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Wladziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987), better known by the stage name Liberace (pronounced Template:IPA), and known to his friends as Lee, was a charismatic American entertainer. Throughout his life, Liberace publicly denied assertions that he was homosexual but his sexual orientation became a notable topic of popular discussion after he sued a British newspaper for libel, was a defendant in a palimony suit brought by his live-in boyfriend, and eventually succumbed to complications due to HIV/AIDS.
Early life and stage name
Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin and grew up in a musical family of Polish-Italian heritage. He had a twin who died at birth. He was classically trained as a pianist and gained wide experience playing popular music. Lee followed the advice of famous Polish pianist and family friend Paderewski and billed himself under his last name only. As his classical career developed he found that his whimsical encores, in which he played pop songs and marches, went over better with audiences than his renditions of classical pieces, so he changed his act to "pop with a bit of classics". At other times he referred to his act as "classical music with the boring parts left out." During the mid and late 1940s he performed in dinner clubs and nightclubs in major cities around the United States.
He had a network television program in the 1950s which for a time had higher ratings than I Love Lucy. His brother George led the program's backing band. He became known for his extravagant costumes, personal charm and self-deprecating wit. His public image became linked with one ever present stage prop, a silver candelabrum perched on his piano. By 1955 he was making $50,000 per week at the Riviera nightclub in Las Vegas and had over 160 official fan clubs with a quarter of a million member fans (who throughout his career were mostly middle-aged women). He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for his contributions to the television industry.
In 1966 he appeared in two highly rated episodes of the campy US television series Batman. During the 1970s his appearances included guest roles on episodes of Here's Lucy and Kojak.
Liberace was also the guest host in an episode of The Muppet Show. His performances included a "Concerto for the Birds" and an amusing rendition of "Chopsticks." In the 1980 he guest starred on television shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show and the 1984 film [[Special People].
He released several recordings through Columbia Records (later on Dot and through direct television advertising) and sold over 2,000,000 records in 1953 alone. Liberace's highly colored style of piano playing was characterized by some critics as fluid and lyrical but technically careless.
He was at the height of his career in 1955 when he starred in Sincerely Yours with Dorothy Malone, playing 31 songs. The film was a commercial and critical failure and some of the problems were attributed to his having been overexposed on television.
In 1965 he had a small part in the movie When the Boys Meet the Girls starring Connie Francis, essentially playing himself.
In 1966 Liberace received kudos for his brief role as a casket salesman in the film adaptation of The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh's satire of the funeral business and movie industry in Southern California. It was the only film Liberace made in which he did not play the piano.
His fame in the US was paralleled for a time in the UK. In 1957 an article in The Daily Mirror by veteran columnist "Cassandra" (William Connor) mentioned that Liberace was "...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-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love," a description which did everything it could to imply he was homosexual without saying so. Liberace sued for libel, testified in a London court that he was not a homosexual, had never taken part in homosexual acts, and won.
For years Liberace had joked "I don't mind the bad reviews, but George [his brother and business partner] cries all the way to the bank." The £8,000 ($22,400) damages he received from The Daily Mirror led Liberace to alter this catchphrase to "I cried all the way to the bank!" 
In 1982, Liberace's live-in boyfriend of some five years, Scott Thorson, sued the pianist for $113 million in palimony after an acrimonious split up. Liberace continued to deny he was homosexual. In 1984 most of Thorson's claim was dismissed although he received a $95,000 settlement.
In 1960 Liberace performed at the London Palladium with Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. (this was the first televised "command performance" for Queen Elizabeth II). His career then went into a slump but he skillfully built it back up by appealing directly to his fan base through live appearances in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Liberace was a favorite subject of tabloid magazines throughout his life and he published an autobiography in 1973. He had a keen interest in cooking, often preparing meals for friends and associates, owned a restaurant in Las Vegas for many years and published cookbooks.
In 1975 Liberace's live shows were major box office attractions in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe and he sometimes earned as much as $125,000 a week. These glitzy shows were a continued success for the next eleven years, helped along by infrequent but flamboyant television appearances and the opening of a promotional museum of his extravagant jewelry and stage costumes in 1979.
Liberace's final stage performance was at Radio City Music Hall in New York on November 2, 1986. He died of complications related to AIDS at the age of 67 on February 4, 1987 at his winter house in Palm Springs, California. His obvious weight loss immediately prior to his death was attributed to a "watermelon diet" by his longtime and steadfast manager Seymour Heller. He is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas contains many of his stage costumes, cars, jewelry and lavishly-decorated pianos along with numerous citations for philanthropic acts.
- He appeared on the cover of TV Guide five times.
- He achieved a boyhood dream of playing at Carnegie Hall in 1953.
- His devotion to his mother was widely publicized.
- In 1953 Liberace was named by Ripley's Believe It Or Not as "The Fastest Piano Player In The World" for playing 6,000 notes in 2 minutes.
- He had a piano-shaped swimming pool.
- He was the first perfomer to demand and receive US$50,000 per week to play in Las Vegas.
- After seeing professional wrestler Gorgeous George perform in Las Vegas he began to wear a gold-lame dinner jacket in his performances there. Elvis Presley reportedly saw this and asked Liberace if he would mind if he copied the jacket, whereupon Liberace suggested an entire tuxedo of gold-lame, starting Elvis on the road to the rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuits of his later career. Elvis subsequently surpassed Liberace as Las Vegas' highest-paid performer but after Presley died Liberace reclaimed the distinction and held it for the rest of his life.
- Liberace is widely credited with helping singer Barbra Streisand's early career.
- During the 1960s he briefly owned and promoted an interior decorating shop in Hollywood.
- During a 1969 appearance on CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show, he said his favorite song was "The Impossible Dream," from the musical Man of La Mancha.
- He appeared onstage in hotpants for the first time in 1971 (the costume was red, white and blue with cowboy fringe).
- He appeared at the first WrestleMania (1985).
- After his death from complications related to AIDS, Liberace's extravagant house in Las Vegas, which he had purchased for $3,000,000, was offered for sale by his estate but no buyers came forward. The house was eventually sold for $325,000 at a public auction and converted into a banquet and reception center.
References in popular culture
- Entertainers inspired by him include Little Richard (who called himself "the bronze Liberace"), James Brown (who also cited Gorgeous George as a stage influence), and Elton John, whose costumes early in his career often included feathers and furs as Liberace's sometimes did.
- Liberace is mentioned in "My Baby Just Cares For Me" by Nina Simone, "The Lonely" by British Sea Power, "California Love" by Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur, "Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes, "We Didn't Start The Fire" by Billy Joel, and "American Bad Ass" by Kid Rock.
- In the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck Liberace is shown (using real footage) being intervied by Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn)