Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Wladziu Valentino Liberace, 16 May 1919, West Allis WI; d 4 February 1987, Palm Springs CA) Pianist, also sometime singer, composer ('Rhapsody By Candlelight' etc). Praised by Ignace Paderewski at seven, concert debut at eleven, played as teenager with Chicago Symphony; his fate was sealed when he impulsively played novelties as encores ('Three Little Fishes', 'Mairzy Doats'), dressing them with arpeggios like classical pieces: audiences loved it. An early stage name was Walter Busterkeys. He played cocktail piano, toured in USO shows, became famous in the 1950s on TV appealing to a certain age group, with trademark vulgarity in sequinned jackets, ermine capes etc and the trademark candelabra on the piano.
Paul Weston signed him to Columbia and told Goddard Lieberson, the label chief in New York, that he had to attend Liberace's Carnegie Hall concert: 'He's your artist, he's expecting you to be there.' Lieberson 'sat in the back behind a curtain, so that none of his symphonic friends would see him', said Weston. Singles and 10" LPs on Columbia sold well '52-4; singles including 'September Song', 'Story Of Three Loves' (movie theme from Rachmaninoff's 18th variation on a theme of Paganini; there were several hit versions); on some of these he was accompanied by his brother George (b 31 July 1911, Menasha WI; d 16 October 1983: violinist, conductor; later administrator of the Liberace Museum and Foundation).
Liberace played the lead in the film Sincerely Yours '55 ('Absurd' -- Leslie Halliwell); a camp part in The Loved One '65 did him more credit. In the late '50s he tried to give up the sequins for a buttoned-down look, but fans wouldn't let him. He sued the UK newspaper Daily Mirror '59 after columnist Cassandra implied homosexuality, and won; he was sued '82 for palimony by a chauffeur/bodyguard, a former Las Vegas dancer. Thirty years after his first fame he could still fill Radio City Music Hall; each concert brought busloads of fans from all over the country. His income was said to be millions of dollars a year, his five homes filled with gaudy fixtures and costumes; he was savaged by critics, but said that after reading reviews he cried all the way to the bank.
The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas closed in October 2010.