When Javier Muñoz took over the lead role in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning smash hit musical Hamilton in July, he was thrust onto the national stage overnight. Muñoz, who is 40, openly gay, HIV-positive, and had a recent bout with cancer, has been candid and outspoken about both his HIV status and life as a cancer survivor.
Born to Puerto Rican parents and the youngest of three boys, he grew up in the Linden Projects in Brooklyn’s East New York.
‘I’m not someone who gets scared.’
—Javier Muñoz, the new lead in Broadway’s Hamilton
“We grew up relatively poor in a firstfloor apartment with gates on every window,” Muñoz told the New York Daily News. “It was scary coming home, because it was a rough and violent neighborhood.”
Muñoz was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, and discovered he had cancer last October, while serving as understudy to Miranda’s Hamilton.
“I’m not someone who gets scared,” he told People magazine, sharing that he has lived with numerous health problems since childhood and credits his physical challenges with his first introductions to music and art. “It’s a very rare occasion that I genuinely feel just fear. I can get anxious, apprehensive about things. It’s a rare thing in my life to find myself face-to-face with something I’m scared of, and I was scared of this. I had never been more scared in my life.”
In talking about when he found out he had cancer, he told The New York Times, “I have been living with H.I.V. since 2002, and I’m undetectable. I’m healthy, I’m strong, and I’m very out about that because of the stigma still attached to it. But I’ve had a healthy fear about my health since I tested positive, and I asked how to test myself for lumps, because both my parents had cancer. And very early on in my learning how to do a self-examination, I found the lump. I wasn’t immediately worried because of where it was—and I do want to keep that private because that’s the only thing that’s mine in this. But I brought it up to my doc, and that’s what led to further testing and discovery.”
Following surgery and radiation last fall, and after missing weeks of performances in Hamilton, he has been back in the cast for months. He told the Times in July he feels strong—the virus is undetectable, the cancer screenings negative—and is raring to go. “I had my first follow-up in March, and all green lights,” he said. “I’m good.”
“Coming out of this, it’s sort of reinvigorated my passions,” he told People. “If success comes with those things in some way—and everyone has their own definition of success—that’s great. But it’s the art that’s my goal. It’s the work that’s my goal. It’s creating something wonderful.