Władziu Valentino Liberace[nb 1] (May 16, 1919 – February 4,
1987), known as Liberace, was an American pianist, singer, and
actor. A child prodigy and the son of working-class immigrants,
Liberace enjoyed a career spanning four decades of concerts,
recordings, television, motion pictures, and endorsements. At the
height of his fame, from the 1950s to the 1970s,
Liberace was the
highest-paid entertainer in the world, with established concert
residencies in Las Vegas, and an international touring schedule.
Liberace embraced a lifestyle of flamboyant excess both on and off
stage, acquiring the nickname "Mr. Showmanship".
1 Early life and education
2 Early career
3 Early television work and The
4 After The
5 Later television work
8 Lawsuits and allegations of homosexuality
9 Final appearances
10 Illness and death
12 Closure of
Liberace Museum and Tivoli Gardens Restaurant
13 Depiction in media
15.6 Music books
18 Further reading
19 External links
Early life and education
Liberace (known as "Lee" to his friends and
"Walter" to family) was born in West Allis, Wisconsin. His father,
Liberace (December 9, 1885 – April 1, 1977), was
an immigrant from
Formia in the
Lazio region of central Italy. His
mother, Frances Zuchowska (August 31, 1892 – November 1, 1980), was
of Polish descent.
Liberace was born with en caul, which in some
cultures is considered indicative of genius, good luck, or the promise
of a prosperous future. He had a twin, who died at birth. He had
three siblings: a brother George, a violinist and his sister Angelina,
and younger brother Rudy.
Liberace's father played the
French horn in bands and movie theaters
but often worked as a factory worker or laborer. While Sam encouraged
music in his family, his wife, Frances, believed music lessons and a
record player to be unaffordable luxuries. This caused family
Liberace later stated, "My dad's love and respect for
music created in him a deep determination to give as his legacy to the
world, a family of musicians dedicated to the advancement of the
Liberace began playing the piano at age four. While Sam took his
children to concerts to further expose them to music, he was also a
taskmaster demanding high standards from the children in both practice
and performance. Liberace's prodigious talent was evident from his
early years. By age seven, he was capable of memorizing difficult
pieces. He studied the technique of the Polish pianist Ignacy
Paderewski. At age eight, he met Paderewski backstage after a concert
Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. "I was intoxicated by the joy I got
from the great virtuoso's playing. My dreams were filled with
fantasies of following his footsteps…Inspired and fired with
ambition, I began to practice with a fervor that made my previous
interest in the piano look like neglect". Paderewski later became a
The Depression was financially hard on the
Liberace family. In
Liberace suffered from a speech impediment and as a teen
from the taunts of neighborhood children who mocked him for his
effeminate personality and his avoidance of sports and his fondness
for cooking and the piano.
Liberace concentrated on his piano
playing with the help of music teacher Florence Kelly, who oversaw
Liberace's musical development for 10 years. He gained experience
playing popular music in theaters, on local radio, for dancing
classes, for clubs, and for weddings. In 1934, he played jazz piano
with a school group called "The Mixers" and later with other groups.
Liberace also performed in cabarets and strip clubs. Though Sam and
Frances did not approve, their son was earning a tidy living during
hard times. For a while,
Liberace adopted the stage name "Walter
Busterkeys". He also showed an interest in draftsmanship, design,
and painting, and became a fastidious dresser and follower of fashion.
By this time, he was already displaying a penchant for turning
eccentricities into attention-getting practices, and earned popularity
at school, despite some making him an object of ridicule.
Liberace's early-1980s Christmas costume, worn at the
Las Vegas Hilton
and Radio City Music Hall: Designed by Michael Travis, with fur design
by Anna Nateece, the costume was one of many at the
A participant in a formal classical music competition in 1937,
Liberace was praised for his "flair and showmanship". At the end
of a traditional classical concert in La Crosse in 1939, Liberace
played his first requested encore, the popular comedy song "Three
Little Fishies". He later stated that he played the popular tune in
the styles of several different classical composers. The
20-year-old played with the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 15,
1940, at the
Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, performing Liszt's Second
Piano Concerto under the baton of Hans Lange, for which he received
strong reviews. He also toured in the Midwest.
Between 1942 and 1944,
Liberace moved away from straight classical
performance and reinvented his act to one featuring "pop with a bit of
classics" or as he also called it "classical music with the boring
parts left out". In the early 1940s, he struggled in New York City,
but by the mid- and late-1940s, he was performing in night clubs in
major cities around the United States, largely abandoning the
classical music altogether. He changed from a classical pianist to an
entertainer and showman, unpredictably and whimsically mixing the
serious with light fare, e.g., Chopin with "Home on the Range".
For a while, he played piano along with a phonograph on stage. The
gimmick helped gain him attention. He also added interaction with the
audience—taking requests, talking with the patrons, making jokes,
giving lessons to chosen audience members. He also began to pay
greater attention to such details as staging, lighting, and
presentation. The transformation to entertainer was driven by
Liberace's desire to connect directly with his audiences, and
secondarily from the reality of the difficult competition in the
classical piano world.
In 1943, he began to appear in
Soundies (the 1940s precursor to music
videos). He recreated two flashy numbers from his nightclub act, the
standards "Tiger Rag" and "Twelfth Street Rag". In these films, he was
billed as Walter Liberace. Both "Soundies" were later released to the
home-movie market by Castle Films. In 1944, he made his first
appearances in Las Vegas, which later became his principal venue. He
was playing at the best clubs, finally appearing at the Persian Room
in 1945, with Variety proclaiming, "
Liberace looks like a cross
Cary Grant and Robert Alda. He has an effective manner,
attractive hands which he spotlights properly, and withal, rings the
bell in the dramatically lighted, well-presented, showmanly routine.
He should snowball into box office". The Chicago Times was similarly
impressed: He "made like Chopin one minute and then turns on a Chico
Marx bit the next".
Liberace with actress
Maureen O'Hara during a court hearing in 1957
During this time,
Liberace worked to refine his act. He added the
candelabrum as his trademark, inspired by a similar prop in the Chopin
A Song to Remember
A Song to Remember (1945). He adopted "Liberace" as his
stage name, making a point in press releases that it was pronounced
"Liber-Ah-chee". He wore white tie and tails for better visibility
in large halls. Besides clubs and occasional work as an accompanist
and rehearsal pianist,
Liberace played for private parties, including
those at the
Park Avenue home of millionaire oilman J. Paul
Getty. By 1947, he was billing himself as "Liberace—the most amazing
piano virtuoso of the present day". He had to have a piano to
match his growing presence, so he bought a rare, oversized,
Blüthner Grand, which he hyped up in his press kit as a
"priceless piano". (Later, he performed with an array of
extravagant, custom-decorated pianos, some encrusted with rhinestones
and mirrors.) He moved to the Los Angeles neighborhood of North
Hollywood in 1947 and was performing at local clubs, such as Ciro's
and The Mocambo, for stars such as Rosalind Russell, Clark Gable,
Gloria Swanson, and Shirley Temple. He did not always play to packed
rooms, and he learned to perform with extra energy to thinner crowds,
to maintain his own enthusiasm.
Liberace created a publicity machine which helped to make him a star.
Despite his success in the supper-club circuit, where he was often an
intermission act, his ambition was to reach larger audiences as a
headliner and a television, movie, and recording star.
to expand his act and made it more extravagant, with more costumes and
a larger supporting cast. His large-scale
Las Vegas act became his
hallmark, expanding his fan base, and making him wealthy.
His New York City performance at Madison Square Garden in 1954, which
earned him a record $138,000 (equivalent to $1,260,000 in 2017) for
one performance, was more successful than the great triumph his idol
Paderewski had made 20 years earlier. He was mentioned as a sex
The Chordettes 1954 #1 hit "Mr. Sandman". By 1955, he was
making $50,000 per week at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
and had over 200 official fan clubs with a quarter of a million
members. He was making over $1 million per year from public
appearances, and millions from television.
Liberace was frequently
covered by the major magazines, and he became a pop-culture superstar,
but he also became the butt of jokes by comedians and the public.
Liberace appeared on the March 8, 1956, episode of the TV quiz program
You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life hosted by Groucho Marx.
Music critics were generally harsh in their assessment of his piano
playing. Critic Lewis Funke wrote after the Carnegie Hall concert,
Liberace's music "must be served with all the available tricks, as
loud as possible, as soft as possible, and as sentimental as possible.
It's almost all showmanship topped by whipped cream and cherries."
Even worse was his lack of reverence and fealty to the great
Liberace recreates—if that is the word—each
composition in his own image. When it is too difficult, he simplifies
it. When it is too simple, he complicates it". His sloppy technique
included "slackness of rhythms, wrong tempos, distorted phrasing, an
excess of prettification and sentimentality, a failure to stick to
what the composer has written".
Liberace once stated, "I don't give concerts, I put on a show."
Unlike the concerts of classical pianists which normally ended with
applause and a retreat off-stage, Liberace's shows ended with the
public invited on-stage to touch his clothes, piano, jewelry, and
hands. Kisses, handshakes, hugs, and caresses usually followed. A
critic summed up his appeal near the end of Liberace's life: "Mr.
Showmanship has another more potent, drawing power to his show: the
warm and wonderful way he works his audience. Surprisingly enough,
behind all the glitz glitter, the corny false modesty, and the shy
Liberace exudes a love that is returned to him a
Liberace was a conservative in his politics and faith, eschewing
dissidents and rebels. He believed fervently in capitalism and was
also fascinated with royalty, ceremony, and luxury. He loved to hobnob
with the rich and famous, acting as starstruck with presidents and
kings as his fans behaved with him. Yet to his fans, he was still one
of them, a Midwesterner who had earned his success through hard work,
and who invited them to enjoy it with him.
In the next phase of his life, having earned sudden wealth, Liberace
spent lavishly—incorporating materialism into his life and his act.
He designed and built his first celebrity house in 1953, with a piano
theme appearing throughout, including a piano-shaped swimming pool.
His dream home, with its lavish furnishings, elaborate bath, and
antiques throughout, added to his appeal. He leveraged his fame
through hundreds of promotional tie-ins with banks, insurance
companies, automobile companies, food companies, and even morticians.
Liberace was considered a perfect pitchman, given his folksy
connection with his vast audience of housewives. Sponsors sent him
complimentary products, including his white
Cadillac limousine, and he
reciprocated enthusiastically: "If I am selling tuna fish, I believe
in tuna fish."
The critics had a field day with his gimmicky act, his showy but
careful piano playing, his non-stop promotions, and his gaudy display
of success, but he remained largely unaffected, as preserved by the
famous quotation, first recorded in a letter to a critic, "Thank you
for your very amusing review. After reading it, in fact, my brother
George and I laughed all the way to the bank." He used a similar
response to subsequent poor reviews, famously modifying it to "I cried
all the way to the bank." In an appearance on The Tonight Show
some years later,
Liberace reran the anecdote to Johnny Carson, and
finished it by saying, "I don't cry all the way to the bank any more
– I bought the bank!"
Early television work and The
Liberace performing in 1983
Liberace mostly bypassed radio before trying a television career,
thinking radio unsuitable given his act's dependency on the
visual. Despite his enthusiasm about the possibilities of
Liberace was disappointed after his early guest
appearances on CBS's The Kate Smith Show, and DuMont's Cavalcade of
Jackie Gleason (later The
Jackie Gleason Show on CBS).
Liberace was particularly displeased with the frenetic camera work and
his short appearance time. He soon wanted his own show where he could
control his presentation as he did with his club shows.
His first show on local television in Los Angeles was a smash hit,
earning the highest ratings of any local show, which he parlayed into
a sold-out appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. That led to a summer
replacement program for Dinah Shore.
The 15-minute network television program, The
Liberace Show, began on
July 1, 1952, but did not lead to a regular network series. Instead,
producer Duke Goldstone mounted a filmed version of Liberace's local
show performed before a live audience for syndication in 1953 and sold
it to scores of local stations. The widespread exposure of the
syndicated series made the pianist more popular and prosperous than
ever. His first two years' earnings from television netted him $7
million and on future reruns, he earned up to 80% of the profits.
Liberace learned early on to add "schmaltz" to his television show and
to cater to the tastes of the mass audience by joking and chatting to
the camera as if performing in the viewer's own living room. He also
used dramatic lighting, split images, costume changes, and exaggerated
hand movements to create visual interest. His television performances
featured enthusiasm and humor.
Liberace also employed "ritualistic domesticity", used by such early
TV greats as
Jack Benny and Lucille Ball. His brother George often
appeared as guest violinist and orchestra director, and his mother was
usually in the front row of the audience, with brother Rudy and sister
Angelina often mentioned to lend an air of "family".
each show in the same way, then mixed production numbers with chat,
and signed off each broadcast softly singing "I'll Be Seeing You",
which he made his theme song. His musical selections were broad,
including classics, show tunes, film melodies, Latin rhythms, ethnic
songs, and boogie-woogie.
The show was so popular with his mostly female television audience, he
drew over 30 million viewers at any one time and received 10,000 fan
letters per week. His show was also one of the first to be shown
on British commercial television in the 1950s, where it was broadcast
on Sunday afternoons by Lew Grade's Associated TeleVision. This
Liberace a dedicated following in the United Kingdom.
Homosexual men also found him appealing. According to author Darden
Asbury Pyron, "
Liberace was the first gay person
Elton John had ever
seen on television; he became his hero."
Liberace Museum, Las Vegas, 2003
Liberace had his first international engagement, playing
successfully in Havana, Cuba. He followed up with a European tour
later that year. Always a devout Catholic,
Liberace considered his
meeting with Pope
Pius XII a highlight of his life. In 1960,
Liberace performed at the
London Palladium with
Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole and
Sammy Davis, Jr. (this was the first televised "command performance",
now known as the Royal Variety Performance, for Queen Elizabeth II).
On July 19, 1957, hours after
Liberace gave a deposition in his $25
million libel suit against Confidential magazine, two masked intruders
attacked his mother in the garage of Liberace's home in Sherman Oaks.
She was beaten and kicked, but her heavy corset may have protected her
from being badly injured.
Liberace was not informed about the assault
until he finished his midnight show at the Moulin Rouge nightclub.
Guards were hired to watch over Liberace's house and the houses of his
Despite successful European tours, his career had in fact been
slumping since 1957, but
Liberace built it back up by appealing
directly to his fan base. Through live appearances in small-town
supper clubs, and with television and promotional appearances, he
began to regain popularity. On November 22, 1963, he suffered renal
failure, reportedly from accidentally inhaling excessive amounts of
dry cleaning fumes from his newly cleaned costumes in a Pittsburgh
dressing room, and nearly died. He later said that what saved him from
further injury was being woken up by his entourage to the news that
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Told by doctors that his
condition was fatal, he began to spend his entire fortune by buying
extravagant gifts of furs, jewels, and even a house for friends, but
then recovered after a month.
Liberace returned to Las Vegas, and upping the glamor
and glitz, he took on the sobriquet "Mr. Showmanship". As his act
swelled with spectacle, he famously stated, "I'm a one-man
Disneyland." The costumes became more exotic (ostrich feathers,
mink, capes, and huge rings), entrances and exits more elaborate
(chauffeured onstage in a Rolls-Royce or dropped in on a wire like
Peter Pan), choreography more complex (involving chorus girls, cars,
and animals), and the novelty acts especially talented, with juvenile
acts including Australian singer
Jamie Redfern and Canadian banjo
player Scotty Plummer.
Barbra Streisand was the most notable new
adult act he introduced, appearing with him early in her career.
Liberace's energy and commercial ambitions took him in many
directions. He owned an antiques store in Beverly Hills, California,
and a restaurant in
Las Vegas for many years. He even published
cookbooks, the most famous of these being
Liberace Cooks, co-authored
by cookbook guru Carol Truax, which included "
Liberace Lasagna" and
Liberace Sticky Buns." The book features recipes "from his seven
dining rooms" (of his Hollywood home).
Liberace's live shows during the 1970s–80s remained major box-office
attractions at the
Las Vegas Hilton and Lake Tahoe, where he earned
$300,000 a week.
Liberace competed against Irish actor
Richard Harris for the
purchase of the Tower House, in Holland Park, west London. Harris
eventually bought the house after discovering that
Liberace had agreed
to buy it, but had not yet put down a deposit. British entertainer
Danny La Rue
Danny La Rue visited
The Tower House
The Tower House with
Liberace and later recounted
in his autobiography a paranormal experience that he had there with
Later television work
Liberace also made significant appearances on other shows such as The
Ed Sullivan Show, The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, Edward
R. Murrow's Person to Person, and on the shows of
Jack Benny and Red
Skelton, on which he often parodied his own persona. A new Liberace
Show premiered on ABC's daytime schedule in 1958, featuring a less
flamboyant, less glamorous persona, but it failed in six months, as
his popularity began slumping.
Liberace received a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for his contributions to the television
industry. He continued to appear on television as a frequent and
welcomed guest on The Tonight Show with
Jack Paar in the 1960s, with
memorable exchanges with
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Muhammad Ali, and later
with Johnny Carson. He was also Red Skelton's 1969
replacement with his own variety hour, taped in London. Skelton and
Lew Grade's production companies co-produced this program. In a cameo
on The Monkees, he appeared at an avant garde art gallery as himself,
gleefully smashing a grand piano with a sledgehammer as Mike Nesmith
looked on and cringed in mock agony.
In the Batman television series in 1966 with
Adam West and Burt Ward,
Liberace played a dual role as concert pianist Chandell and his
gangster-like twin Harry, who was extorting Chandell into a life of
crime as "Fingers", in the episodes "The Devil's Fingers" and "The
Dead Ringers", both written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had developed
Batman for television. The episodes of this two-part story were,
according to Joel Eisner's The Official Batman Batbook, the
highest-rated of all the show's episodes. His subsequent television
appearances included episodes of
Here's Lucy (1970), Kojak, and The
Muppet Show (both 1978), all as himself. His performances in the last
of these included a "Concerto for the Birds", "Misty", "Five Foot
Two", and a rendition of "Chopsticks". Television specials were made
from Liberace's show at the
Las Vegas Hilton in 1978-79 which were
broadcast on CBS.
In the 1980s, he guest-starred on television shows such as Saturday
Night Live (on a 10th season episode hosted by
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T),
and the 1984 film
Special People. In 1985, he appeared at the first
WrestleMania as the guest timekeeper for the main event.
Liberace in 1968
Even before his arrival in Hollywood in 1947,
Liberace wanted to add
acting to his list of accomplishments. His exposure to the Hollywood
crowd through his club performances led to his first movie appearance
South Sea Sinner
South Sea Sinner (1950), a tropical island drama
Macdonald Carey and Shelley Winters, in which he was
14th-billed as "a
Hoagy Carmichael sort of character with long
Liberace also appeared as a guest star in two compilation
features for RKO Radio Pictures.
Footlight Varieties (1951) is an
imitation-vaudeville hour and a little-known sequel, Merry Mirthquakes
Liberace as master of ceremonies.
Liberace was at the height of his career when tapped by
Warner Bros. for his first starring motion picture, Sincerely Yours
(1955), a remake of The Man Who Played God (1932), as a concert
pianist who turns his efforts toward helping others when his career is
cut short by deafness. In April 1955,
Modern Screen magazine claimed
Doris Day had been most often mentioned as Liberace’s leading lady,
"but it is doubtful that Doris will play the role. Liberace’s name
alone will pack theatres and generous
Liberace would like to give a
newcomer a break." (Joanne Dru, an established movie actress, was the
leading lady.) When Sincerely Yours was released in November, the
studio mounted an ad and poster campaign with Liberace’s name in
huge, eccentric, building-block letters above and much larger than the
title. "Fabulously yours in his first starring motion picture!" was a
tag line. The other players and staff were smallish at the bottom. The
film was a critical and commercial failure since
unable to translate his eccentric on-stage persona to that of a movie
leading man. Warner quickly issued a pressbook ad supplement with new
"Starring" billing below the title, in equal plain letters: "Liberace,
Joanne Dru, Dorothy Malone". TCM's
Robert Osborne recalls a more
dramatic demotion: When Sincerely Yours played first run at the
Orpheum in Seattle, the billing was altered even more: Joanne Dru,
Dorothy Malone, and
Alex Nicol above the title (with big head shots of
all three) and below the title in much smaller letters: "with Liberace
at the piano". Originally, Sincerely Yours was meant to be the first
of a two-picture movie contract, but it proved a massive box-office
flop. The studio then bought back the contract, effectively paying
Liberace not to make a second movie.
The experience left
Liberace so shaken that he largely abandoned his
movie aspirations. He made two more big-screen appearances, but only
in cameo roles. These were
When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965),
starring Connie Francis, where
Liberace essentially played himself. He
received kudos for his brief appearance as a casket salesman in The
Loved One (1966), based on Evelyn Waugh's satire of the funeral
business and movie industry in Southern California.
The massive success of Liberace's syndicated television show was the
main impetus behind his record sales. From 1947-51, he recorded 10
discs. By 1954, it jumped to nearly 70. He released several
Columbia Records including
Liberace by Candlelight
(later on Dot and through direct television advertising) and sold over
400,000 albums by 1954. His most popular single was "Ave Maria",
selling over 300,000 copies.
His albums included pop standards of the time, such as "Hello,
Dolly!", and also included his interpretations of the classical piano
repertoire such as Chopin and Liszt, although many fans of classical
music widely criticized them (as well as Liberace's skills as a
pianist in general) for being "pure fluff with minimal musicianship".
In his life, he received six gold records.
Lawsuits and allegations of homosexuality
Liberace v Daily Mirror
Liberace's fame in the United States was matched for a time in the
United Kingdom. In 1956, an article in the Daily Mirror by columnist
Cassandra (William Connor) described
Liberace as "…the summit of
sex—the pinnacle of masculine, feminine and neuter. Everything that
he, she and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering,
snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering,
giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love",
a description which strongly implied that he was homosexual.
Liberace sent a telegram that read: "What you said hurt me very much.
I cried all the way to the bank." He sued the newspaper for
libel, testifying in a
London court that he was not homosexual and
that he had never taken part in homosexual acts. He was represented in
court by one of the great barristers of the period, 75 year old
Gilbert Beyfus, QC, who displayed all his old flair despite being
unwell. They won the suit, partly on the basis of Connor's use of
the derogatory expression "fruit-flavoured". The case partly hinged on
whether Connor knew that 'fruit' was American slang implying that an
individual is a homosexual. After a three-week civil trial, a jury
ruled in Liberace's favor on June 16, 1959 and awarded him £8,000
(around $22,400) in damages (worth about £170,800 or $188,000 today)
Liberace to repeat the catchphrase to reporters: "I cried
all the way to the bank!" Liberace's popularization of the phrase
inspired the title of Crying All the Way to the Bank, a detailed
report of the trial based on transcripts, court reports, and
interviews, by the former Daily Mirror journalist Revel Barker.
Confidential cover July 2, 1957, "Why Liberace's Theme Song Should Be
'Mad About the Boy!'"
Liberace fought and settled a similar case in the United States
against Confidential. Rumors and gossip magazines frequently implied
that he was gay. A typical issue of Confidential in 1957 shouted, "Why
Liberace's Theme Song Should Be 'Mad About the Boy!'"
In 1982, Scott Thorson, Liberace's 22-year-old former chauffeur and
live-in lover of five years, sued the pianist for $113 million in
palimony after he was let go by Liberace.
Liberace continued to
deny that he was homosexual, and during court depositions in 1984, he
insisted that Thorson was never his lover. The case was settled out of
court in 1986, with Thorson receiving a $75,000 cash settlement, plus
three cars and three pet dogs worth another $20,000. Thorson
stated after Liberace's death that he settled because he knew that
Liberace was dying and that he had intended to sue based on conversion
of property rather than palimony. He later attested that
a "boring guy" in his private life and mostly preferred to spend his
free time cooking, decorating, and playing with his dogs, and also
that he never played the piano outside of his public performances.
According to Thorson: "He (Liberace) had several decorated, ornamental
pianos in the various rooms of his house, but he never played them."
Thorson also remarked that he was not aware that
Liberace had any
health issues prior to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and
up until one year before his death that: "He was in overall excellent
shape for his age; barrel-chested and powerfully built."
Liberace never publicly acknowledged that he was gay,
confusion over his true sexuality was further muddled in the public's
mind by his public friendships and his romantic links with women.
He further obscured his sexuality in articles like "Mature Women Are
Best: TV's Top Pianist Reveals What Kind of Woman He'd Marry."
In a 2011 interview, actress and close friend
Betty White stated that
Liberace was indeed gay and that she was often used as a beard by his
managers to counter public rumors of the musician's homosexuality.
Liberace's tomb at Forest Lawn
Liberace's final stage performance was at New York's Radio City Music
Hall on November 2, 1986; it was his 18th show in 21 days, and the
series grossed $2.5 million. His final television appearance
was on Christmas Day that same year on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which
was actually videotaped in Chicago over one month earlier.
Illness and death
Liberace was secretly diagnosed
HIV positive in August 1985 by his
private physician in Las Vegas, 18 months before his death. Cary James
Wyman, his lover of seven years, was also infected and later died in
1987. Another lover, named Chris Adler, came forward after Liberace's
death and claimed that
Liberace infected him with HIV; Adler died in
1990 at age 30. Aside from his long-term manager, Seymour Heller, and
a few family members and associates,
Liberace kept his terminal
illness a secret until the day he died and did not seek any medical
treatment. In August 1986, during one of his last interviews, which
was with the TV news program Good Morning America,
Liberace hinted of
his failing health when he remarked, "How can you enjoy life if you
don't have your health?" He was hospitalized for pneumonia from
January 23 to January 27, 1987, at the Palm Springs county hospital.
Liberace died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia as a result of AIDS on
the late morning of February 4, 1987, at his retreat home in Palm
Springs, California. He was 67 years old.
A devout Roman Catholic to the end, he had a priest administer the
last rites to him the day before his death. The original cause of
death was attributed variously to anemia (due to a diet of
watermelon), emphysema, and heart disease, the last of which was
attested to by Liberace's personal physician, Dr. Ronald Daniels.
However, the Riverside County coroner, against the advice of Dr.
Daniels, performed an autopsy and later stated that "a deliberate
attempt" had been made to hide the actual cause of death by Liberace's
doctors, his manager, and Liberace's entire immediate family. The post
mortem discovered that
Liberace had emphysema and coronary artery
disease from years of chain smoking, but the real cause of death was
pneumonia due to complications from AIDS. Author Darden Asbury
Pyron writes that
Liberace had been "HIV-positive and symptomatic"
from 1985 until his death.
Liberace's body is entombed at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery
in Los Angeles. In 1994, the Palm Springs Walk of Stars
dedicated a Golden Palm Star to him.
Liberace was recognized during his career with two Emmy Awards, six
gold albums, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Liberace
released a book on his life and performed 56 sold-out shows at Radio
City Music Hall which set box-office records a few months before his
death in Palm Springs, California, on February 4, 1987.
Liberace Museum and Tivoli Gardens Restaurant
In October 2010, the
Liberace Museum in
Las Vegas closed after 31
years of being open to the general public. In June 2011, Liberace's
Tivoli Gardens Restaurant, then operated by Carluccio's, closed its
location next to the museum and relocated elsewhere. According to
Liberace Foundation President Jack Rappaport, the museum had been in
negotiations with money interests on the
Las Vegas strip to relocate
the museum but were unsuccessful. The
Liberace Foundation, which
provides college scholarships to up-and-coming performers, continued
to function. In January 2013, the
Liberace Foundation announced
plans to relocate the museum to downtown Las Vegas, with a targeted
opening date of 2014. In 2014, however,
chairman Jonathan Warren announced that the deal for the new museum
As of April 7, 2016, Liberace's cars are on display, as well as a
piano, and several costumes at the "
Liberace Garage" also located in
Depiction in media
Warner Bros. cartoon
Hyde and Hare has
Bugs Bunny playing
piano as a Liberace-like character.
In the 1957
Warner Bros. cartoon The Three Little Bops, the
piano-playing pig imitates
Liberace saying, "I wish my brother George
Also, in 1957,
Billy Barty parodied
Liberace on an episode of The
Spike Jones Show by playing "I'm in the Mood for Love" on a miniature
piano bedecked with tiny candelabras that spouted milk.
In 1981, Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV aired two skits with Dave
Thomas playing Liberace. In the first,
Liberace was a guest on The
Merv Griffin Show alongside
Yasser Arafat and Lou Ferrigno. In the
second, a Christmas episode,
Liberace performs Good King Wenceslas
while Orson Welles (John Candy) repeatedly flubs his narration.
On October 2, 1988, a television film titled
Liberace aired on ABC,
starring Andrew Robinson as Liberace,
Rue McClanahan as his mother
Frances Liberace, John Rubinstein,
Maris Valainis as Scott Thorson,
Deborah Goodrich, Louis Giambalvo, and Kario Salem; the film had the
distinct advantage of using Liberace's musical arrangements and
recordings, and even some of his costumes and jewelry, but was evasive
about his sexuality.
On October 9, 1988, a Canada-US made-for-TV film biography, Liberace:
Behind the Music, was aired on CBS.
Victor Garber played Liberace,
Saul Rubinek played Seymour Heller, his manager (and a major
consultant to the film).
Maureen Stapleton played his mother Frances
Michael Dolan appeared as Scott Thorson. This film used some of
Liberace's stage furnishings and was rather candid about his
Liberace: Live from Heaven, a play imagining the entertainer's
heavenly "trial" following death, began on stage in early 2010. The
show featured the voices of
Bobby Crush as Liberace,
Stephen Fry as
Saint Peter, and
Victoria Wood as God.
Behind the Candelabra, a film adaptation of Scott Thorson's
autobiography, debuted on
HBO in May 2013. Michael Douglas
stars as Liberace, with
Matt Damon playing Thorson, in a story
centered on the relationship the two shared and its aftermath. His
mother Frances was played by Debbie Reynolds, who knew
Liberace as a
friend during his lifetime.
Jim Gaffigan Show, in 2016 licensed the likeness of
well as the use of a costume made for the
HBO film Behind the
Candelabra, from the
Liberace Foundation, for an episode of the Jim
Gaffigan Show which featured
Michael Ian Black
Michael Ian Black as Liberace.
Mozart in the Jungle, an Amazon original series licensed the likeness
Liberace as well as the use of a costume made for the
Behind the Candelabra
Behind the Candelabra for appearances of
Liberace in two episodes of
season 4 of the show in 2018, according to
Chairman Jonathan Warren.
Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, an app-based video game from Tinyco
which is produced in cooperation with the writers of Family Guy
licensed the likeness and voice of
Liberace from the Liberace
Foundation for his appearance as a game character in 2017, according
Liberace Foundation Chairman Jonathan Warren.
Blade Runner 2049, the 2017 sequel to the 1982 cult classic Blade
Runner (both produced by Ridley Scott), licensed the likeness and
Liberace for an appearance in the film which takes place in a
dystopian Las Vegas, alongside fellow icons Elvis,
Sinatra and Marilyn
Liberace was said to be worth over $110 million at the time of his
death, and to have bequeathed $88 million to the
at the time of his death. The story was perpetuated by the
officers of the
Liberace Foundation often and as late as 2013. Only in
Liberace Foundation Chairman Jonathan Warren reveal in a
lecture at the
Mob Museum in
Las Vegas that these figures were all
part of the showmanship of Liberace, and that the real figures were
closer to one tenth those amounts. The
Liberace Foundation saw the
sunset of its in-house endowment fund in 2011. University endowment
funds provided by it continue to provide scholarships annually. The
Liberace museum closed its doors in 2010, citing the
recession and an outdated, outmoded facility. In November 2013, a
dozen of Liberace's famous costumes, together with one of his stage
cars and a piano went on display for a six-week period at the
Las Vegas in an exhibition titled "Too Much of a Good
Thing Is Wonderful", Liberace's unofficial motto, and an often-used
one-liner from his act. During the exhibit, Jonathan Warren took over
as Chairman of the Foundation, and negotiated the extension of the
exhibit for an additional seven months. The resulting audience
response resulted in the new era of brand licensing of Liberace.
Liberace: An Autobiography, by Liberace. Putnam and Co. Ltd, New York,
1973 ISBN 978-0399112294 (hardcover)
The Things I Love, by
Liberace with Tony Palmer (editor). Grosset
& Dunlap, New York, 1976 ISBN 978-0448127187 (hardcover)
The Wonderful Private World of Liberace, by
Liberace and Michael
Segell. Harper and Row, New York, 1986 ISBN 978-0060154813
Crying All the Way to the Bank, by Revel Barker (Famous Trials) 2009
Liberace Story, by Chester Whitehorn (editor). Screen Publications
Inc, New York, 1955 (softcover – #4 in the Candid Profile series)
Liberace: On Stage and Off, by Anthony Monahan. GRT Music Productions,
Sunnyvale California, 1976 (hardcover)
Liberace: The True Story, by Bob Thomas. St. Martins Press, New York,
Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, by
Scott Thorson with
Alex Thorleifson. E.P. Dutton, New York, 1988 (hardcover)
Liberace: A Bio-Bibliography, by Jocelyn Faris. Greenwood Press,
Westport CT, 1995
Liberace: An American Boy, by Darden Asbury Pyron. University of
Chicago Press, 2000, (hardcover) Read an excerpt.
Liberace (Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians), by
Ray Mungo and
Martin B. Duberman. Chelsea House Publications
Liberace Cooks, by Carol Truax. Doubleday, New York, 1970 (hardcover)
Cookbook of the Stars, Motion Picture Mothers, Hollywood, 1970. (A
collection of recipes by Hollywood stars including Liberace, Bing
Crosby, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Katharine Ross, Mary Tyler Moore,
Don Knotts, and more)
Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America's Kitchiest Kitchen, by
Michael Feder and Karan Feder. Angel City Press, 2007 (hardcover)
Delicious Recipes from Liberace's #1 Cook, by Gladys Luckie
The Ghost of
Liberace – New Writing Scotland 11 (an anthology), A.L
Kennedy (editor) and Hamish Whyte (editor), Association for Scottish
Literary Studies, 1993 (paperback)
Why My Mother Likes Liberace: A Musical Selection, by Diane Wakoski.
(Comparing poetry to music: 13 poems by Wakoski, with line drawings of
pianos by Rebecca Gaver). Sun / Gemini Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1985
The First Time: 28 Celebrities Tell About Their First Sexual
Experiences, by Karl Fleming and Anne Taylor Fleming. Descriptions by
Liberace, Debbie Reynolds, Art Buchwald, Erica Jong, Jack Lemmon,
Loretta Lynn, Dyan Cannon, Joan Rivers, Dr. Spock, Irving Wallace, Mae
West, and 17 others. Berkley Medallion, 1976 (paperback)
Liberace Christmas Music: A Guide to Cassettes, Compact Discs, Music
Piano Rolls, and Sound Recordings, by Karl B Johnson, John
Liberace Collection, 263 page Auction Catalogue jointly produced
by Butterfield & Butterfield and Christie's, Los Angeles
Convention Centre, 1988
Liberace Deluxe Big Note Song Book, Shattinger International Music,
New York, 1977 (Spirax paperback)
Liberace by Candlelight –
Piano Music of Liberace, Edwin H. Morris
& Co. (paperback)
Liberace Popular Standards, New York: Charles Hansen Music & Books
Liberace: Your Personal Fashion Consultant, by Michael Feder and Karan
Feder. Abrams Image, 2007 (paperback)
Liberace Extravaganza!", by award-winning costume designers Connie
Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett is an opulent display of the renowned
entertainer’s dazzling and over-the-top costumes. Harper Collins,
2013 (Hard Cover)
^ He pronounced his full name as follows: /ˈvwɑːdʒuː
vælənˈtiːnoʊ lɪbəˈrɑːtʃi/, VWAH-joo val-ən-TEE-noh
lib-ə-RAH-chee. He was informally known as "Lee" to his friends
and "Walter" to his family.
^ a b "Ancestry of Liberace".
Liberace interview". Good Afternoon (Interview). Interview with
Mavis Nicholson. Thames Television (via YouTube). Retrieved
^ a b Barker, 2009, p. 12.
^ 88 notes pour piano solo, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Neva Editions, 2015,
p. 163. ISBN 978-2-3505-5192-0
^ Barker, 2009, p. 367.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 1.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 12.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 17.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 42.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 35.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 63.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 57.
^ Pyron, 2000, pp. 46–54.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 66.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 77.
^ Pyron, 2000, pp. 90–94.
^ Kart, Larry (February 5, 1987). "Liberace, 67, Pianist Turned
One-man Musical Circus`". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 January
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 96.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 79.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 115.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 139.
^ a b Pyron, 2000, p. 161.
^ a b Pyron, 2000, p. 162.
You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life #55-24 Liberace; Groucho sings "I Love a Piano"
(Secret word 'House', Mar 8, 1956). YouTube. November 6, 2013.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 180.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 272.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 281.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 292.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 7.
^ Pyron, 2000, pp. 165–67.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 168. "Thank you for your very amusing review. After
reading it, in fact, my brother George and I laughed all the way to
^ a b Smith, Chrysti M. (2006). Verbivore's Feast: Second Course: More
Word & Phrase Origins. Farcountry Press. p. 84.
ISBN 978-1560374046. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 278.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 132.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 141.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 145.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 154.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 156.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 175.
^ Pyron, 2000, figure 25
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 250.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 280.
^ Pyron, 2000, pp. 255, 269.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 270.
^ Callan 1990a, p. 138
Danny La Rue
Danny La Rue (1987). Drags to Riches: My Autobiography. Penguin
Books. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-140-09862-4.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 202.
^ "WrestleMania I: Celebrities". wwe.com. March 31, 1985. Retrieved
April 9, 2013.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 124.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 157.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 153.
^ "Yearn-Strength Five", Daily Mirror, London, September 26, 1956, p.
^ "High Court Of Justice; Queen's Bench Division, "I Don't Care What
My Readers Think",
Liberace V. Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd". The
Times. London. June 12, 1959. p. 16. (Subscription required
(help)). They all say that this deadly, winking, sniggering,
snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering,
giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love
has had the biggest reception and impact on
London since Charlie
Chaplin arrived at the same station, Waterloo, on September 12,
^ Barker, 2009.
^ "Libercae Battles Writer's "Smears"". The News-Palladium. Benton
Harbor, Michigan. June 8, 1959. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
^ Hodgkinson, Liz (May 25, 2009) "Dispatches: Publishing:
stopper", The Guardian, Manchester
^ "Cry all the way to the bank". World Wide Words. Retrieved
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 211.
^ a b
Liberace had last laugh on critics by 'crying all the way to the
Pittsburgh Press, February 5, 1987
CNN LARRY KING LIVE: Interview With
Scott Thorson CNN, August 12,
^ Kelly, Jon (April 16, 2013). "What
Liberace reveals about the march
of gay rights". BBC News.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 210.
Betty White Interview". The Joy Behar Show. YouTube. May 3, 2011.
HLN. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
^ "Live Appearances".
Liberace Foundation and Museum. 2009. Retrieved
September 18, 2010. [permanent dead link]
^ Barron, James (February 5, 1987). "Liberace, Flamboyant Pianist, Is
Dead". The New York Times.
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 401.
^ a b Coroner Cites AIDS in
Liberace Death. The New York Times,
February 10, 1987
^ Nelson, Harry (February 10, 1987). "
Liberace Died Of Pneumonia
Caused by AIDS". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
^ a b
Liberace AIDS confirmed The
Pittsburgh Press, Feb 10, 1987
^ Pyron, 2000, p. 369. "Although he was both
HIV positive and
symptomatic when he signed the publishing contract with Harper and Row
^ Petrucelli, Alan (2009-09-29). Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing
Demises of the Famous and Infamous. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101140499.
Retrieved April 9, 2013.
^ Never, Johns (June 20, 2009). "Forest Lawn Cemetery – Liberace
Tomb 01". flickr.com. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
Palm Springs Walk of Stars
Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from
the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012. Retrieved April 16,
^ Tell the USPS to Recognize
Liberace with a Stamp! (July 7, 2011).
"Liberace's Tivoli Gardens Restaurant Now Closed « Tell the USPS
Liberace with a Stamp!".
Liberacedeservesastamp.wordpress.com. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
^ Welch, Chris (October 16, 2010) Show's over for
Liberace Museum in
^ Katsilometes, John (January 28, 2013)
Liberace Museum is planning a
move downtown — to Neonopolis.
Las Vegas Sun
Liberace Museum Back From the Dead?. outtraveler.com
^ Townsend Rodgers, Lissa. "
Liberace Garage Showcases Mr.
Showmanship's Rides". VegasSeven. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
^ See Liberace: Behind The Music; IMDb.
^ "Behind the Candelabra: The Secret Life of Liberace". The New York
^ Thompson, Arienne (October 11, 2011). "Douglas, Damon starring in
Liberace biopic". USA Today. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
^ "BEHIND THE CANDELABRA; The Book, The Movie". EarlyWord. March 20,
2013. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
Jim Gaffigan Shows That 'The Gaffigan Show' Is Truly a Family
Affair". Tumbler. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
^ Collin, Robbie (October 8, 2017). "
Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 review: the
most spectacular, profound blockbuster of our time". The Daily
Telegraph. London. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
^ Viner, Brian (September 27, 2017). "Harrison Ford is back in the
future... and it's even better!". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved
March 17, 2017.
^ "Remembering Liberace". Larry King Live. August 7, 2001. CNN.
Callan, Michael Feeney (1990). Richard Harris: A Sporting Life.
London: Sidgwick & Jackson Limited.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Liberace.
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ISNI: 0000 0001 0904 5238
BNF: cb138966405 (data)