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Madonna removes Luther Vandross photo after his estate objects to inclusion in AIDS tribute

An image of the Grammy-winning R&B and soul singer Luther Vandross has been removed from an AIDS tribute segment during Madonna's Celebration Tour.

A representative for Madonna confirmed the move to USA TODAY on Tuesday. The news comes after a representative for Vandross' estate objected to his photo reportedly being included during Madonna's performance in Sacramento, California, on Saturday night.

"Luther Vandross passed away in 2005 due to complications from a stroke suffered two years earlier. While we appreciate Madonna's recognition of those lives lost to AIDS, Luther was NEVER diagnosed with AIDS or the HIV virus," a representative for Vandross' estate said in a statement shared with USA TODAY on Wednesday, first published Monday by Page Six.

"We're not sure where she or her production team received false medical information claiming otherwise," the statement continued, adding that representatives were "in contact with her management to remove Luther Vandross from the tribute she has in her current live show."

During every show, Madonna pays tribute to some of those who have died after being infected by HIV (a disease that has killed an estimated 40 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization) – including Freddie Mercury and Keith Haring – with a photo mosaic and montage in the backdrop as she performs her 1986 single "Live to Tell."

Luther Vandross faced speculation about his sexuality during his lifetime and after his death

The "Dance with My Father" singer, who died in 2005 at age 54, faced speculation about his sexuality throughout his career and after his death.

In 2017, his friend and "Godmother of Soul" Patti LaBelle seemingly outed Vandross after "Watch What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen asked whether Vandross struggled "with the idea of coming out publicly."

"Yeah, we talked about it. It was basically, he did not want his mother to be − although she might have known − but he wasn't going to come out and say this to the world," she said. "He had a lot of lady fans and he told me he just didn't want to upset the world."

In January, a documentary feature on the singer, "Luther: Never Too Much" premiered at Sundance Film Festival from director Dawn Porter.

The film, which counts Jamie Foxx among its producers, includes interviews with the late singer and his friends and is described as "an archival tapestry of performances and recording sessions (that) immerse us in his legendary musical talent as a singer, songwriter, and producer."

Soul singer Luther Vandross is the subject of the director Dawn Porter's documentary "Luther: Never Too Much."
Soul singer Luther Vandross is the subject of the director Dawn Porter's documentary "Luther: Never Too Much."

"I'm not interested in doing a commercial. This is not a commercial for Luther. This is the truth as I discovered it," Porter told The Hollywood Reporter. "What's challenging, of course, is that he's not here to speak for himself, and he chose to keep his private life private."

She added, "On the other hand, I’m not homophobic; I wouldn’t want to be homophobic, so what we tried to do was have the people who loved him and knew him talk about his desire to be private and then say, ‘We’re going to respect how he wanted to live his life and what he wanted to say."

Porter said the team "worked really hard on that section because I think on the one hand, nobody should be outed. On the other hand, don't you just wish Luther could live in 2024? The world has really changed. The world was different then."

"I feel comfortable respecting his choice but saying that that was a struggle," Porter said. "The conversation around his sexuality was always a conversation that he struggled with, just like he struggled with his weight and his lack of love."

Madonna is more than halfway through her postponed Celebration Tour

The "Material Girl" singer has been on tour since October, when she launched the first of nearly 80 shows at London's O2 Arena. The career-spanning tour was delayed last year after Madonna was hospitalized for a "serious bacterial infection," which forced her to postpone the Celebration Tour's kickoff, originally scheduled in Vancouver for July 15.

As she kicked off her North American leg at Brooklyn's Barclays Center in December, Madonna took a moment to reflect on her life. "No one is more surprised that I have made it this far than me. I didn't think I was gonna make it this summer, but … here I am," she told the New York crowd. "It’s a miracle that I'm alive."

"I feel like I'm one of the lucky ones," she added. "Let's take a moment to be grateful."

The Celebration Tour concludes in Mexico City in late April.

Madonna Celebration Tour: See the setlist for her iconic career-spanning show

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Madonna removes Luther Vandross from AIDS tribute shown at concert