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Thirty for 30: What to know about Liberace on landmark anniversary

Image
Liberace poses with his brother, George, at the Liberace Museum on April 15, 1979.
Liberace Museum

Liberace Museum Tour (April 15, 2009)

Showcasing the Talent

Liberace

The Liberace Museum turns 30 this week -- today, in fact -- and we mark the occasion with some video, some audio and a list of 30 fun facts about the man, his museum and his legacy. The museum is open today until 9 p.m., with a special admission rate of 30 cents for locals. A performance titled "Liberace Through the Years" featuring Lorraine Hunt-Bono, Dennis Bono and "Jersey Boys" performers Philip Fortenberry, Keith Thompson and Erich Bergen starts at 7 p.m.

With that, cue the pianist:

1. The great quote, “People ask me how I play the piano with all these rings. Very well, thank you.”

2. His middle name is Valentino.

3. When he takes the piano stool in his stage show, Wayne Newton still does a passable Liberace impression.

4. He never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality.

5. In February 1979, three months before the opening of the museum, he taped “Liberace: A Valentine’s Special” at the Las Vegas Hilton. His guests were Sandy Duncan, Lola Falana and the Magic Circus of Taiwan.

Audio Clip

Liberace Museum

6. Two Phish fans who traveled with the band to Vegas once stopped into the museum on a lark. Said one: “We were just driving up the street and thought we’d do something crazy. This guy, he was crazy.”

7. One mink stage costume on display at the museum is decorated with 100,000 rhinestones and three giant diamond buttons.

8. Also on display is the world’s largest rhinestone, a 115,000-carat Swarovski crystal piece that weighs 50 pounds and is about as large as a tetherball.

Liberace Museum

9. A pearl-covered gown he wore at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans weighs more than 200 pounds.

10. In 1997, more than 250,000 visitors toured the museum. That number has fallen to 50,000 annually.

11. He once practiced a complicated Mendelssohn piece for eight hours to prepare for a single appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show,” concerned that even a single missed note would tarnish his musical credibility. He performed the piece flawlessly.

12. His $50,000 weekly salary at the Riviera from 1955 was the largest such fee paid to an entertainer at that time, and is still pretty good money even today; colleague Cydney Cappello has just calculated that sum to be more than $360,000 per week adjusted for inflation.

13. The great quote, "Do you like the outfit? I hope so. You paid for it."

14. For the museum’s grand re-opening in 2002, Siegfried & Roy were on hand and wore hard hats decorated with hundreds of fake, plastic rhinestones that volunteers glued on by hand.

15. He crafted a pristine onstage image, but off-stage was known to wear the same jump suit for two weeks straight.

16. Elton John, often among the contemporary artists to have been influenced by Liberace’s garish costumes, is said to have never visited the museum.

17. The museum’s tax-day anniversary is appropriate, as Liberace was at the forefront of entertainers who claimed costumes as tax deductions, the most obvious example being the diamond buttons that were deemed tax-deductible because they spelled “LIBERACE.”

18. The museum and foundation is working in partnership with a noted Broadway producer to bring Liberace’s story to the stage.

19. He once appeared on “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” for playing 6,000 notes in less than two minutes.

Liberace

20. Over the past few years, Nic Cage and Steven Soderbergh have both talked of producing biopics about Liberace’s life. Soderbergh’s is the most recent reported project, but there has been no formal announcement specifying when that movie might go into production.

21. Liberace’s home, just east of the museum on East Tropicana off Shirley Street, is known as the Las Vegas Villa and has no direct affiliation with the museum.

22. When asked her age, his longtime fur designer, Anna Nateece, usually says only, “I’m younger than Sophia Loren.”

23. During the 1982 Academy Awards telecast, he performed all five of the Oscar-nominated film themes: "Chariots of Fire," "Atlantic City," "On Golden Pond," "Raiders of the Lost Ark” and "Reds."

24.The 30th anniversary of Sam’s Town was also this week (well, Saturday), and one time a person who knew Liberace and knows Boyd Gaming Executive Chairman Bill Boyd once remarked that Boyd bears a striking resemblance to Liberace.

25. His mirror-plated, pink, convertible VW Beetle is equipped with a 5-gallon gas tank and was meant only for onstage driving.

26. His final performances were from Oct. 16-Nov. 2, 1986, at Radio City Music Hall.

27. The first journalist to report Liberace was suffering from the AIDS virus was the Las Vegas Sun’s Jeff German.

28. Tivoli Gardens, the restaurant Liberace opened at Liberace Plaza on East Trop, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

29. His final public appearance was an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Christmas Day, 1986.

30. His longtime publicist, Jamie James, once said, “He had this image, but he was no sissy. You have to be a pretty strong, brave person to wear what he wore and act like he did during those days. You had to have guts, believe me.”

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