The Dallas Cowboy Behind The Real 'Buyers Club' The film Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a man with AIDS in the 1980s who smuggled in experimental treatments to fight his disease. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports that the real Ron Woodroof was just as colorful as the Hollywood version.

The Dallas Cowboy Behind The Real 'Buyers Club'

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ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: And I'm Elizabeth Blair. No one I spoke with who knew the real Ron Woodroof called him a selfish boor.

BILL MINUTAGLIO: He was just salty.

BLAIR: Bill Minutaglio wrote for The Dallas Morning News

MINUTAGLIO: I kinda liked him. He cursed like four sailors, not one.

MICHAEL CASCINO: Ron was full of life.


BLAIR: Chicago attorney Michael Cascino represented Woodroof.

CASCINO: Ron was a real cowboy with a pickup truck, and a shotgun, and a lot of stories to tell and a very, very bad disease.

BLAIR: Dr. Stephen Nightingale was the medical director of the AIDS clinic at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

DR. STEPHEN NIGHTINGALE: We would talk every two or three months. I'd reach out to him. He'd sometimes call me up, see what I thought of something. And I usually wasn't too enthusiastic about it. But from that distance, he seemed like an honorable guy who was trying to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

BLAIR: Dr. Nightingale likens the early days of the AIDS epidemic to the movie "No Country For Old Men," in which a psychopath terrorizes a town and completely eludes its sheriff, Tom Bell.

NIGHTINGALE: There was this amorphous evil that went around just killing people randomly, and nobody seemed to understand it and particularly Sheriff Bell. And I think many of us who were treating or otherwise involved in people with AIDS in that time would've felt very much like Sheriff Bell.

BLAIR: The real Ron Woodroof is featured in a 1992 documentary called "The AIDS Underground." He's filmed driving across the border to a pharmacy in Mexico.


BLAIR: To get back into the U.S., you can see how Ron Woodroof could talk his way into anything.


BLAIR: Woodroof studied what new treatments were in the pipeline, found them and tried them on himself.


BLAIR: There were other underground buyers clubs, but the one in Dallas was the Wild West, says Bill Minutaglio.

MINUTAGLIO: People kept saying, well, the Dallas Buyers Club, they're the pirates. They're the ones who are really out on the edge pushing the envelope, they're doing more, you know, crazy and intense work than anybody else. They take more risks.

BLAIR: Mary Franklin was a receptionist at the Dallas Buyers Club.

MARY FRANKLIN: I was kind of his front person.

BLAIR: She says working for Ron Woodroof was kind of scary.

FRANKLIN: I was getting nervous about, you know, being busted, you know, because I knew what we were doing was illegal or just barely legal.

BLAIR: But Franklin, who has spent 20 years working for AIDS causes, says her close friends were dying. She says the Dallas Buyers Club gave them a little hope.

FRANKLIN: It made them feel better. I know it made them feel more powerful about their disease, that they had a fighting chance, which is something that the government was not offering.

BLAIR: Ron Woodroof fought the government, too. He refused to listen to people who told him he was going to die.


BLAIR: Ron Woodroof died on Sept. 12th, 1992. His lawyer, Michael Cascino, said Woodroof always wanted to have a movie made of his life, and he would've gotten a kick out of being played by a big Hollywood star. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


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