May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987
“You know that bank I used to cry all the way to? I bought it.”
Liberace, or “Lee” to his friends, desperately felt he needed to keep a tight lid on his homosexuality. He didn’t dare risk offending his dear fans in any way. Um… the clue phone is ringing. He ended up playing a bizarre cat and mouse game with the tabloids for his entire life. He even sued and WON a case with a tabloid who implied he was gay. Go figure.
This hangs in my home. He’s not gay! His Manhood Confirmed!
The first substantial break for the press was in 1983, when Scott Thorson sued Liberace for support. They were a couple for 5 years.
The press coined the term “Galimony” during that trial, which Scott won. Legend has it that Thorson was awarded a penthouse atop an office building on Beverly Blvd. which Liberace owned. Findadeath.com friend Bob Barnes clarifies that Scott didn’t exactly win the suit. It was settled out of court for an estimated $95,000, far less than the millions he was suing for. The palimony part of the suit was dropped at the very beginning because “contracts of a sexual nature” were inadmissible, or some such nonsense. Also, Scott did not win that penthouse in the suit. He was forcibly removed from it the very night that Liberace was performing at the Oscar ceremony. That was the basis for a large portion of the suit against Liberace. Scott was suing to get back his personal property still in Liberace’s possession. In fairness, he seemed to deserve some sort of compensation; this guy actually had plastic surgery to look more like Liberace himself.
Enter Twilight Zone music…
Scott also made the tabs again in 2004 – when he was interviewed about an affair he had in the 70’s with Michael Jackson. I choose to believe this is true. Findadeath pal A. McNamara sends us this: if you are still interested, I would suggest you read the Scott Thorson book. For a really complete account of his life – at least when and after he met Thorson – and his death and funeral. Very interesting, and reads very true. Thorson had his gripes, but in the end the book comes off as very honest. Thorson acknowledges he had many reasons to be grateful to “Lee”.
The man who loved rings had contracted the HIV virus, and his health deteriorated. He was losing weight, and looking gaunt. Bizarrely, the rumor of him being on the “Watermelon Diet,” popular with celebrities at the time, actually seemed to appease people.
His sister Angelina heard the rumors that Lee was very sick. She demanded that he be taken immediately to the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. Word of Liberace’s hospitalization leaked to the press. Doctors put him in quarantine, which basically confirmed the AIDS rumor. After three days in the hospital in January 1987, he went home to die.
Outside the house at 226 Alejo Road, in Palm Springs, there were hoards of media types, and nearly 100 of his fans, who had begun their vigil when the seriousness of Liberace’s condition was made known earlier that week.
Note the candelabra in the driveway.
Wait. How Cool. New Findadeath.com friend Stacey Reiseck was actually in Libby’s Palm Springs death house. She writes in: “Scott – Check out the yellow/gold carpeting on the stairs. This bookcase is at the top.
When you pulled out one of the bookcases, there was a bathroom with a toilet seat made of clear plastic, with gold coins in it. Fab. Here’s my friend with a picture of Liberace in his younger days, from in the house. Don’t put my friend online, I don’t think she’d dig it. (I don’t know why, Stacey. She’s quite a hottie.)
These were taken in the summer of 1996. Thanks so much Stacey. xx FYI, the house is on the market now. Someone go there and get pics of the bedroom, please.
In the meantime, Liberace spent his last days cuddling his 27 dogs, and watching The Golden Girls, his favorite show. Stereotypes exist for a reason.
At 2:05 p.m. on Feb 4, 1987, in the presence of his sister Angelina Farrell, his sister-in-law, Dora Liberace, and Jamie Wyatt, described as Liberace’s “friend and long-time companion,” he died.
He was 67 years old.
When they removed Liberace’s body from the house to the coroner’s van, a specially constructed tent was erm… erected, to prohibit photography of his corpse.
Here is the Amendment.
It didn’t end there for old Lee. His original cause of death was listed as “cardiac arrest due to cardiac failure, due to subacute encephalopathy, a contributing condition was aplastic anemia. Thanks the the good people at Celebrity Collectibles, we have Liberace’s fascinating autopsy report. According to one of the people in the Vital Statistics dept, she felt the cause of death was unacceptable because there was no underlying cause for the encephalopathy! Of course! I thought the same thing! Well, Lee was already shipped to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, and the Riverside County Coroner wanted Lee back. They phone up and had him shipped back for an autopsy – post embalming. Wild. It all boiled down to somebody not wanting to put AIDS on his death certificate. Naughty. The complicated exchange is documented completely in this amazing document.
The autopsy was performed. Facts I managed to glean: He was uncircumcised (and a sore on it is described in detail). He had an enflamed rectum (you’re telling me…), his hair was thin to bald, he had almost all his natural teeth – capped, and a manicure. Lipo too. They couldn’t ascertain his eye color because his corneas were too cloudy at that point. There were numerous photographs taken during the procedure, of which I do not have access to.
He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, on February 7th. His tomb is marked with his trademark signature. Lee is buried along with his mother, and brother, George. He has on his wig, a white tuxedo, and of course, full makeup. Included in his casket is this photo of his last boyfriend and one of his favorite dog, Wrinkles.
According to Debbie Reynolds via Mark Langlois: The funeral was held in Palm Springs, at Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church. Reynolds made her “Singing in the Rain” co-star Donald O’Connor go with her. The only other Hollywood type who was there was singer Robert Goulet. “I spoke at the funeral. Nobody went. The only other person who went was Robert Goulet. There were people there. Some wore wigs. Pink wigs. It wasn’t good at all. I got very angry. It’s a lot of years ago. but I remember that I took the wigs off the guys.”
You know what’s really interesting? At one point and time there was another person listed on the monument with Liberace. Rudolph L., his brother. Why his name is removed I don’t know, but this was what it looked like. I’m sure there was plenty of drama in the Liberace family, especially with money.
Trivia: Liberace wore a business suit when he met Pope Pius XII. Liberace was a deeply religious man, and had a chapel built in his Palm Springs home. Findadeath.com friend Bob Barnes adds this: The failure of Liberace’s second television show was attributed to the fact that he wore only business suits. He is pictured in business suits while signing contracts with NBC. OK, so he had a few gold chains on as well.
From Findadeath.com friend Kevin Hassell: “I was just reading Star magazine, and there was an article about a new book on Liberace. In the book, the author claims that Liberace had an affair with Rock Hudson when Liberace was an established star, and Hudson was an up and coming actor. Hudson supposedly revealed this to an interviewer before he died.
The people at the revamped Liberace museum in Vegas were a bit weird about his cause of death too, but I guess now that his immediate family are gone, they are more relaxed.
I was there with my friend Peter last year, and they even have his death bed on display, although it isn’t advertised as such. Some new other stuff as well.
The Liberace Museum was located in the Liberace Plaza, 1775 E. Tropicana, in Las Vegas.
Also included in this fabulous strip mall is a religious supply store called (I swear) “Mary’s Grotto” and a gay bar called “Good Times” located near the front (that’s two). Drum roll please… We always knew that Lee liked Good Times at his entrance.
The Liberace Museum is closed. It is a shame that one of the casinos doesn’t offer to host these wonderful treasures in one of the hundreds of ballrooms in Vegas.
January 2003, from Findadeath friend Brett in Australia:
I have a nice story about Liberace when he came to Australia in the late 70’s (I wasn’t born then). Anyway, here in OZ we had a variety show in the late 70’s to early 80’s called Young Talent Time. It was a show where kids as young as six would sing and dance, etc.. One year, Liberace was asked to present an award for a television show awards night. Kind of like the Emmys, but we call it the (wait for it) Logies!. One of the boys from Young Talent Time sung at the awards night. Liberace was astounded, and told all of OZ what great talent we’ve got here and how he’d love to take the boy “Joey” back to the States. The audience and Joey laughed, thinking it was a joke, but sure enough, the next day they got a call from Lee’s manager, saying “He never jokes about these things and he’s always looking for new talent”. The next few years Joey hung out with the best the States had to offer. I’ve seen a photo of him with “Johnny Carson.” Every kid on that show was “apparently” happy for him. That’s at least what they told the press ;). And I’m happy to report Joey is still alive and well and living here in OZ. He actually just finished producing a tell all documentary about the show. Long story, but sweet.
Thanks for the info, Brett!
March 2003, from Findadeath friend Rob in Australia:
I was just reading the Liberace story on your website. A guy from Australia called Brett wrote in about a show called Young Talent Time, and one of the shows team members that Liberace took a shining to! The guys name was in fact Jamie, not Joey, and the tell all documentary he mentions was not actually produced by Jamie but by another team member called John!!! Confused? Just thought I would mention this, as Young Talent Time was one of my favourite shows. Thanks for clarifying that for us, Rob!
Findadeath.com friend Neil clarifies, and please, let’s end it at this: The chap who was on Young Talent Time who Liberace took to America with him was called Jamie Redfern. He had a brother on the show with him called Derek but alas he didn’t get the stateside gig. Last I heard Jamie runs a voice and acting school in Melbourne Australia. I actually inadvertantly had a night out (first time I got drunk) with them once. nice people. Thanks Neil!
UPDATE February 2005, from Findadeath friend Von:
Wow Scott, how did I miss it? Only thing I can add to that loooong story is that I originally came to Palm Springs in 1980 to work for Celebrity Tours and Limo, owned at that time by well known Desert Rats, as “Rob and Fred” (Rob Ours, Fred Russ), an older gay couple who were a story within themselves, at one point they told me that Scott Thorton tried to sell them a Rolls that Libby gave him.
One day while driving on Indian Avenue (1982), Liberace almost had a collision with me while driving his Excalibur, I laid on my horn, not knowing who it was, only to see him wave and smile at me, couldn’t miss his stretched tight face and hairdo.
I was indeed outside during the vigil, and there were hundreds of RV’s with old folks parked across the street in a motel parking lot, and anywhere else they could park. Also across the street is a small Catholic church, which if I am not mistaken Liberace completely funded to have built or restored 🙂 Thanks Von. I wonder if the Catholic church will refund the money they were given by a gay man. It would seem to be the right thing to do.
Liberace coined the term, “Crying… all the way to the bank!”
My friend Margo Schestak dropped a fire extinguisher on Liberace’s foot about a year before he died. How cool. Margo, where are you? Get in touch.
Findadeath.com friend Sarah sent in this: I live right around the block from one of Liberace’s houses, in Encino, and a few years ago it went up for sale. I went to the open house. It was very gaudy inside (lots o’ gold), and the pool is shaped like a piano, with keys and everything. It was pretty cool. The house was soon bought by Ryan Stiles, who was on the Drew Carey show.
MORE from Findadeath.com friend Joel Dunaway: In the 1950’s there was a gay man in Mobile, Alabama named Whitney Stubbs, who lived in the back top left corner apartment of what is now the Malaga Inn, (a luxury hotel). Whitney was a friend of mine and he had many photos of the times he spent with “Lee” in Los Angeles when Whitney was stationed there as a navy recruiter. The following is a tale told to me by Whitney before he succumbed to colon cancer a year after “Lee” died in Palm Springs:
It seems that after Whitney had returned to live in Mobile after discharge form the navy, Liberace had been performing in Atlanta and drove down to see Whitney after his engagement. They conspired to drive together to New Orleans to “do the bars,” and realized it was already after business hours, and the banks were closed. No ATM’s in those days! So, they got a pillowcase and went around to all the coin operated laundromats that Whitney’s family owned, and filled it up with quarters. Half way to New Orleans, they were stopped by the Bay St. Louis police at around 8pm. The police took one look at the two flamboyant queens in a white Cadillac convertible with fur lined interior, and plus a large pillowcase full of coins, and it was all over. To jail they went. Whitney told me they were there until the following afternoon when “Lee’s” agent managed to get them out though a barrage of telephone calls and a telegram from some West Coast official. Whitney was a dear man, and very honest, so I don’t doubt the story one bit. Too funny. Thanks Joel.
Findadeath friend TD sends us this:
Here is something for your files. The first time Liberace performed in Allentown, PA, he ate at the local department store restaurant, and fell in love with the strawberry pie they had as a special. Every Christmas after that, Lee would order a huge amount of the pies and have them shipped to his friends as Christmas presents.
Sadly, Hess’s Department Store is no more, but I did dig up the pie recipe.
HESS’S STRAWBERRY PIE
8 cups whole fresh strawberries, stems removed
10 to 12 additional strawberries with stems attached, for garnish
1 cup confectioners’ sugar1 cup sugar
3 Tbsps. cornstarch, 1 cup water, 12 drops red food coloring
1 cup whipping cream, 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla
1 9-inch baked pie crust
Wash and stem the strawberries. Mix 6 cups of them with confectioners’ sugar. Let stand for one hour. Cook remaining 2 cups berries with water until tender and rub through a sieve. Mix granulated sugar and cornstarch and add to the strained strawberry juice. Cook until clear. Add food coloring. Let mixture cool slightly, stirring occasionally.
Arrange whole strawberries, stem side down in the pie shell. Mound the berries in the center of the pie. Pour the cooked strawberry mixture evenly over the strawberries in the pie shell. Refrigerate until cold.
Pour whipping cream into cold mixing bowl. Beat cream at medium-high speed until it begins to thicken. On low speed, add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until stiff, but fluffy. Whipped cream may be used as a decorating tool. Just pipe it onto the pie up to two hours before serving it. Garnish with whole strawberries, still attached to their stems. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Photo’s of Liberace’s home, courtesy of Terri Rios.
Liberace was one of the many people that made an appearance in The Loved One – a bizarre film spoofing Forest Lawn Cemetery. Historically – it’s pretty fascinating.
Winking creeps me out.