Death in a Strip Mall

Mama Looseleaf and a Cardboard Lee (Liberace). Photo by the author

By Victoria Looseleaf

The original King of Bling – that ivory-tinkling, Rolls Royce-loving, AIDS-denying entertainer, Liberace – is no longer in posthumous residence in a Las Vegas strip mall. In other words, the Liberace Museum, which was opened by the performer born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in 1979, and in its heyday welcomed 450,000 tourists a year, has now become another casualty of the Recession/Depression.

Or is it the fact that those enamored of the shameless self-promoter are themselves dying off? (Full disclosure: Covering five Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows in 2007, I visited the Tropicana Avenue repository with my mother, buying her a keychain, which, by the way, broke shortly thereafter. Click here to read my latest Cirque reportage for Dance Magazine, a review of Iris, and click here to read our multi-Cirque coverage, Cirque du Shekels.)

Patriotic Hot Pants: Eat Your Heart Out Lady Gaga. Photo by Victoria Looseleaf

Whatever. While Liberace, the, er, man, died in 1987 at age 67, his legacy loomed large at the 16,000-square foot space. Home to a 1962 mirror-covered Phantom V Landau Rolls-Royce, more candelabras than can be found at Versailles and such outré outfits as red, white and blue hot pants (worn with knee-high boots at Liberace’s Radio City Music Hall gig), the glory days of the museum are, indeed, no more. The red neon piano on the roof has come down, and the mall, as vacant as Meg Whitman’s smile, will never be the same.

Think Pink. Michael Douglas, as Liberace, in a role he was born to play.

As for all that ridiculously garish stuff (what else can you call a rhinestone-encrusted piano), some of the collection will be displayed in a traveling exhibition. But Graceland the showplace was not. It’s official: Michael Douglas is slated to play Liberace in a biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh. Cast as the flamboyant entertainer’s former chauffer/lover, Scott Thorson, who sued Mr. Showmanship for $113 million for palimony, is none other than…Matt Damon. It’s called Behind the Candelabra, it’s for HBO, and Oscar talk has already begun, fersure. (Click here to read more about this fascinating tale.) Until then, I think I’ll put on Liberace’s rendition – certainly the definitive one – of Beer Barrel Polka.

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