Liberace: His Life in Pictures
BREAKING THE BANK
In the HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra, Michael Douglas portrays flamboyant pianist Liberace, who was as famous for his glitzy lifestyle as his music. The entertainer, pictured in 1981, paid his longtime costume designer Michael Travis $350,000 for this epic fox stole he wore on stage. "It was always carte blanche with Lee," Travis says of the showman, who died from AIDS at age 67 in 1987. "A $50,000 advance for a costume was not a big deal."
Liberace, seen in 1978, felt he owed it to his audience to wear increasingly extravagant costumes. "Nothing was ever too much for him," says Connie Furr Soloman, coauthor of the new book Liberace Extravaganza! "They are the holy grail of theatrical costumes. With these pieces, there was no compromise in the quality. They are truly amazing."
LIFE IN THE PALACE
"Entering his home was like entering Versailles," says Debbie Reynolds, who plays Liberace's mother in Behind the Candelabra. "Gold gilt and carved pianos, cupids everywhere." Shirley Jones, a close friend of Liberace (pictured in 1978), recalls: "He had these huge statues of naked men and women in his bathroom. They all had diamonds on them! He took great joy in making the kind of living he made and living in the way that he lived."
A SPECIAL FRIEND
The star often had young men in his home, including his much-younger lover Scott Thorson (seen in 1982), who is played by Matt Damon in the HBO film. "He had a beautiful boy around always – a different one every time," says Reynolds. "They drove his cars and doted on him, and he loved them almost like sons." Adds Douglas, "He was genuinely liked. I don't get a chance to play a lot of nice guys."
ONE FOR THE AGES
"He was Madonna before Madonna and Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga," says Behind the Candelabra executive producer Jerry Weintraub, who was a friend of Liberace (pictured in 1985). "His live show was over-the-top in its flamboyance and excitement. I'm not sure anyone has ever topped it."
Few were closer to the entertainer than his "Mama," Frances. "She adored him, and he doted on her," says Reynolds, who sports a thick Polish accent and a bodysuit to play the matriarch (photographed with her son in 1954). "She was charming, but she didn't tell jokes. She wasn't show business at all."
LARGER THAN LIFE
"It was more than over-the-top," says Jones of Liberace's Sherman Oaks, Calif., abode, seen here in 1954. "He took incredible pride in his home, even while maintaining a sense of humor about it."
LEGIONS OF ADMIRERS
"He awed women," Reynolds says of Liberace's fans (surrounding the star in 1955). "They would cry, they were so overtaken by him." It was one of the reasons he spent his life in the closet. "He was protecting his career," says Weintraub. "His fans didn't think of him as a homosexual at all."
A PAIR OF KINGS
When Liberace and Elvis Presley were both under contract at the Las Vegas Hilton, they often would spend time together after their shows, including this moment in 1956. "Elvis was younger, but he loved being around the older entertainers," recalls Reynolds. "Lee just loved being around beautiful people. He was a great appreciator of beautiful people and beautiful things."