Helms, a long-time friend and protector of the tobacco industry, made a career out of bigotry, homophobia and jingoism. It was hard to tell if he truly hated and feared everyone who was different from him, or if those sentiments were simply the cynical tools of manipulation he used to gain political power and fame.
He also was a master of the "gay face."
Least we forget, we have the voters of North Carolina to thank for keeping Helms in office for 36 long years.
Helms became reviled by gays and lesbians in the 1980s for fighting against practically every federal AIDS funding effort while tens of thousands of people across the country were suffering and dying from the disease.
In 1987 he famously sponsored a measure banning foreigners with HIV from visiting or immigrating to the United States.
I took this photo in 1993 at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco.
Here are a few quotes that help to capture his shameful legacy:
"We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts." - speaking against the Ryan White Care act
"I shall never forget the stream of school kids marching uptown to place flowers on the Courthouse Square monument on Confederate Memorial Day."
"I'm so old-fashioned I believe in horse whipping." - arguing against AIDS funding
"To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn't have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing."
“It's their deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct that is responsible for the disease.” - on his theories about the cause of AIDS
"The negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights."
"I hate to use the word 'gay' in connection with the word 'sodomy.' There's nothing gay about these people."
"Whatever they do, they do at home. Don't go out on the street and flout it." - on gays and lesbians
"Do you realize that if they would stop doing what they are doing there would not be one additional case of AIDS in the United States of America." - blaming gays for AIDS
Thankfully, techno rapper MC Hawkings no longer has to wonder with the rest of us, "Why won't Jesse Helms just hurry up and die?"
Coupled with the death of Jerry Falwell just over a year ago, we could be looking at the end of the greatest generation of homophobes that our nation has known. Pat Robertson's decent to hell would complete the trifecta.