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When Hollywood thought I'd caught AIDS from my dying TV husband

STAR April 7, 1992

Nasty rumors that Alison Arngrim had AIDS plagued her life after Steve Tracy, who played her husband Percival, died of the disease in 1986, the actress reveals to STAR for the first time.

"A lot of people thought we were having a relationship when he got AIDS-and there were rumors around that I had it too," says Alison, who nursed her dying co-star through his last days.

"If Steve was sick in '84 and dead in '86, there was a good chance he was infected in 1981, when I was kissing his face off on TV. He was a great kisser-but you can't get AIDS from kissing

"People began asking me very peculiar questions," she says. "My roommate's aunt once called to ask if she was OK and, 'Has he been in the apartment?'

"I'd never slept with Steve, and I wasn't buying into the rumors," adds Alison.

She says she and Tracy, who was 33 when he died, had become very good friends during their Little House years, and they spent his final days together.

"I took him to the doctor's for six months," she says. "He got really bad in the end. He was a skinny little guy to start with and gradually dwindled down to nothing I talked to him on the phone for four days before he died.

"I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'It's not the end, it's just a change in the relationship.'

"He gave me a necklace with a heart inscribed: 'To my devoted wife Nellie. Love, Percival.' I wear it whenever I speak on AIDS "

In an interview shortly before he died, Tracy revealed that no one on the set knew he was a homosexual. "During the two years I was on the series," he added, "I tried my darnedest to keep it that way.

"I confided in my close friend Alison that I had AIDS, and she has been very supportive-just terrific," he added.

"Steve was lucky enough to have a family to take care of him," says Alison, adding that his death has changed her life. "I began to realize there were people who did not have that, so I made myself available to them." Ever since Tracy's death, she adds, she's spent her life helping AIDS victims.

"I'm godmother to two children with AIDS," she says "and I work with an agency that provides food, diapers, transportation and shelter to families who have children with AIDS.

"I also have a monthly L.A cable show called AIDS Vision to educate people about the disease, and I lecture at schools about safe sex.

"It's funny, when I bring guys on stage to show, discreetly, how condoms prevent the spread of the disease, they think they're being propositioned by Nellie Oleson," she says with a laugh.

But Alison says her most satisfying activity is doing stand-up comedy to raise thousands of dollars at AIDS benefits. She's a staunch believer that humor prolongs the lives of AIDS patients. "All the people I know who have AIDS and have a really good sense of humor and can joke about their situation are living longer, even without the drug AZT," she declares.