The largest glistening Rhinestone Baldwin piano that is in the world, a 1962 Rolls-Royce covered in mirrors, a hot pink turkey feather costume and a multitude of flashy capes, rings and matching shoes are just some of the items at the Liberace Museum. From room to room, there are bright items on display, that are collected from performances of the man that called himself “Mr Showmanship”.
Liberace turned piano playing into concerts where he ” played classical with all the boring parts left out”. Wikipedia describes his rise to fame and wealth, including that he earned a record $138K in 1954, for playing one performance at Madison Square Garden.
Critics would write about how simple his piano playing really was and that they could not understand anyone attending his show. He repeated that criticsm to a laughing audience on Johnny Carson, when he said that such reviews caused him to cry “all the way to the bank until he was able to buy the bank”.
During the height of his popularity, he was earning large sums of money performing, while also selling such things as “Liberace Lasagna” and “Liberace Sticky Buns”. His television show regularly had over 30 million weekly viewers and he received in excess of 10,000 letters per week.
Liberace had more money than he could spend and his possessions were only limited by his imagination. As a result, he opened up the Liberace Museum, in 1979, with his brother George serving as the Director.
When I went to visit the museum, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I rode by taxi, with my wife, to a rundown strip mall on the outskirts of the Vegas strip. The tour guide told me that Liberace had wanted the public to share in his possessions. I felt like I was stepping back in time. The kind of feeling like I was living in black and white.
The Museum had been endowed with 10 million dollars to make sure of its continued existence. There was a time that more people went to the museum than went to see the Hoover Dam. Now, few people speak of Liberace. Last year, less than 50K went to the museum. The endowment has shrunk to 1 million and last week, the museum announced that it was closing. After having gone to the museum a few years back, and now seeing this press release, caused me to blog about these events.
If you go to the attachments to this blog, or google the many stories of Liberace, you will find a life lived in excess. Now, things are just left and apparently, people no longer want to pay to see those things.
At the conclusion of a jury trial, the jury is asked to consider damages suffered and harms caused. Pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life are just a few of the losses considered. In a trial, the size of the verdict is usually not very large, when based on property damage or a loss of possessions. Liberace is an example of what happens when all is built on things.
Liberace owned 9 homes and bought anything he wanted. Now, none of that matters. A personal endowment to his museum has no lasting impact.
There is a movie in the works, that was to have featured Michael Douglas as Liberace. and Matt Damon was to have played his companion, Scott Thorson. The project is on hold until Douglas recovers from his current illness.
You probably have the same reaction to this, as I do. When was the last time that you even thought about Liberace or do you even remember him? It’s why Solomon wrote that “one generation passeth away and another generation cometh… and all is vanity”.