Liberace Liberace
American musician and entertainer
Liberace Liberace
Wladziu Valentino Liberace, best known simply as Liberace, was a famous American pianist and vocalist. In a career that spanned four decades of concerts, recordings, motion pictures, television and endorsements, Liberace became world-renowned. During the 1950s–1970s he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world and embraced a lifestyle of flamboyant excess both on and off the stage.
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  • 1987
    Age 67
    Liberace died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia as a result of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) on February 4, 1987, at his home in Palm Springs, California.
    More Details Hide Details He was 67 years old.
    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.
    More Details Hide Details 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, Liberace Foundation chairman Jonathan Warren announced that the deal for the new museum had failed. 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 Las Vegas.
  • 1986
    Age 66
    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.
    More Details Hide Details 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.
    In late 1986, during one of his last interviews, Liberace indirectly acknowledged his illness with AIDS by remarking to the press: "How can you enjoy life if you don't have your health?"
    More Details Hide Details Because 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 often served as a "beard" by his managers to counter rumors of the musician's homosexuality.
  • 1984
    Age 64
    Liberace continued to deny that he was homosexual, and during court depositions in 1984, he insisted that Thorson was never his lover.
    More Details Hide Details 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 Liberace was 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 contracting AIDS and up until one year before his death that: "He was in overall excellent shape for his age; barrel-chested and powerfully built."
  • 1982
    Age 62
    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.
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  • 1978
    Age 58
    Television specials were made from Liberace's show at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1978-79 which were broadcast on CBS.
    More Details Hide Details 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. 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 in Universal's South Sea Sinner (1950), a tropical-island drama starring Macdonald Carey and Shelley Winters, in which he was 14th-billed as "a Hoagy Carmichael sort of character with long hair." 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 (1953), featured Liberace as master of ceremonies.
  • 1966
    Age 46
    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.
    More Details Hide Details 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".
  • 1960
    Age 40
    Liberace received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for his contributions to the television industry.
    More Details Hide Details 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 and Muhammad Ali, and later with Johnny Carson. He was also Red Skelton's 1969 CBS summer 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.
  • 1958
    Age 38
    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.
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  • 1957
    Age 37
    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.
    More Details Hide Details 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 two brothers. 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 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.
  • 1956
    Age 36
    In 1956, Liberace had his first international engagement, playing successfully in Havana, Cuba.
    More Details Hide Details 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 and Sammy Davis, Jr. (this was the first televised "command performance", now known as the Royal Variety Performance, for Queen Elizabeth II).
    Liberace appeared on the 8 March 1956 episode of the TV quiz program You Bet Your Life hosted by Groucho Marx.
    More Details Hide Details 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 composers. "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 smile, Liberace exudes a love that is returned to him a thousand-fold."
  • 1955
    Age 35
    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.
    More Details Hide Details 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.
  • 1954
    Age 34
    He was mentioned as a sex symbol in The Chordettes 1954 #1 hit "Mr. Sandman".
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    His New York City performance at Madison Square Garden in 1954, which earned him a record $138,000 for one performance, was more successful than the great triumph his idol Paderewski had made 20 years earlier.
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  • 1950
    Age 30
    In 1950, he performed for music-loving President Harry S. Truman in the East Room of the White House.
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  • 1947
    Age 27
    He had to have a piano to match his growing presence, so he bought a rare, oversized, gold-leafed 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.
    More Details Hide Details 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. Liberace began 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.
    By 1947, he was billing himself as "Liberace—the most amazing piano virtuoso of the present day".
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  • 1945
    Age 25
    He was playing at the best clubs, finally appearing at the Persian Room in 1945, with Variety proclaiming, "Liberace looks like a cross between Cary Grant and Robert Alda.
    More Details Hide Details 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". During this time, Liberace worked to refine his act. He added the candelabrum as his trademark, inspired by a similar prop in the Chopin biopic 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.
  • 1944
    Age 24
    In 1944, he made his first appearances in Las Vegas, which later became his principal venue.
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  • 1943
    Age 23
    In 1943, he began to appear in Soundies (the 1940s precursor to music videos).
    More Details Hide Details 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.
  • 1942
    Age 22
    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".
    More Details Hide Details 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.
  • 1939
    Age 19
    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".
    More Details Hide Details 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 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.
  • 1937
    Age 17
    A participant in a formal classical music competition in 1937, Liberace was praised for his "flair and showmanship".
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  • 1934
    Age 14
    In 1934, he played jazz piano with a school group called "The Mixers" and later with other groups.
    More Details Hide Details 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.
  • 1919
    Born on May 16, 1919.
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