Rock Moment: Liberace, 1980


Take a look at this photo … what can you infer about this person from looking at the picture?  Mmm-hmm, I agree.  OK, so just keep that image in mind or refer to the photo occasionally while you read this strange little tale.

So it’s 1980 and in Orange, Texas (just on the Southeast Texas border with Louisiana) they are opening a beautiful new performing arts venue, the Lutcher Stark Theater.  I have no idea what it’s like now, but at the time Orange was one of those typical Texas towns – most residents’ idea of “high art” was a movie in which Burt Reynolds drove less than 50 mph.  But there were a bunch of rich folk who longed for big-city type entertainment, hence the 1,400-or-so-seat Lutcher Theater.

Their first big entertainer booked was Liberace, long a star on TV and the Vegas circuit and well-known for his kitschy humor and wardrobe and for being, well, refer to the photo above.    When I was a kid I once overheard one of my aunts saying “There are two men I dream about sleeping with … Elvis and Liberace.”  I never could figure that out, because it was flamingly obvious that (see photo above).

So anyway, being a reporter and such in 1980 I had liberacebathroomto go to a news conference for Liberace’s show.  Liberace minced in, wearing a one-piece mansuit in some weird pastel and atop his head had a piece that could only fool passed out drunks and little newborn babies whose eyes haven’t opened yet.  Liberace turned to his assistant and lisped “cigarette,” and his butt boy lit a cigarette and passed it to “Lee,” who then smoked the cigarette cradling it in the “v” between his second and third fingers.  Here, look at the photo at right for further reference.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the show – to this day I cannot explain how apparently heterosexual women (OK, they were mostly OLDER heterosexual women) swooned over this guy.  “Lee” even played the part – in the 1950s and 1960s he sued anyone who even implied that he might be anything but a manly man.  A few years after I saw him Liberace was sued by an ex-boyfriend, but he still refused to come out, lest anyone might confuse him with Clint Eastwood.  He finally died in 1987 (in Palm Springs, of AIDS, ahem) and people still asked “Do you think he might have been, ah …?”  

But you know what: who cares if he ever came out and just said it.  If he did, I missed it.  Liberace lived it, and flaunted it, and by doing so basically said “fuck you” to anyone who would judge him for it.  Jokes aside, he was a truly fearless entertainer in an era when it wasn’t cool to be the way he was.

Well, there’s a postscript: go back to that night in 1980, in Orange, Texas.  Or rather, early the next morning.  I’m writing my story for the afternoon paper and the phone rings.  It’s this fire chief, who sounded kind of confused.  “Last night, around 2 a.m., we had this fire downtown … nobody hurt, but it was a real burner,” he said.  And he said there was this guy, who came up on the scene on foot and he was fascinated by the fire and the firefighters.  He talked to some of them, asking lots of questions and just basking in the excitement.  “And I think that might have been Liberace,” the chief said.  “What made you think that?” I asked.  “Well, it was probably the ankle-length mink coat.” 

YouTube: Liberace’s video and opening for his Vegas act, 1981

YouTube:  Liberace meets Phyllis Diller in 1969

Hulu: “Saturday Night Live” skit “Vincent Price’s Halloween Party”

10 Responses to “Rock Moment: Liberace, 1980”

  1. how in the Freakin’ WORLD was I not there?

  2. 30daysout Says:

    You must have already gone to Little Rock.

  3. An Umioso Says:

    In such a bejewelled array he doesn’t LOOK like a diseased faggot.

  4. Refer to the top photo as you seriously take a closer look at your own sexuality. The more homophobic they are, the more in the closet they are! BTW “An Umioso”….plenty of diseased breeders out there, too! On the whole, we are much cleaner than you filthy breeders.

  5. this guy was absolutely brilliant. talented, witty, funny and a real showman. anyone with a brain new he was gay and everyone should have known why he could not come out. it is still hard for people now let alone with all the stupidity and fear back then. he was ahead of his time and he did it with brilliance.

  6. Super Breeder XL Says:

    “On the whole, we are much cleaner than you filthy breeders.”

    Drew, don’t talk that way about your mom and dad.


  7. 30daysout Says:

    OK please, no more potshots. Any further trash talk will be deleted.

  8. 30daysout Says:

    Because of the unusually nasty and offensive comments received, we will show no more comments on this post. So don’t bother …

  9. peter anderson Says:

    hi its peter me and my granmother back in the 60 s loved lib he was a great man and still to day i play his albums and im only just 50 wish he was still alive whot a beautifle man how dare some people put him down and god bless him

  10. OK, OK. The laugh is on the guy who wears funny clothes.

    Why do most straight men just not get it, when straight women (even from Texas) say they want to sleep with him???

    I’ll give you one very good reason way: He’s not a threat. Plain and simple. Women go after men who they know are not going to even think of harming them in any way, physically or mentally. Think of all of the men women have swooned over who had questionable private lives, or who came across as somewhat soft. Rudolf Valentino comes to mind. There are tons of others.

    Take away the threat element and you take away lots when it comes to what will make a straight woman go after a man. Texas was not the only red neck state where Liberace made women with fat, ugly or abusive husbands cry, and he knew it. Red necks were his fan base, women would make their husbands take them to concerts, which filled arenas all over the place. He never wanted to offend the fans, and couldn’t really. It was after all the McCarthy area that defined his life.


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