Ofra Haza: Age 41 | Cause Of Death: AIDS

(b. November 19, 1959, d. February 23, 2000)

Ofra Haza, who melded ancient Yemenite Jewish devotional poetry with 1980s techno music to become Israel’s first international pop music success, died Wednesday, February 23, 2000.

JERUSALEM (AP) — The death of a popular singer from AIDS, and her efforts to conceal her illness from the public, have sparked a furious public debate here about the right to privacy — and the stigma that some here still attach to the illness.

The refrain “Ofra died of shame” reverberated through Israel’s newspapers and airwaves today. Haza’s reported concealment and the widespread reaction to Monday’s story about it in the Ha’aretz daily have highlighted Israeli attitudes toward the disease.

The 41-year-old diva died Wednesday of organ failure. Citing the singer’s wish to maintain her privacy, doctors who treated her at Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer Hospital refused to say what brought on her condition.

However, Ha’aretz reported that she died of complications from AIDS. In an editorial, the paper said there was “no reason to demonize” the disease by keeping it a secret. The editorial called AIDS “a human disease like any other.” Doctors and family members maintained their silence, and there was no way to know how long Haza had been seeking treatment or how she might have contracted the disease. But Haza fans, politicians and others across Israel speculated today that if she had not feared negative publicity and had sought treatment sooner, she might not have died.

“I think the shame, stigma, and lack of information are what killed her,” said Tirza Ariel, widow of another popular Israeli singer.

Fewer than 3,000 out of 6 million Israelis carry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Despite a recent Health Ministry campaign to increase public awareness, some Israelis still have misconceptions about the disease.

AIDS activists lamented Haza’s reported decision to keep her disease a secret, suggesting it reinforced the message that the disease is shameful. Others raised the prospect that in a more tolerant environment, Haza could have followed the example of someone like American basketball star Magic Johnson, who retired after his 1991 disclosure that he is HIV-positive but has stayed in the public spotlight and become a campaigner for AIDS education.