Back in the '80s and '90s, Danny Pintauro was widely known for his role as Jonathan, the cute, young son of Judith Light's Angela Bower on the classic sitcom Who's The Boss? But since the show went off the air in 1992, the actor has had a tough journey. In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Pintauro revealed he is HIV-positive. Speaking with the Oprah: Where Are They Now? host, the 39-year-old former child actor shared that he has been HIV-positive since 2003.
Pintauro told Winfrey that he spoke up because he wants to encourage people to engage in open and honest dialogue about the virus that causes AIDS. "If you're paying any bit of attention, you realize that HIV isn't a death sentence anymore," he said. "That's one of the 'beacon of light' aspects of this whole situation that I want to take on — you can live a healthy life, you can have a happy life."
And Pintauro has. The actor publicly came out in 1997 during an interview with the National Inquirer, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in English and theater in 2001, managed a Las Vegas restaurant in 2013, and married his boyfriend Will Tabares last year in Dana Point, Calif, before the couple moved to Las Vegas. Pintauro has certainly come a long way since his days as the little Jonathan Bower on Who's The Boss?
But as the below insights from his interview with Winfrey show, it's been a long road for Pintauro to get to happiness and acceptance.
He's Familiar With The Dangers Of Meth
Pintauro began experimenting with meth after he ended a two-year relationship — and the drug let him experience heightened aspects of his sexuality, he told Winfrey. However, he said that it ultimately led to him contracting HIV. "I am speaking out because I want everyone who continues to 'tweak' and party to know that it is not worth the price," Pintauro told People. "I want my community to wake up, stop being complacent and start taking care of each other. We need to be the best we can – safe and healthy."
He said that meth was a wild — and very dangerous — ride:
"You suddenly lose all your inhibitions, you have no limits, you have no boundaries, you feel invincible. You feel incredibly heightened when it comes to your sexuality, and everything sounds and feels exciting to you. In that subculture of BDSM and bondage, it makes sense that a drug like that would go hand in hand with testing your limits and trying new things and getting dark and dirty and sexy and all of that. So unfortunately those lifestyles have gotten intertwined, and that's exactly how I got into it in the first place."
He Contracted HIV While Having Protected Sex
Having recalled the surge of AIDS/HIV awareness in the '80s and '90s, Pintauro said that he always had protected sex with men. "I was one of those people who does condom checks," Pintauro said in the interview. He recalled contracting HIV during an encounter with a man in February 2003 while on meth. "Even in the height of having this crazy good time with this guy, I still made him wear a condom," Pintauro said.
But in this case, protection couldn't help him overcome the crystal meth in his body, which he claimed weakens the immune system. In addition, his partner wasn't taking the proper medication for his HIV. "And that's the really scary part," Pintauro said in the interview, "because you can do everything you think you need to do to take care of yourself, but because of what meth does to your brain and to your body, no matter how hard you try, you're still opening yourself up to those possibilities – whatever STI you can think of, it's so much more prevalent than you're going to pick that up."
After His Diagnosis, He Thought, "No One Is Ever Going To Love Me Now"
Two weeks after that sexual encounter, Pintauro was diagnosed as HIV-positive after routine tests and, understandably, he took it hard. He recalled his feelings to Winfrey, saying, "At the time, my thoughts were very heavy in the, 'No one is ever going to love me now. No one's ever going to want to have sex with me. I should just give up on trying to find someone.'"
But over time, he has come to terms with his status. "From my perspective, I had been trying everything I could to make sure I was safe," he said. "If I had done anything that I thought was unacceptable, I would have freaked out so badly. It really did come out of the blue for me."
He Understands The Negative Stigma Of HIV
Back in the '80s and '90s, AIDS was socially known as a so-called "gay disease" because of its prevalence in the gay community. That label, added to Pintauro being a gay public figure, made the actor feel like "just having a thought about a man made me feel like I had gotten HIV. I was that guy."
Of course, the world we live in is slowly becoming a different and more accepting place. Gay marriage is no longer illegal in the U.S. HIV and AIDS are no longer considered "gay diseases" and advances in medicine make it possible to live a long and stable life with the two conditions. Still, there is a long way to go when it comes to social acceptance. "There is so much negativity surrounding HIV and just the concept of it, that a lot of people just aren't comfortable with it," Pintauro said in the interview. "They might say they are, but in the back of their mind, they're terrified of it. "And that's okay, I can't force them to not be terrified of something. I was terrified of it for the longest time. I understand that terror."
He Believes "HIV Is The New Closet"
Pintauro said he wants to continue de-stigmatizing HIV and AIDS, which means starting an open dialogue. He has had the virus for more than 10 years and he's happily married to Tabares, whom he told about his HIV status on their first date.
"That's one of the 'beacon of light' aspects of this whole situation that I want to take on," Pintauro said. "You can live a healthy life, you can have a happy life...For me, HIV is the new closet in the sense that until we all come out of the HIV closet and start talking about it … we [won't become] more accepted."
He Wants To Make A Difference
Pintauro said he is sharing his story to raise awareness and make a difference in the community — and after having faced so many difference reactions when he came out in 1997, he's no longer scared of public opinion. "I'm coming at this with good intentions and with big goals," he said. "My goal is to literally go door to door making a difference somehow with both of these topics for the next year...The idea of being gay, coming out as gay and having a meth problem is not that far-fetched of a concept. And that's a problem."
On Monday, former Who's The Boss? co-star Judith Light voiced her support of Pintauro's journey on Fox's Good Day New York.
Thank you, Pintauro, for being brave enough to start a conversation so powerful, and so necessary.