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April 11, 2011

Struth! Liberace Museum a Fading Star


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is hoping to re-open on a new site in Las Vegas, after closing its doors late last year after 31 years honouring the flamboyant star.

"In some ways, the museum was the last vestige of an entertainment icon," said a spokesman for The Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, that ran the museum and its priceless displays of the entertainer's out-of-this-world costumes, gold-plated cars, rhinestone-encrusted pianos, candelabra, and jewelry. 

"He was Mr Las Vegas for almost 40 years," said Darden Asbury Pyron, author of 'Liberace: An American Boy.'

"It was a sell-out house every time he went on the stage. He was one of the first entertainers to understand the potential of television: he was Mr Showmanship who would say  'I don't give a concert – I put on a show.'"

"The museum's been a very popular attraction," added Alicia Malone, a public relations manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "It was a very unique part of Las Vegas cultural history for 31 years, a one-of-a-kind experience you couldn't find in other cities."

Las Vegas was hard hit by the global recession, with visitor numbers to the Liberace Museum dropping from a high of 450,000 a year 15 years ago, to just 50,000 last year.

The Liberace Foundation, however, recently finalized a deal for a national USA tour of its Liberace collection, and says it hopes to one day reopen the museum in a more central location in Las Vegas – it was previously eight kilometres off the main "Strip," and so missed much impulse passer-by trade.

Liberace, full name Wladziu Valentino Liberace, was born in 1919 in Wisconsin to working class Polish-Italian immigrant parents. He was a child prodigy, had performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by the time he was 20, but cut his classical concert pianist career short for a life in show business.

From the 1950s to the 1970s he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world performing on stage, TV and in several movies.

And when British newspaper columnist Cassandra inferred he was homosexual, Liberace successfully sued the newspaper and sent the columnist a personal telegram denying the inference (and continually denying he was homosexual until his death in 1987,) finishing with the telegram with the now-famous line: "What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank."

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