Liberace: The 10 Things You Need To Know

Liberace in Colour

Liberace was always going to be in showbiz

He became a pianist, vocalist, actor and WWF announcer (more on that later), but Liberace was born Władziu Valentino Liberace (or just "Lee" to his friends), which is a slightly more showy name than, say, Reginald Dwight.

Mind you, his older brother was called George, signalling that his parents knew they had to step it up name-wise if they wanted a showbiz breakthrough.

All the signs of his genius were there from an early age

Liberace was born with a caul, which, as you well know, is a piece of birth membrane that remains on the head and was thought to be an omen that the child was destined for amazingness. Other famous "caul-ists" include Lord Byron, Napoleon and, erm, James Iha, who used to be in the Smashing Pumpkins.

He wasn't exactly a classical music purist

A prodigious talent, Liberace learned to play the piano at the age of four and was able to memorise difficult classical pieces by the time he was seven. By the time he started touring America in the early 1940s, his flair for improvisation and a good pull quote emerged after he claimed he'd only play "classical music with the boring parts left out".

Like most musical megastars, Liberace struggled to make the move into film

At the height of his fame, Liberace was keen to move into film, starring in his first movie, Sincerely Yours, in 1955 for Warner Brothers. Rumours are that Doris Day was initially asked to be his leading lady, but the idea was scrapped because the studio felt Liberace's name alone would be enough to sell it. In the end the film performed so badly that Warner bought out the remainder of his contract.

He found a more receptive home on TV

Ignoring a career on the radio because no one could see him on the wireless, Liberace went straight to TV, landing his own show, prosaically called The Liberace Show, in 1952 (the show was broadcast in the UK and was apparently quite a big influence on a young Elton John). Perhaps his oddest TV appearance came in 1966 when he played a dual role as concert pianist Chandell alongside his evil twin, Harry, in the "slightly camp" TV version of Batman. The two episodes he starred in – The Devil's Fingers and Dead Ringer – were the highest-rated episodes in the show's history.

Liberace was adamant he wasn't gay and often sued people who claimed he was

With a penchant for ludicrous fur coats, diamanté-strewn two pieces and, at one point, a fetching purple rinse, Liberace hid his supposed heterosexuality well. In 1954 he announced his engagement to actress Joanne Rio, but the nuptials were swiftly curtailed by her father, who was put off by rumours about Liberace's sexuality. In 1959 the Daily Mirror referred to Liberace as "a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love". He promptly sued them, winning £8,000 in damages, and telling reporters he "cried all the way to the bank".

He wasn't comfortable with being bald

According to a TV documentary released in 2001, Liberace was so traumatised by his hair loss that he would sleep wearing one of his many hairpieces, and apparently once almost refused to undergo a planned facelift after the doctor asked him to remove his toupee.

He was apparently quite the fan of the World Wrestling Federation

In 1985 Liberace appeared as the guest timekeeper at the first ever WrestleMania, joining other guests Muhammad Ali and dance company the Rockettes. Wrestlers scoring wins on the night included the Junkyard Dog, André the Giant and Hulk Hogan.

He had his own museum

In 1978 Liberace opened his own museum, the Liberace Museum, which housed many of his pianos, cars, jewellery and costumes. At its peak, the museum brought in an average of 400,000 patrons a year. One specific exhibit was devoted to fan tributes and included a Steinway piano made out of 10,000 toothpicks. The museum closed in 2010.

Liberace's last meal was breakfast cereal

Liberace died on 4 February 1987 from an Aids-related illness. According to his cook, his last meal consisted of Cream of Wheat hot cereal (it's sort of like porridge), made with half-and-half milk and seasoned with brown sugar.

Powered by article was written by Michael Cragg, for on Friday 7th June 2013 12.27 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


images: ©, © Allan Warren