Mathilde Krim, Inspirational Founding Chairman of AmfAR, Dies at 91

Mathilde Krim arriving at the amfAR benefit honors gala 2003 -Getty 2018
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

The widow of a Jean Hersholt Award winner, she was the "heart and soul" of the organization that hosts a glamorous Cannes benefit each year.

Mathilde Krim, the founding chairman of amfAR and an inspirational leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, died Monday night at her home in Kings Point, New York, the organization announced. She was 91.

Krim was married to Arthur B. Krim, a president and chairman of United Artists, founding chairman of Orion Pictures and the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 1975 Oscars, from 1958 until his death in 1994.

The star-studded amfAR benefit is always among the most coveted events at the Cannes Film Festival each year; entering 2017, it had raised more than $210 million for research since the inaugural edition in 1993.

"Were it not for the profound sadness I feel for being so close to immense tragedy," Krim once said, "I would consider my work for amfAR, an organization poised on the frontiers of medical research, the most exciting, enviable and rewarding of all."

Soon after the earliest cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, Krim was among the first to recognize that this grave new disease could sow the seeds of a deadly epidemic. She dedicated herself to increasing the public's awareness of AIDS and became active in AIDS research through her work with interferons — natural substances now used in the treatment of certain viral and neoplastic diseases.

In April 1983, Krim co-founded the AIDS Medical Foundation, the first private organization concerned with fostering and supporting AIDS research. AMF merged with a similar, California-based group to form the nonprofit American Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR, in 1985, and she served as chairman of the board from 1990-2004.

As amfAR noted in a statement: "She was the heart and soul of the organization. She helped create it, supported it, kept it afloat more than once and guided it with extraordinary dedication until poor health forced her to assume a less active role. AmfAR's staff adored her because, amid the multitude of demands made on her time, she always found time to advise and nurture them, comfort and console them and on many occasions entertain them royally in her home."

In a 2006 tribute to Krim, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer wrote that "one can only be filled with overpowering awe and gratitude that such a person has lived among us." Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 in recognition of her "extraordinary compassion and commitment."

The eldest of four children, she was born Mathilde Galland in Como, Italy, on July 9, 1926. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1953. From 1953-59, she pursued research in cytogenetics and cancer-causing viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she helped develop a method for the prenatal determination of sex.

She moved to New York and joined the research staff of Cornell University Medical School following her marriage to then-attorney Arthur Krim.

In 1962, she and her husband hosted a 45th birthday party for President John F. Kennedy in their New York home attended by Marilyn Monroe, Maria Callas, Jack Benny, Harry Belafonte and others.

Also that year, she started as a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and, from 1981-85, was the director of its Interferon Laboratory.

Krim testified on Capitol Hill on several occasions and was a force behind legislation to expand federal funding for AIDS research. 

Chelsea Clinton, Elton John and the Elizabeth Taylor trust, among others, tweeted out their condolences on Tuesday.

Survivors include her daughter Daphna, grandchildren Robert and Amanda and sister Maria.

Donations may be to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, 120 Wall St., 13th Floor, New York, NY 10005, or here.