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Elton John's tribute to Ryan White on the twentieth anniversary of Ryan's death, included a moving description of the pain he experienced during Ryan's final days.  This video shows Sir Elton talking about the significance of -- and then singing -- Candle In The Wind.

In the video, Candle In The Wind is followed by Elton's description of having agonized over what to sing at the funeral, finally deciding on one of the songs from his first album in 1969 -- a beautiful song called Skyline Pigeon. Ryan's soul was finally free to go anywhere, and his inspiration was free to inspire people all around the world.

I've also included four videos shot by WISH TV, including Ryan's mom, Jeane, and her tearful introduction of Elton John, and Elton's comments immediately before he began to sing for us.  It's almost like being there.

WISH TV News Piece About the Night's Event

Ryan's Mother's Tearful Introduction of Elton John

Sir Elton John Talks About How Ryan Saved His Life and the Results

Continuation of Elton John's Words About Ryan White Saving His Life and the Results

 
 
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Sir Elton John put on an amazing show last night -- of which I was a proud co-sponsor -- to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ryan White's passing.  There were many very emotional moments, not only in Elton's performance and his descriptions of his last moments with Ryan, but also in the remarkable comments made by Phil Donohue,  Jeannie White, and Judith Light (the actress who portrayed Jeannie White in the ABC TV movie, and most recently can be seen on Law & Order SUV as a judge).

Video-taped messages from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Orin Hatch emphasized the bipartisan nature of the successful efforts by the US Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act four times since 1992.  Photos of Jeannie standing beside Presidents Clinton and Obama as they signed the act into law were powerful reminders of what can be done if we work together. The Ryan White Care Act has helped millions of people, and remains an incredible legacy of this brave young man.

Ryan White almost single-handedly changed our nation's perception of AIDS and those who struggle with it in their own lives.  Tonight's celebration was both emotionally-charged and fantastically fun.  Thanks to the wonderful people at the world-renowned Children's Museum of Indianapolis for their Ryan White exhibit, and for working with Jeannie to bring Elton to Indianapolis for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thanks, too, to Wayne Zink and Randy Deer for their support, and to all the people who came to support the museum and the Elton John AIDS Foundation (which matches funds to the Indiana AIDS Fund).

Finally, thanks to Sir Elton John for coming to Indianapolis to help celebrate the life of one of our nation's true heros. It was an amazing performance -- truly once-in-a-lifetime!

Photos: Jeannie White and me outside the VIP desert reception after the concert.  Some of my guests: Mark and Nancy Ruschman, John Pickett and Jeff Baker.

Read Amy Bartner's review of the event in the Indianapolis Star online.

See Indianapolis Star Photo Slideshow below.

 
 
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Remembering Ryan
By Elton John

Twenty years ago this month, my friend Ryan died of AIDS.  I would gladly give my fame and fortune if only I could hand this letter to the child who changed my life and the lives of millions living with HIV.

Dear Ryan,

I remember so well when we first met.  A young boy with a terrible disease, you were the epitome of grace.  You never blamed anyone for the illness that ravaged your body, or the torment and stigma you endured in your community. 

When students, parents, and teachers shunned you, threatened you, expelled you from school, you responded not with words of hate, but with understanding beyond your years.  You said they simply were afraid of what they did not know. 

When the media heralded you as an innocent victim who contracted AIDS through transfusion, you rejected that label and stood in solidarity with thousands of HIV-positive women and men.  You reminded America that all victims of AIDS are innocent.

When you became a celebrity, you embraced the opportunity to educate the nation about the AIDS epidemic, even though your only wish was to live an ordinary life. 

Ryan, because of you, countless people now live the life of which you dreamt.  I wish you could know the world today, how much it has changed, and how much you changed it.

Young boys and girls with HIV attend school and take medicine that allows them to lead normal lives.  Children in America are seldom born with HIV or contract it through transfusion.  No longer are the insults and injustices you suffered tolerated by society.

Most important, Ryan, you inspired awareness, which helped lead to life-saving treatments.  In 1990, five months after you died, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, which now spends more than $2 billion each year on AIDS medicine and treatment for half a million Americans.  Today, countless people with HIV live healthy, productive, long lives.

It breaks my heart that you are not one of them.  You were only 18 when you died, and you would be 38 this year, if only modern medicine had existed when you were sick.  I think about that every day, because America needs your message of compassion as ever before.

Ryan, when you were alive, your story sparked a national conversation about AIDS.   Despite all the progress made in the past 20 years, the dialogue has waned.  If you were here, I know your voice would be among the many trying to resurrect that conversation today, at a time when the epidemic is, by some measures, worsening.  I know you would be the loudest among those calling for a National HIV/AIDS Strategy that was promised, but has not yet been delivered, by President Obama.  I know you would reach out to young people.  I know you would work tirelessly to help everyone suffering from HIV, including those who live on the margins of society. 

It would sadden you that today, in certain states, poor people with AIDS are placed on a waiting list to receive treatment.  It would anger you that your government still turns away from vulnerable people with HIV and high-risk populations.  It would upset you that AIDS is a leading cause of death among African Americans.  It would frustrate you that even though hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive Americans are receiving treatment in your name, more than two hundred thousand don’t even know their status, thanks largely to lingering stigma surrounding the disease.  It would disappoint you that our teenagers learn little of HIV prevention in school, at a time when half of new infections are among young people under 25 years of age. 

I miss you so very much, Ryan.  I was by your side when you died at Riley Hospital.  You’ve been with me every day since.  You inspired me to change my life and carry on your work.  Because of you, I’ve stayed in the struggle against AIDS all this time.  I pledge to not rest until we realize the compassion for which you so bravely and beautifully fought.

Your friend,

Elton

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From his home in rural central Indiana, Ryan White, perhaps more than anyone else, helped change minds, opinions and the public perception of HIV/AIDS during some of the epidemic's darkest hours. During his amazing life's journey, with its gripping and dramatic story, Ryan attracted many famous friends -- among them Sir Elton John.

When Ryan passed away, he was surrounded by his family as well as Elton John. His funeral was attended by over 1500 people, a clear testament to the countless lives touched by his own short life.

Shortly after his death the United States Congress enacted the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act  (Ryan White CARE Act) -- which is the nation's largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Ryan White care act helps provide treatment for nearly half a million people every year, including right here in Indiana.

In an amazing tribute to his life and legacy, in 2007 the world-renowned Children's Museum of Indianapolis opened "The Power of Children: Making a Difference" gallery, which has continued to introduce new generations to Ryan's quiet heroism in the face of horrendous discrimination. (Click here to learn more about this stunning exhibition featuring Ryan White, Anne Frank and Ruby Bridges.)

Now, 20 years after his passing, we gather to honor Ryan's legacy with an amazing musical tribute by Sir Elton John.

As a proud sponsor of this extraordinary event, I hope you'll join me on April 28th, at Clowes Memorial Hall, located on the NCAA-Champions' Butler University campus, for this special benefit performance. Tickets are on sale now and are available at $150, $250, and $350 price levels. A very special VIP Package is also available for $500 per person (See graphic below for details of this special package). Seating for this event is limited. Purchase tickets at Ticketmaster.com or call 1 (800) 982-2787. Tickets are also available in person at the Clowes Memorial Hall Box Office. You can also order from the Children's Museum website, here.

I want to take a moment to personally thank Jeannie White for her courage and perseverance, and for everything she, Andrea and Ryan did to help change the world's perception of HIV/AIDS.

"We owe it to Ryan to make sure that the fear and ignorance that chased him from his home and his school will be eliminated. We owe it to Ryan to open our hearts and our minds to those with AIDS. We owe it to Ryan to be compassionate, caring and tolerant toward those with AIDS, their families and friends. It's the disease that's frightening, not the people who have it." —Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, April 11, 1990

And finally, if you are not able to join us on April 28th for this special benefit performance, I hope you'll consider making a contribution to the Damien Center, Indiana's largest HIV/AIDS service organization, which is widely recognized nationally for its leadership and innovation in care and prevention programs. This can easily and quickly be done on the Damien Center's website, right now, by clicking here. You can specifically help prevent the spread of the virus, by earmarking your contribution for the "Joseph F. Miller Center for HIV Testing & Prevention"--just check the box in the popup window.

I hope to see you at Clowes Hall on April 28th!

Photo above:Taro Yamasaki, which accompanied his powerful essay on Ryan White in PEOPLE Magazine. Click here to read this famous essay.

PEOPLE Magazine Article, April 23, 1990:"The moving and untold story of the final hours of Ryan White, the boy whose battle with AIDS touched America's heart."

PEOPLE Magazine article, May 30, 1988:"The Quiet Victories of Ryan White. Despite contracting AIDS at age 12, Ryan White courageously lives life after finding refuge and friendship in a small town with a heart."

Images below: Click to enlarge. Invitation, Special VIP Package, Ryan's Scrap Book pages, Sir Elton John and Ryan White, Joseph F Miller Center for HIV Testing & Prevention

Video 1 below: History Uncut:In this clip from "History Uncut", Ryan White describes his experience returning to school after being diagnosed with AIDS. The history Channel website. Available from: http://WWW.history.com/videos/history-uncut-Ryan-white-1986

Video 2 below: CBS WISH TV Indianapolis, interview with Jeanne White, Ryan's mother, as she talks about Elton John and the upcoming special tribute to Ryan.

Video 3 below: Press Conference withJeanne White Ginder, Ryan's mother, and Children's Museum president and CEO Dr. Jeff Patchen, speaking to the media about the celebration of Ryan White's life and legacy, which will occur at Clowes Hall on April 28.