This obituary is one in a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.
James Williams was a gay man who grew up in a conservative and religious background in Alabama, where homophobia was rampant. But over time, he saw the United States move towards greater tolerance, which he attributed in part to non-threatening TV shows like “Will & Grace,” the longtime sitcom with an openly gay lead character. .
While on vacation in India in 2017, he met Ayush Thakur and moved to India to live with him. Gay sex was only decriminalized there in 2018, and Mr. Williams found that the persecution continued. He believed that if Indian TV shows were modeled after “Will & Grace” they could bring gays into Indian living rooms and help change hearts and minds.
So he spent his days meeting producers and other people trying to launch such shows.
Then, last year, the coronavirus pandemic struck and halted its efforts. In recent weeks, an explosion of cases has put India under siege, undermining medical systems, overwhelming crematoria and leaving some people to die in queues outside hospitals.
Mr Williams tested positive for Covid-19 on April 24 and joined the desperate rush for a hospital bed and oxygen. He eventually found the two, his brother John said, but to no avail: he died on April 28 in a Delhi-area hospital. He was 35 years old.
James Robert Williams was born June 30, 1985 in Florence, northwestern Alabama, and grew up near St. Florian. Her mother, Kay (Carter) Williams, was a schoolteacher. Her father, Paul Kenneth Williams, a former Navy who served in the Vietnam War, was an IRS agent.
James’ mother died in a car accident in 1992 and his father committed suicide in 1995. Jim, 9, and John, 11, moved to live with their father’s sister, Sharon Alexander, a volunteer for associations, and her husband, Bill Alexander, a financial executive, in East Amherst, NY, near Buffalo.
In addition to his brother and Mr. Thakur, Mr. Williams is survived by the Alexanders and their two daughters, Christie and Jessica Alexander, and their son, Doug.
Mr. Williams majored in English at Columbia University. “He was a campus character, a tall, tall, funny guy who always had a great story to tell,” Laura Kleinbaum, a former classmate and close friend, said in a phone interview. A talented writer, he loved to compose observational essays and especially admired Joan Didion.
After graduating in 2008, he became the personal assistant to writer Daphne Merkin and began to travel the world.
“He was really keen on getting air points, and he was making random trips to random cities to get them,” Ms. Kleinbaum said. “You would text him, and he would say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in Shanghai.'”
Eager to understand his childhood and his parents, Mr. Williams had started an oral history project by interviewing his parents’ friends in Alabama. In these interviews, said John Williams, James was characteristically frank, usually starting by saying, “You know I’m gay, right?”
In recent months, James had been trying to get a visa for Mr. Thakur, who was then her fiancé, so that they could get married in the United States. They had hoped to move to Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry.
John said his brother “really believed in the power of the media to change the way people think about certain disadvantaged populations”.