Carlton Wilborn performed with Madonna in front of tens of thousands of fans around the globe, but learning to come out — about being gay, about having HIV, about surviving sex abuse — helped him achieve an even richer kind of fame.
Standing in front of 140,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium, performing with the woman who is arguably among the most iconic and successful pop stars of the 20th century, should have been a pinnacle of Carlton Wilborn’s professional life. He was one of Madonna’s lead dancers for The Girlie Show and Blond Ambition, two of her biggest concert tours, and two of the biggest tours overall of the 1990s. Rolling Stone called Blond Ambition a “sexually provocative extravaganza” and “the best tour of 1990.”
Blond Ambition wasn’t just a tour, though. It was a spectacle that, after it was filmed, became the most watched TV special to date for HBO (with 4.3 million households viewing), and it spawned the 1991 documentary Truth or Dare, which became not just a mainstream success (it grossed $29 million, making it one of the highest-grossing documentaries ever) but a bona fide gay hit. Two of her male dancers kiss, the troupe attends an LGBT pride parade, and Madonna pays tribute to her friend Keith Haring, who had died of AIDS complications in 1990. It is a very gay film that was as huge culturally as the concert series. And Wilborn was there in the midst of it all, in the film, performing onstage.
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