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Ron Woodroof
Photo: John F. Rhodes/Dallas Morning News/Corbis

Ron Woodroof

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Ron Woodroof founded what became known as the Dallas Buyers Club, which, in a time before efficacious alternatives, distributed AIDS medication through an underground network.

Who Was Ron Woodroof?

In 1986, Ron Woodroof was diagnosed with AIDS and given a short time to live. Instead of passively accepting this prognosis, Woodroof researched various medicines and drug combinations and began taking a regime of drugs to stave off the disease. He also began what is now known as the Dallas Buyers Club, through which he sold the drugs to AIDS victims around the world who had no other recourse. In the face of the FDA and other regulators, the Dallas Buyers Club flourished, but Woodroof himself succumbed to the affliction six years after the diagnosis, on September 12, 1992.

Early Years and AIDS Diagnosis

Woodroof was born in 1950 and became an electrician as an adult. Woodroof was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 when only one drug was on the market to treat the disease, AZT, and was given only six months to live. He began a regimen of AZT, but it had little effect, and he nearly died.

Instead of accepting the prognosis and his prescribed fate, Woodroof began studying the affliction and its effects on the body. AIDS was a poorly understood disease at the time, and the U.S. government still had little idea how to combat it, so Woodroof decided to take action. He searched worldwide for drugs to counteract AIDS' effects, combing catalogs of non-FDA-approved medication and experimental and other drugs that were being used for AIDS patients.

Dallas Buyers Club

Once he found the drugs he thought would work — antivirals available in other countries but not in the United States, dextran sulfate and Procaine PVP, among them — Woodroof began acquiring them from around the world. Other AIDS patients soon came looking for Woodroof's medications, and with the help of his doctor and a fellow patient, Woodroof created what would become known as the Dallas Buyers Club in March 1988.

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Through the Buyers Club, Woodroof operated a large distribution center for experimental AIDS treatments out of his Oak Lawn, Texas, apartment, selling thousands of dollars worth of medication. His club resulted in a huge network of buyers and sellers, all of whom attempted to fly under the FDA radar. The group imported AIDS treatments from other countries or smuggled in experimental American drugs that had been shipped to other countries but were not approved in the United States.

Felt ignored by the medical establishment, Woodroof at one point told a journalist, "I am my own physician," and he "prescribed" himself three different experimental treatments (of the 60 available through the network) aimed at combating AIDS and extending his life.

At first, the FDA looked the other way, but as the network grew, dangers of some of the treatments became worrisome and accusations of profiteering surfaced, and federal officials began to take a look into the club. (Woodroof always claimed that he was not running the club for profit.)


After six years of fighting AIDS with his own treatments, Ron Woodroof died of the disease on September 12, 1992, in Texas. His fight brought added awareness to the disease, and the awareness in turn helped countless victims find Woodroof and attain a level of help otherwise unavailable.

'Dallas Buyers Club' Movie

Woodroof and his story gained renewed attention in 2013, as a movie version of his life, Dallas Buyers Club, finally came to fruition after years in limbo. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Woodroof. McConaughey lost 47 pounds for the role and took home Best Actor honors at both the 2014 Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

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