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'80s Child Star Faced Fan Backlash After Groundbreaking Talk Show Appearance

Alyssa Milano received hate after using her fame to combat harmful misinformation.

Today, Alyssa Milano is known by her fans not just for her acting career, but for being outspoken when it comes to her personal causes and political beliefs. And her activism dates all the way back to when she was a teen star in the 1980s. Milano became famous for her role as Samantha, the daughter of Tony Danza's character, on Who's the Boss, and she also had a pop music career in Japan. During this time, she made a talk show appearance that would change her life—and lead to some hateful backlash. Read on to find out why.

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Milano was part of a groundbreaking moment.

Ryan White photographed on a beach boardwalk
Kim Komenich/Getty Images

In the late '80s, Milano met a teenage boy named Ryan White, who had contracted HIV when he was 13 through a contaminated blood transfusion and became a public figure, telling his story to the media in an attempt to dispel the myth that only gay men and drug users were being affected. He was banned from his high school due to misinformation about HIV and AIDS and died in 1990 at age 18.

"I got a phone call from Elton John saying that there was a little boy named Ryan White that wanted to meet me, that I was his role model," Milano told Refinery29's UnStyled podcast in 2019. "We became good friends, and I loved him very much."

The two went on to appear on The Phil Donahue Show together, and Milano gave White a kiss on the cheek to combat the fear that HIV could be transferred through casual contact.

She received hate for her friendship with White.

Alyssa Milano at Ringling Brothers Circus in 1989
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Milano told UnStyled that after appearing on the show with White, she encountered bigotry.

"Dealing with trolls now at 46 is much easier than dealing with trolls at 15, in your face, telling me that I had HIV, AIDS and not being asked to the prom because people thought that I was HIV-positive because I kissed Ryan White on TV," she said.

Milano continued, "I have always understood that standing up for things means that you're going to be uncomfortable. I don't think now is any different. I think it's shifted because you're a lot more accessible with social media. So people have access."

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White inspired her activism.

Alyssa Milano at VH1 Trailblazer Honors in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Milano credits White with making her realize she should use her celebrity platform to do good.

"I went on The Phil Donahue Show and I kissed Ryan. And that was the moment that my life completely changed because I realized what it meant to have a voice by being famous and what it meant to do good with that voice," Milano said at the Women in Global Entertainment Power Lunch in October, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Similarly, she told NBC News in 2017, "There is nothing about my activism that isn't directly motivated by my love for Ryan White … He taught me that I had a power as a celebrity to change things and to stand up for what's right, and he gave me the courage to do that. My activism today is a direct reflection of that little boy."

She continues to speak out about causes she's passionate about.

Alyssa Milano at the MLBPA x Fanatics Players Party in July 2022
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

In 2017, following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Milano posted a tweet about #MeToo that brought the cause created by activist Tarana Burke to more widespread attention. She's also campaigned for various politicians and advocated for voters' rights. In October 2021, she was arrested at a voting rights demonstration outside of the White House.

"There were many times in my career [and] in my activism where I felt like they weren't working in harmony. But now I really believe that there is real meaning to having a platform," Milano told Yahoo! in January. "There used to be a time when we would only be able to talk about issues that matter to us when we were given the opportunity, whether doing an interview or an article or something. But now, because of social media, we get to control our own narrative. And so I do think it's a lot easier to sort of marry all of the parts of who I am, including being a mom and a wife and a business woman and a writer and all of it."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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