Rev. Dr. A. Steve Pieters, one of the longest HIV/AIDS survivors in the United States, has passed away at 70.

According to spokesperson Harlan Boll, Pieters died on Saturday (8 July) after he was hospitalised from an infection. He had been battling gastrointestinal cancer that metastasized.

Pieters was born on 2 August, 1952 in Andover, Massachusetts.

He pursued professional ministry in 1976 when he joined Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church in Chicago, before receiving his Master of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary three years later.

At the same time, he accepted a pastor position at the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, Connecticut.

Pieters resigned in 1982 and moved to Los Angeles. In April 1984, he was diagnosed with AIDS/Kaposi’s Sarcoma and stage four lymphoma. One healthcare professional told him that he would not live to see 1985.

However, he became “patient number 1” on the first anti-viral drug trial in 1985 and, after taking suramin for 39 weeks, both of Pieters’ cancers went into remission.

In the same year, Pieters was interviewed by Tammy Faye on Tammy’s House Party, a segment of The PTL Club, where he discussed his sexuality, AIDS diagnosis and the death of his partner.

The interview was groundbreaking for its sympathetic depiction of a gay man with AIDS. It was re-created in the 2021 biographical drama The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which starred Jessica Chastain as the evangelist and activist and Randy Havens as Pieters.

In an interview with PEOPLE in 2021, Pieters reflected on the interview, saying Tammy Faye “wanted to be the first televangelist to interview a gay man with AIDS.”

Following his death, Chastain paid tribute to Pieters on Twitter, describing him as an “inspiration and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS for over 35 years” and a “constant reminder that God is LOVE”.

“Rest In Peace sweet angel Steve. You made a difference in the lives of so many and you will be missed 🤍 @aspieters,” she wrote, accompanied by a touching video that reflects on his remarkable history in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Pieters’ memoir, LOVE is Greater Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Hope, will be published in the spring of 2024.