Thursday, February 4, 2010

Liberace Died On This Date

Liberace died on this date in 1987.  By the time I was old enough to know who he was in the late 1970s, I knew him as this sort of garish parody of himself.  He famously dressed in these elaborate jeweled outfits, accented by furs and an outdated pompadour.  And he would make these 'comedic' allusions to his sexuality which were so thinly veiled that even as a 10 year old, I knew what he was hinting at. 

But I knew him, nonetheless, or at least 'of him.'  So in the late 1990s, when I used to go to Las Vegas regularly with friends, I found myself once making a trek on foot to the Liberace Museum. (My friends all gambled, but I didn't.  So I spent my days there seeing the sights of Vegas while they were playing in the casinos.) What struck me was that the museum was located in this nondescript suburban strip mall, the sort of place that you might find a store that sold aquariums and tropical fish, or maybe a dry cleaner. It seemed so incongruous that this larger than life character, who was glamorous in his own way, would be relegated in death to a spot in this nondescript little strip mall. Once you walked in the unassuming front doors, however, the place was filled with 'bling.'  There were all his bejeweled Rolls Royces, and bejeweled pianos, and of course the over-the-top outfits. It was all in there. And then you'd walk outside again after you were done looking, and there was a 7 Eleven and a liquor store across the parking lot.

At the time I had no idea, really, that Liberace had been one of the first big television stars, back when TV was a fledgling medium in the early 1950s.  He already had the candelabra and the knowing smile, even then.  But this was well before the 'rhinestone glamour' and the joking innuendos. I learned about this earlier part of his career only a few years after my visit to his museum, however, when I happened to catch a BBC documentary about him.  I have embedded below a 4 minute segment from that documentary which discusses his early TV stardom.  I thought the anecdote at the start of this clip about how his manager identified his core audience was fascinating and revealing, and it made the fact that his museum was located in a suburban strip mall much less surprising after all.

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