The museum in Las Vegas that’s devoted to popular pianist Liberace — “Mr. Showmanship” — is going to shutter their doors after 31 years in business. I first read about it here.
My first response, you know, as an intellectual, was “well, duh.” Because it’s hard to believe that even the Liberace kitsch factor could last as long as it has. Thirty-one years seems like a pretty good run. “Keeping the brand alive has been very difficult,” according to one of the officials involved. You can read about it here in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
For those of us who grew up watching TV in the 1960s and ’70s, Liberace was a common sight, a frequent guest on talk shows, and one of the many celebrities who appeared on the campy TV series Batman.
He was a flashy fop who played the piano, and you sort-of, kind-of knew he was good at the piano, but his outrageous outfits and snarky-nasally persona far outweighed his musical talent. He was a character, and that was usually enough, especially since he was a Las Vegas character.
And Liberace was as Las Vegas as Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley in those days.
After he died, there was the so-called revelation that he was actually a drug-fueled homosexual with a much younger lover. That was news that may have shocked his loyal audiences, but it was no surprise to the rest of us.
Looking back, it’s amazing to see how Liberace was at the center of cultural change in the United States. He was a closeted gay man whose audience was made up of old ladies and conservative Americans; he dangerously flirted with drugs and sex at the height of the AIDS scare — while being famously devoted to his mother; and he spent millions of dollars on outrageous costumes that advanced his career. In the end, he betrayed his own best interests to preserve the image he had created.
I guess that makes him ahead of his time.
Here are some videos: