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Music / Liberace

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"Liberace was one of the biggest stars in America. He was a kind of a phenomenon."
Michael Douglas, who played him in Behind the Candelabra

Władziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987), known by those close to him as "Lee" or "Walter", was an American pianist, singer and actor. Born to Polish and Italian immigrants, he was a Child Prodigy, learning to play the piano at age 4, and able to remember even difficult pieces by the time he was 7. He soon went on to play with well-known orchestras, and toured throughout the United States.

In the 1940s, he moved away from classical music, adding some traditional "pop" styling to his piano music. This soon found success, and for the next four decades, he would become a fixture in the entertainment world. As well as his own The Eponymous Show in the 1950s and frequent guest appearances As Himself on variety shows, he had a memorable Guest Star turn in Batman (1966) in a dual role as concert pianist Chandell and his gangster twin Harry. His two-part episode drew the highest ratings of the series. He would also go on to get a residency show in Vegas, star in motion pictures (his turn as a coffin salesman in The Loved One being a particular high point), and become the highest-paid entertainer in the world.

He was also well-known for his oft-mocked flamboyant style, dressing in nice suits and elaborate costumes, and buying many expensive items, earning the nickname "Mr. Showmanship".

Throughout his life, there was much speculation about his sexuality, which was fueled by tabloid publications in the mid-1950s. Liberace vehemently denied that he was gay, and sued the British Daily Mirror and the American Confidential. The famous phrase "I laughed all the way to the bank" originates from a response he had to a poor review of his work - in later reviews he said he cried all the way to the bank, including when suing the Daily Mirror, but the original stuck. He won the Mirror suit in 1959, and the Confidential suit was settled out of court. Nonetheless, parodies of Liberace played up his flamboyance (if such a thing were possible) and generally treated him as "obviously" gay without saying so out loud.

In 1985, he tested positive for HIV, a fact he concealed from the public. He died 18 months later on February 4, 1987. He was officially outed by Betty White, a longtime friend, in an interview in 2011, when she admitted that she often bearded for him at public events. Even The Other Wiki now acknowledges that he was gay.

Liberace was reportedly a huge influence on Elton John, and gave Barbra Streisand her first big break.


  • The Ace: It can be forgotten due to his persona that Liberace was a genuinely extremely talented piano player, able to play almost any song just by ear from a young age.
  • Baldness Angst: He was so insecure about his hair loss that he wore a toupee at all times, even in bed.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: His camp demeanor and garish outfits aside, he was an exceptionally talented pianist.
  • Camp: He exemplified this term during his lifetime, with his showy on-stage persona and dressing in shiny, elaborate outfits.
  • Child Prodigy: He was an exceptionally talented piano player by the age of seven by which time he could play any song just by ear.
  • Deadpan Snarker: He was famous for his dry wit and remarks both during shows and offstage, more than a few of which were directed at himself.
  • Dodgy Toupee: He was famous for donning these after going bald in his middle age and would even sleep with them on.
  • Elvis Has Left the Planet: Fortean Times ran a main article which over six pages brought together all the stories that not only Elvis, but also Liberace had left the planet in an alien spacecraft. Apparently Space Liberace returned to play a gig somewhere in the backwoods of the USA. (Fyffe, Alabama, allegedly saw the most unique "coming out of retirement" gig in history.)
  • Iconic Item: In addition to the costumes, there were his candelabras, which he would always put on his pianos before playing them.
  • Large Ham: He was never anything less than theatrical. There's a reason his nickname was "Mr Showmanship".
  • Never Bareheaded: After going bald in middle age, he would never let himself be seen without a toupee, even sleeping with one on, and refusing to do a face lift procedure when he was told it would mean taking off his wig.
  • Nice Guy: He was known for being very gracious and friendly to fans and kind to crew members who worked on his shows.
  • Nice to the Waiter: When filming a television special in England, he made a point of learning the names of all the production crew. Years later when he returned to make another show, he was able to greet every crew member by name.
  • Open Secret: His sexuality was basically known by everyone in the music industry even if neither Liberace himself nor anyone else would ever say it out loud.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Many of his outfits featured these; in fact, that's his image on the trope page.
  • Pimped-Out Car: He owned a number of fancy cars, which were just as shiny and elaborate as his costumes and accessories, and often arrived onstage in one of them.
  • Self-Deprecation: He was more than happy to make jokes at his own expense such as famously quipping at the 1982 Academy Awards that "I made my greatest contribution to motion pictures years ago. I stopped making them".
  • Teen Genius: He first played professionally at the age of fourteen and did so regularly throughout his teen years, becoming his family's main source of income.
  • Transparent Closet: Though he never admitted it while he was alive, even having his obituaries lie about his cause of death (AIDS was still widely considered a "gay disease" at the time), everyone who ever knew Liberace in person for more than five minutes knew he was gay.


Video Example(s):


Sam and Liberace

Liberace assures Sam the Eagle that he won't wear a rhinestone tuxedo and play shameless boogie-woogie soon only to say he'll do them right now.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / FalseReassurance

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