was not specified.

“With great sadness, I must inform you all that our beloved friend, mentor and daughter Hydeia, passed away today after living with Aids since birth,” Loren Broadbent wrote. “Despite facing numerous challenges throughout her life, Hydeia remained determined to spread hope and positivity through education around Hiv/AIDS.”

Johnson took to X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday to pay tribute to his longtime friend. His post included a video clip of their interaction on “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee” as well as photos of the two of them together in the years since then.

Michael Weinstein, left, Hydeia Broadbent, center, and Magic Johnson, right attend the premiere of 'The Announcement'

AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein, Hydeia Broadbent and Magic Johnson attend the premiere of ESPN Films’ “The Announcement” on March 6, 2011, in Los Angeles.

(Joe Kohen / Associated Press Images For Aids Healthcare Foundation)

“I’m devastated to hear about the passing of an incredible young woman, activist and hero Hydeia Broadbent,” Johnson wrote. “In 1992, I did a Nickelodeon special called ‘A Conversation with Magic’, and 7-year-old Hydeia and I made an incredible impact. Hydeia changed the world with her bravery, speaking about how living with HIV affected her life since birth. She dedicated her life to activism and became a change agent in the HIV/AIDS fight.

“By speaking out at such a young age, she helped so many people, young and old, because she wasn’t afraid to share her story and allowed everyone to see that those living with HIV and AIDS were everyday people and should be treated with respect. Thanks to Hydeia, millions were educated, stigmas were broken, and attitudes about HIV/AIDs were changed. We will miss her powerful voice in this world. Cookie and I are praying for the Broadbent family and everyone that knew and loved Hydeia.”

Broadbent was abandoned as a newborn at a Las Vegas hospital and adopted by her parents, Loren and Patricia, as an infant. They didn’t know that Broadbent was born with HIV until she got seriously ill at 3. At that age, she was diagnosed as HIV positive, and two years later, the virus developed into AIDS. Her biological mother was an intravenous drug addict.

Broadbent’s public speaking career began when she was 6. Soon after, in March 1992, Broadbent was one of 13 children who appeared with Johnson and Ellerbee on Nickelodeon after Johnson shocked the world with his HIV announcement in November 1991.

Broadbent was one of two children who raised their hands when Ellerbe asked if any of them were HIV positive. Her “normal people” comment was the only sentence she uttered during the program.

Immediately after speaking, Broadbent started wiping away tears, then broke down sobbing. Johnson rubbed her back and spoke to her in a soothing tone.

“You don’t have to cry,” he said. “‘Cause we are normal people. OK? We are. You just wanna be treated like that, right? You just want your friends to play with you? And call you up and come by and still have sleepovers and things like that? Right? Yeah. And it’s OK to cry, it’s OK to cry. You know, I think that you — with this program I feel that we’ll be able to educate all your friends and everybody else.”

Broadbent would end up having plenty more to say over the next 32 years.

At age 11, she told Oprah Winfrey the worst part of having HIV/AIDS was “when your friends die.” Speaking at the 1996 Republican National Convention, a 12-year-old Broadbent said, “I am the future, and I have AIDS.”

Mary Fisher kisses 12-year-old Hydeia Broadbent as they were both addressing the evening session of the 1996 GOP convention

AIDS activist Mary Fisher kisses 12-year-old Hydeia Broadbent as they address the evening session of the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego.

(Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)

Broadbent continued her advocacy as an adult — making appearances, doing interviews and giving lectures. She also worked with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation on several AIDS advocacy and awareness campaigns, riding on the foundation’s float in the 2013 Rose Parade and appearing in AHF’s “God Loves Me” billboard campaign.

“I try to tell it as real as I can, that this isn’t a disease they want,” Broadbent told CNN in 2012. “The current generation, they don’t know the reality of HIV/AIDS. They look at me and Magic Johnson and think you can pop a pill and be OK. They don’t know the seriousness of the disease. They don’t know the side effects of the medicine. They don’t know the financial realities of the situation.

“They really don’t know that you can die.”



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