Friday, May 25, 2007 | 7:28 a.m.
Singer Curtis Bridgeforth, who recently gave up his spot with the Platters tribute group in Las Vegas, died Thursday in New York City following an 18-year battle with HIV. He was 51.
Bridgeforth's last performance with the Platters at the Sahara was in April.
"I want people to realize I had to make a choice: to continue in the show or to work on restoring my health," Bridgeforth said last week by phone from his New York apartment, where he'd moved to be closer to the doctors who had been monitoring his health for almost two decades.
During what turned out to be his final interview, he focused on his efforts to help others deal with HIV and AIDS. He was writing a book and had created a foundation to raise money for AIDS awareness and education.
"Hopefully, my attitude of not letting HIV beat me will inspire others," he said. "My hope is to use my celebrity and my ability to entertain to get more involved with organizations that actually work with artists."
He was suffering from diabetes and his T-cell count had slipped into the danger zone, making him susceptible to infections. But Bridgeforth kept a home in Las Vegas and had hoped to return to the stage some day. "Performing is what I love most," he said.
"A lot of things could happen, but God is my backbone when it comes to keeping me strong," he said. "I don't have a defeatist's personalty. I sang seven days a week at the Sahara for four years."
When he discovered he was HIV-positive, Bridgeforth, who was gay, did the opposite of what he thought he would do.
"I thought if I ever got HIV I would kill myself."
Instead, it spurred him to return to living his life doing what he love d: entertaining.
"It was a catalyst for me to pursue my career again, asking God to give me the opportunity to work in this business," Bridgeforth said.
"I didn't want to die not accomplishing my goals. We all basically have dreams and some of us allow our dreams to get away from us."
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he began performing when he was 16, but he'd gotten out of the business by 26.
He returned to performing when he discovered he was HIV-positive in 1990.
"I started singing on Venice Beach," he said. "I wasn't a novelty act, juggling or eating fire, the kind that usually get a lot of tips. But I drew big crowds. I was doing Johnny Mathis, Michael Jackson."
He made a contact and landed an audition with the Platters. He worked steadily until he began having health problems and took two years off to receive medical treatment before returning to the group in 2002. He quit drinking and smoking.
Bridgeforth watched many friends and colleagues die.
"Some passed away real fast, some took a long time," he said. "I've lost about 95 percent of my peers ... I watched them suffer in the '80s and '90s, going through not only pain but tremendous embarrassment, insecurities and fears. I saw them leave the planet just like that. Most were in their late 20s, early 30s.
"It was a hell of a thing to experience, you being young and watching your peers pass right in front of you."
He credited his faith for his longevity.
"I have angels on my side," he said. "Basically I always give credit for all my blessings to God. My mother, who passed almost four years ago, is right there as an angel keeping my spirits positive and keeping me healthy-minded."