A Rockapaedia Obituary
Władziu Valentino Liberace died aged sixty-seven on 4th February 1987 in Palm Springs, California, U.S.A. from Pneumonia as a complication of AIDS. His Resting place is Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery, California, U.S.A..
Liberace was secretly diagnosed HIV positive in August 1985 by his private physician in Las Vegas, eighteen months before his death. Cary James Wyman, his lover of seven years, was also infected and died in 1997. 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 thirty. 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 could he enjoy life if he didn't have his health?" He was hospitalized for pneumonia from 23rd January to 27th Jasnuary, 1987, at the Palm Springs county hospital.
A devout Roman Catholic to the end, he had a priest administer the last rites to him the day before his death. Liberace's death was initially attributed variously to anemia, 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 Liberace's death by his 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 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 with that of his mother and brother, at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.. In 1994, the Palm Springs Walk of Stars dedicated a Golden Palm Star to Liberace, who was said to be worth over one-hundred and ten million dollars at the time of his death, and to have bequeathed eight-eight million dollars to the Liberace Foundation at the time of his death. The story was perpetuated by the officers of the Liberace Foundation. Only in 2015 did 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 10% 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 original 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 Cosmopolitan 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.
Władziu Valentino Liberace, known as "Lee" to his friends and "Walter" to family, was born in West Allis, Wisconsin,U.S.A. on 16th May 1919. His father, Salvatore Liberace was an immigrant from Formia in the Lazio region of central Italy. His mother, Frances Zuchowska, was Polish. Liberace had an identical twin who died at birth. He had three surviving siblings: a brother George, who was a violinist, a 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, despite having been a concert pianist before her marriage, believed music lessons and a record player to be unaffordable luxuries. This caused family disputes. 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 art.
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 at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. He was intoxicated by the joy he got from the great virtuoso's playing and his dreams were filled with fantasies of following in those footsteps. Inspired and fired with ambition he began to practice with a fervor that made his previous interest in the piano look un-consequential.
The Great Depression was financially hard on the Liberace family. In childhood, 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 his musical development for ten 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 his mother and father did not approve, their son was earning a reasonable 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 mostly bypassed radio before trying a television career, thinking radio unsuitable given his act's dependency on visual impact. Despite his enthusiasm about the possibilities of television, Liberace was disappointed after his early guest appearances on CBS's The Kate Smith Show, and DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars, with Jackie Gleason. Liberace was particularly unhappy with the frenzied 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 furthered as a sold-out appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.
The fifteen-minute network television program, The Liberace Show, began on 1st July 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 seven million dollars 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." Liberace began 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 thirty million viewers at any one time and received ten thousand 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 exposure gave Liberace a dedicated following in the United Kingdom and homosexual men also found him appealing. According to author Darden Asbury Pyron, Liberace was the first gay person tha rock-star Elton John had ever seen on television and became his hero.
The massive success of Liberace's syndicated television show was the main impetus behind his record sales and from 1947 to 1951, he recorded ten discs and by 1954, it jumped to nearly seventy. He released several recordings through Columbia Records including Liberace by Candlelight and had sold over four hundred thousand albums by 1954. His most popular single was "Ave Maria", selling over three hundred thousands of copies.
Liberace's albums included pop standards of the time, including "Hello, Dolly!", and also included his interpretations of the classical piano repertoire including those of Chopin and Liszt. In his life-time, Liberace received six gold records.