Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and Thorson in the new HBO movie
(all photos courtesy of HBO)
Everything you need to know about Liberace’s closet
When Liberace’s live-in boy toy Scott Thorson (they met when Thorson was just 16) wrote his tell-all Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace in 1988, it was brimming with juicy revelations about what co-habitating with the legend was really like – everything from exorbitant, diamond-encrusted shopping sprees to botched plastic surgeries until the performer’s death from AIDS in 1987. With their affair immortalized in a new film starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon to debut on HBO this Sunday (May 26), we’ve created the ultimate cheat sheet to the entertainer’s oh-so-gay life:
Diamonds, gold lame and hot pants: Liberace was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world with a net worth estimated at $115 million by the 1970s. At one point, he owned the world’s most expensive fur – a Norwegian blue shadow fox cape with a 16-foot-long train – 39 pianos and mirrored Rolls-Royces. He owned one costume covered in seashells and pearls weighing in at 200 pounds. His love for dressing up started young when Liberace would show up for “character day” at school as Yankee Doodle Dandy or Greta Garbo (complete with the wig and makeup).
Gaudy sweet home: At the height of his fame, Liberace designed and built a lavish pad complete with a piano-shaped swimming pool where the closeted entertainer hosted some of the most legendary (and scandalous) gay soirees. He and Rock Hudson even had an affair. Allegedly. And in his later years, Liberace was known to be wildly promiscuous thanks to a silicone penis implant and a passion for poppers. He even hired a quack plastic surgeon to make Thorson’s face look like a young Liberace. Thorson would remove the chin implant in 2002.
Money changes everything: Liberace never met an endorsement deal he didn’t like, whether it was promoting cars, insurance companies – or morticians. He even published Liberace Cooks, which included recipes for (what else?) “Liberace Sticky Buns.” Sadly, he also used his fame to speak out against gay rights, saying that he’s “against the practice of homosexuality because it offends conventions and society” in a 1973 press conference.
Take it to court: When a British tabloid accused Liberace of being a homosexual, referring to him as “fruit flavored,” he sued for libel and won. Later, American tabloids would also dig into Liberace’s love life, writing articles like, “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy.’” Later, Thorson sued the entertainer for palimony (one of the first same-sex suits of its kind) to the tune of $113 million, but only received $95,000 in a settlement (plus two cars and two dogs).
Lovely ladies: For years, Liberace received thousands of fan letters, valentines and marriage proposals each week – from women. Years after his death at the age of 67, Golden Girl Betty White admitted that she often played his beard to counter gay rumors. Even on his deathbed, the performer refused to come out, reportedly telling Thorson, “I don’t want to be remembered as an old queen who died of AIDS.” His death certificate read that he died from complications of anemia, emphysema and heart disease. But true to his life, Mr. Showmanship was buried in a wig and full makeup (with photos of his favorite dog – he had 27 of them – and his last boyfriend) next to his mother at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood.
Behind the Candelabra, May 26, 9 p.m. EST on HBO