May 16, 1919 - February 4, 1987
For decades, Liberace was known for his music, candelabra, charisma, rhinestones and dazzle.
Over the years Liberace acquired an astounding array of prestigious awards, including: Instrumentalist of the Year, Best Dressed Entertainer and Entertainer of the Year. He also earned two Emmy Awards, six gold albums, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's highest paid musician and pianist. Best of all, he was known and loved throughout the world as "Mr. Showmanship."
Born in West Allis, Wisconsin in 1919, Walter Valentino Liberace was one of the four children of Salvatore and Frances Liberace. Music was the heart of the Liberace family. His Italian father played the French horn and became a member of the John Phillip Sousa Marching Band. His Polish mother played the piano. Liberace's brother George and sister Angie were also musically talented.
When renowned Polish pianist Paderewski visited the Liberaces, he recommended Walter receive a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Liberace also studied privately. The eminent Florence Bettray Kelly, a protege of Moritz Rosenthal, took charge of his classical training which culminated with his debut at age 20 as soloist with the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Dr. Frederick Stock.
In 1940, his night club dates took him to the Persian Room in New York's Plaza Hotel as an intermission pianist. Five years later, he returned with his own oversized grand piano and his first trademark, a candle lit candelabra. Acting on Paderewski's stage manager's early advice, Liberace dropped his first two names, opting to use the elegant "Liberace" exclusively.
In 1950, he made his first film debut as honky tonk pianist in the movie "South Sea Sinner," with Shelley Winters. A little later, while playing a club date at the Del Coronado Hotel, he was discovered by Don Fedderson, a television producer. A local Los Angeles television show was created. First a summer replacement for Dinah Shore, the show grew into a popular syndicated series and earned two Emmys for Liberace.
Liberace's television series debuted in 1952. By 1954 it was carried over 217 American stations and in 20 foreign countries. With his own unique one-to-one relationship with the viewers, Liberace became television's first matinee idol, in the true sense of the word.
In 1953, Liberace played to a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall and in the same year made a record-breaking appearance before 17,000 at Madison Square Garden (surpassing the previous record set by Paderewski). He packed an over-capacity crowd of 20,000 into the Hollywood Bowl and did it again at Chicago's Soldiers Field with an audience of 110,000. In 1955, he opened in the Las Vegas Riviera Hotel as the highest paid entertainer in the city's history. He starred in a movie, "Sincerely Yours," which was made in 1955.
Liberace returned to daytime television in 1960, with a series on ABC. In 1968 he returned to Europe to play to audiences in London. Liberace took Australia by storm in 1971, performed unprecedented third Royal Command Performance in London in 1972, and authored a best-selling autobiography, "Liberace." (His first book, "Liberace Cooks," went to seven printings.)
In 1976, Grosset & Dunlap published his third book, "The Things I Love." Then for three years, 1976 - 1979, Liberace was acclaimed "Pop Keyboard Artist of the Year" by Contemporary Keyboard Magazine. Liberace returned to television in 1978 with his first American TV special for CBS, followed by a second in February 1979.
In 1976 Liberace founded the non-profit Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts. Liberace considered the Foundation, which funds scholarships and grants for schools and colleges across the nation, as one of his greatest achievements. On April 15, 1979, Liberace opened The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 1980, Las Vegas named him both Star of the Year and Entertainment Personality of the Year. In 1981, Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters presented him with its coveted "Golden Mike" award. In 1982, he was voted to the Keyboard Magazine Hall of Fame by the publications' readers. Also in 1982, Liberace made a special showcase appearance at the Academy Awards, performing all five nominated film themes.
In the spring of 1984 Liberace's premier engagement at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall broke all sales and attendance records of the 51-year history of the Art Deco palace. More than 80,000 people were on hand for what Liberace described as "the fulfillment of a dream and the culmination of my 40 years in show business." Commenting on the engagement, The Wall Street Journal said: "Liberace occupies his own special rhinestone-studded niche in the American dream."
In April of 1985 he returned to Radio City Music hall for an unprecedented 21 shows topping his own ticket selling record by grossing more than $2 million.
Liberace's final performances were at Radio City Music Hall October 16 through November 2, 1986. After his Radio City engagement he went on a four-city-tour to promote his fourth book, "The Wonderful Private World of Liberace." Then he returned to his Palm Springs home where he passed away on February 4, 1987, just a few months before his 68th birthday.
Liberace transported audiences to a dazzling world of color, joyful music, glittering costumes, and humor. Liberace had fun with his costumes, jewelry cars and homes. One of his favorite songs was "The Impossible Dream," and because he had truly mastered the art of believing, he made his dreams come true.
Liberace's legend lives on in The Liberace Museum that houses his collections of rare and antique pianos, classic cars, famous sequined, bejeweled costume wardrobe, glittering stage jewelry, rare antiques and as well as his private papers and memorabilia. The Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts has been funding scholarships and grants for the arts since 1976. Since then, more than $5.8 million in scholarships and grants has been awarded to more than 2,700 students at over 120 of the nation's premier institutions.