I Survived

By Samuels, Allison | Newsweek, May 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

I Survived


Samuels, Allison, Newsweek


Byline: Allison Samuels

When Magic Johnson famously announced he has HIV, it wasn't clear how long he'd live. Twenty years later, he tells of his struggles, fears, and triumphs.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson isn't the reflective type. He tends not to dwell on the past or even second-guess the decision he made 10 minutes ago. So when asked if he often thinks about that chilly November morning in 1991 when he stood onstage at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and announced to the world that he'd contracted HIV, the former point guard flashes his signature smile and shakes his head: no. "I don't look back that much at all, and I don't spend a lot of time on regrets," says Johnson. "I do regret putting my family and my wife, Cookie, through that entire experience and having to deal with certain things. But that's really the only regret I have."

Instead, the basketball legend turned business executive keeps his mind focused on one, profound thought: living. To the fame he earned as a Los Angeles Laker has been added the triumph of the survivor who beat the odds, and it may be the greater legacy of the two.

Up at 4 a.m. each workday, Johnson jogs five miles to his office in Beverly Hills, where he oversees Magic Johnson Enterprises, which operates movie theaters, Starbucks stores, and other businesses in long-neglected urban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, he's actively involved in his namesake foundation's efforts around HIV/AIDS and education, and works closely with the Obama administration on community-development issues. And when he finally gets home from the office after a brisk walk, he takes more business calls until 9 p.m.

And that's Johnson dialed back. "For a long time, I'd work until 10 or 11," until his wife laid down the law, he says. "When I work, I'm on. I'm 'Magic.' I love it, but it takes a lot out of me."

It's a pace that would challenge almost any 51-year-old--let alone someone who's spent every day for the past 20 years contending with HIV. "I'll hear people say every so often that having HIV must not be so bad--just look at Magic and how well he's doing," says Johnson, who has remained AIDS-free. "I'm blessed that the medicine I take really worked well with my body and makeup. It doesn't work like that for everyone. A lot of people haven't been as fortunate as I have."

It was June 5, 1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a report about a strange and lethal pneumonia discovered in five gay men in Los Angeles. By the time Johnson was diagnosed with HIV as part of a routine NBA preseason physical, more Americans had died of AIDS than in all the conflicts after World War II. With fatalities rising each year and few therapies on hand to fight the disease, the question in 1991 wasn't whether those infected with the virus could live full and productive lives but rather how long it would be before they died. Along the way, a cascade of opportunistic infections mottled the sufferers' skin with strange purple lesions, covered their lungs in a yeastlike fungus, and left them looking like the walking dead of Birkenau.

Facing this prospect, and surrounded by Los Angeles Lakers team owner Jerry Buss, former Lakers star Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and NBA commissioner David Stern, Johnson appeared calm, even confident that morning in 1991. For those 15 excruciating minutes in front of the TV cameras, he put on his best game face. "I was never going to run and hide from this--I couldn't," he says. And yet, in walking off the stage he was walking away, at 32, from an astonishing career and driving passion and into the frightening unknown. What were his chances, and what would become of his young family?

Only months earlier, Johnson had married Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly, and she was now two months pregnant. An immediate concern was her health and the health of their unborn child (neither was infected). Beyond that was the indelicate question of how Johnson had contracted the virus (ultimately, he explained that he'd had sexual encounters with multiple female partners in the 1980s). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

I Survived
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.