On July 3, 1981, readers of The New York Times read an article titled, RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS, by Lawrence K. Altman. People were already dying, but it was the first time many heard of this new disease, which would become known as AIDS:
Doctors in New York and California have diagnosed among homosexual men 41 cases of a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer. Eight of the victims died less than 24 months after the diagnosis was made.
The cause of the outbreak is unknown, and there is as yet no evidence of contagion. But the doctors who have made the diagnoses, mostly in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area, are alerting other physicians who treat large numbers of homosexual men to the problem in an effort to help identify more cases and to reduce the delay in offering chemotherapy treatment.
The sudden appearance of the cancer, called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, has prompted a medical investigation that experts say could have as much scientific as public health importance because of what it may teach about determining the causes of more common types of cancer.
Thirty years later, we know a lot more, but still don’t have a cure.
The NY Times article got prominent treatment in the 1990 movie, Longtime Companion, as you can see in the trailer: