Liberace: Age 67 | Cause Of Death: AIDS

(b. Wladziu Valentino Liberace, 16 May 1919,  West Allis, WI, d. 4 February 1987) 

This larger-than-life pianist had no major chartbusters—but had an indefinable charm and talent that gave delight to multitudes of fans across the globe. Of Polish-Italian extraction, he was raised in a household where there was always music— particularly from father Salvatore who blew French horn in both John Philip Sousa’s Concert Band and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. George and the younger Wladziu seemed keenest on likewise becoming professional players. Wladziu’s piano skills were praised by no less than Paderewski, and he won a place at Wisconsin College of Music at the age of seven. During a 17-year scholarship—the longest ever awarded by the academy—he made a concert debut as a soloist at 11 and was fronting renowned symphony orchestras before leaving adolescence.   He moved to Columbia Records where, supervised by Mitch Miller, he cut a flamboyant version of September Song which, supplemented by an in-concert album, brought Liberace to a national audience.  Nevertheless, he struck the most popular chord with encores in which doggerel like Mairzy Doats or Three Little Fishes were dressed in arrangements littered with twee arpeggios and trills. He also started garbing himself from a wardrobe that would stretch to rhinestone, white mink, sequins, gold lame and similar razzle-dazzle. Crowned with a carefully-waved coiffeur, he oozed charm and extravagant gesture with a candelabra-lit piano as the focal point of the epic vulgarity that was THE LIBERACE SHOW, televised coast-to-coast from Los Angeles, which established a public image that he later tried in vain to modify.  While in the UK, he instigated a High Court action, successfully suing the DAILY MIRROR, whose waspish columnist, Cassandra had written an article on the star, laced with sexual innuendo. Nonetheless, Liberace’s mode of presentation left its mark on stars such as Gary Glitter, Elton John,  and Queen. When the singer died on 4 February 1987 at his Palm Springs mansion, the words ‘kidney complaint’ were a euphemism for an AIDS-related illness. ~Music Central ’96