Tom Hanks in Philadelphia Changed my Life

Published 13, Nov, 2010
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

In which Bob Leahy looks back – way back – to his early years with HIV, and credits Tom Hanks in Philadelphia for changing his life.

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia Changed my Life

Philadelphia came out in 1993, the same year I was diagnosed with HIV.  I remember it got generally good reviews - Tom Hanks got an Oscar for his performance in it, in fact.  Gay activists, however, missed the boat and mostly disliked it, if I recall, because the on-screen relationship between Tom Hanks and his lover, played by Antonio Banderas, didn't seem authentic.  They didn't kiss. Big fucking deal.

I often mention the movie when I do public speaking engagements, and recommend audiences see it.  But I warn them: take along a box of Kleenex for few movies will make you cry as much as Philadelphia does.

But if the movie's a good one, and generally considered a milestone in Hollywood's treatment not only of AIDS but of gays in general, why did it change my life like no other?

Simply put, I identified with Tom Hanks

At the time I first saw it, I was in the closet - both about having the disease (like Tom Hanks) and also about my sexual orientation, at least at work (like Tom Hanks).  Unlike Tom Hanks, I didn't work at a law firm, but at a bank, but there are similarities in the culture of the two.  Anyway, seeing the machinations Tom Hanks went through to hide his condition struck uncomfortably close to home.  So I decided on the spot that I didn’t want to go there. That level of deception, all of a sudden, sounded unacceptable.

So.....not long after seeing the movie I came clean with my employer.  It went better than I had thought it would, and in truth I rather liked my first little foray into activism.  The rest is history.

Two clips from the movie; first the trailer which is a little too Hollywood and doesn't really convey the movie’s uniquely sensitive exploration of living with AIDS.  And then a second clip which does.  This is the ending of the movie; Tom has died and there is a celebration of his life going on (notice btw the inclusion of real life people with AIDS in this scene.)  Anyway, it's a harrowing but at the same time uplifting film to watch, so by the end – and I've seen this one a few times now - I'm usually starting on my second box of Kleenex.

In fact I had a little cry while posting this.

So that's my life-changing moment on the HIV journey.  What's yours?

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About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s campaign, along with founder Brian Finch. He joined at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.