Born: May 16, 1919
Died: February 4, 1987
He was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, but his friends called him Lee, his family called him Walter and his boy toys called him rich.
On stage, his act was filled with gimmicks and garish costumes; off-stage his attention was lavished on loved ones and cars and dogs and very expensive homes.
Yet the original piano man went to his grave denying he was dying from AIDS. When a reporter once asked him with whom he slept, and Liberace quixotically answered, “them.” When the paparazzi caught the first glimpses of gaunt Liberace, his longtime manager and protector Seymour Heller attributed the weight loss to a watermelon diet. His manager worked overtime, confusing the public by planting stories that Liberace was romantically involved with woman such as ice skater Sonja Henie, sex symbol Mae West and transsexual Christine Jorgenson.
Before he died, he lapsed in and out of comas, carrying on conversations with his (dead) mother, Gladys, (dead) brother, Rudy, and (dead) dog, Baby Boy. At 10:35 on the evening of February 3, 1987, Liberace lapsed into a final coma; those by his bedside—including Heller, his accountant and his housekeeper, heard it all, including this deathbed diatribe directed at Mama: “It’s beautiful in heaven, Mother. Yes of course I’ll play the piano for you. I’ll be with you soon and I’ll play all the songs you love. I’ve kept it from the world, but you know my secret. Please forgive me Mom.”
At 10:35 the next morning, Liberace, a rosary on his hand, fell into a final coma. His physician pronounced him dead at 2:05 pm. A nurse placed his toupee on his head, combed the fake hair, washed the emaciated body, and tied a hospital gown around his corpse. A half hour later, Liberace body was removed from his house by Forest Lawn employees who wheeled him on a gurney in a black plastic body bag. Four hours after his embalming, the state rejected the death certificate and demanded an autopsy—under California law, an autopsy must be conducted is the person is suspected or known of having a contagious disease.
Tissues samples from the embalmed body were taken, and when the hospital refused to release Liberace’s medical records, a court had them seized. The autopsy revealed that Liberace was HIV-positive. The mononymous musician was finally laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles in an elaborate white marble tomb, also housing his mother and brother. He was buried wearing a toupee; photos of one of his dogs and his last boyfriend were tucked in ths casket.
A reproduction of Liberace’s signature and a drawing of a piano adorn the front of the tombstone . . . along with the phrase “sheltered love.”
Morbid Curiosity, By Alan W. Petrucelli