Before I break into Wladziu Valentino Liberace’s back story, musical career, or even his penchant for bling that would make any late 90’s early 2000’s rapper jealous, peep this video to get a feel for the what living in the lap of luxury meant to this king of bling.
Before Michael Jackson donned a leather glove and built an amusement park at his private residence, there was Liberace. This celebrated piano virtuoso known as much for his showmanship and elaborate outfits as his talent happened to be more over-the-top than Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson combined.
Born in 1919 in Wisconsin to a Polish mother and Italian father, Liberace began to show an immense talent for music at an early age. By his teens he was helping his family through the Great Depression by playing the piano wherever he could. After touring with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of 20, Liberace began to move away from straight classical performances and began to incorporate popular music and audience interaction into his acts. Throughout the 1940s he refined his act, adding his now infamous candelabrum, adopting Liberace as his stage name, and playing an over-sized, gold-leafed, grand piano. By the 1950’s he was making $50,000 a week at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and over $1 million a year from public performances and television. Despite critics’ harsh assessments of his skills as a pianist, Liberace kept packing the house and raking in the cash by putting on shows instead of concerts. After having a successful run with his 15 minute TV show, The Liberace Show, and appearing in a few movies throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Liberace went back to what he knew best, putting on an amazing show. On November 2, 1986 he gave his final performance at Radio City Music Hall, the 18th show in 21 days. Less than a year later Liberace died at the age of 67 from cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure amidst rumors that he had been diagnosed with HIV in 1985.
With sudden wealth comes serious spending, and this Polish/Italian boy from Wisconsin was in no way immune to the effects of suddenly having more money than he knew how to spend. This political and religious conservative with a strong fascination for royalty, ceremony, and luxury made toady’s big spenders look like small fries. His elaborate costumes featured fur, rhinestones, and sequins to match his mirrored, gold-leafed and sequin encrusted pianos. His dream home was fully furnished with antiques, an elaborate bath, and a piano motif. Between the furs, bling, lavishly gaudy home furnishings, cars, and collection of custom pianos, Liberace would have killed the competition if Cribs was around back then.
Although Liberace died not long after I was born his love of the luxe life lives in through singers and rappers referencing him and the fact that his name has become synonymous with extravagance. Just writing about him makes me feel like I need to have a few cocktail rings on and wrap myself up in a mink.
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