Liberace Museum To Close Its Doors

The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas will close its doors next month after decades of showcasing the elaborate threads, jewelry, cars, pianos and candelabras of the man known as "Mr. Showmanship." The extravagant pianist, who died of AIDS in 1987, was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world at one time. Jack Rappaport, the museum's president, talks about why the museum is closing and what's going to happen to all that stuff.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Now we're going to put you in a Vegas mood. Some performers aren't simply a part of Sin City's history - they are Sin City. Elvis, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack - there's also this guy.

LIBERACE (Musician): I wonder how many of you remember the boogie woogie craze?

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: Liberace - the extravagant pianist and entertainer had a large following on TV and at his Vegas events. I don't give concerts, Liberace once said, I put on a show. And that he did. He dressed himself, not to mention his pianos, his cars, flamboyantly - gold lame, rhinestones, sequins, feathers, furs. His fans, let's say, were never disappointed.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Hey.

GREENE: Even before Liberace's death in 1987, fans could check out some of his more notorious outfits and revel in his cheery gaudiness at the Liberace museum, where else, on Tropicana Avenue in Vegas. But the museum is now set to close next month. To talk about why and what's going to happen to all of that fabulous stuff, we've reached Jack Rappaport, who is president of the Liberace Foundation that runs the museum. Mr. Rappaport, welcome to the program.

Mr. JACK RAPPAPORT (President, Liberace Foundation): Thank you, David.

GREENE: I assume this decision is going to disappoint many fans. Tell us why it came about.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: It's just a fiscal responsibility on behalf of the board of directors of the foundation. We just have not gotten the traffic of admissions and revenue that we should have. Many years ago, it was not unheard of for 450,000 visitors to come to the museum. I mean, it was the same as Hoover Dam, Boulder Dam.

GREENE: And where are we today?

Mr. RAPPAPORT: As of date right now, I think we're around 35. We're averaging less than 50 the last couple years.

GREENE: Well, the question we all had here when we read about the museum closing is, what is going to happen to all that stuff - all the rhinestones? I mean, will someone actually be able to buy a Liberace piano for their living room?

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Well, there are no immediate plans for any type of sale of the costumes, the collection, the pianos. No. Right now the board is putting together a short and long-term plan. We're trying to relocate the museum. Obviously, people know - you're listening - the Las Vegas strip.

GREENE: People have heard of it, I think.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Yeah. Everybody's heard of it. We wanted to maintain our availability and accessibility to the locals, but we wanted to avail ourselves to the tremendous tourism traffic that Las Vegas generates, and why wouldn't we?

GREENE: Can I ask you before I let you go, I've seen the images of the museum, I mean, all the rhinestones, the outfits, the cars, the flashy dressing for the pianos, what piece are you gonna miss the most?

Mr. RAPPAPORT: I think the faces of the fans that come through and their expressions when they see it themselves. I don't have any one particular favorite piece. I mean, the costumes are extraordinary and we have the history of them as they progressed. His collection of pianos that we have is just remarkable. The cars, you know, and everything was in pairs. He was, you know, he was Liberace.

I mean, he set the tone for all of the fantastic entertainers we have today. One question I'd like to step back is to let you know that we're just finalizing an agreement for a portion of the collection to go on a national tour.

GREENE: A traveling road show, yeah.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: Yeah. And the intent was always to leave enough of the collection to reopen a museum. And that's one of the considerations right now is to reopen in a new location that could be more viable. And, again, with the collection going on tour, the two could compliment each other.

GREENE: Mr. Rappaport, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. RAPPAPORT: All right. Thank you for your time, David.

GREENE: That's Jack Rappaport. He's president of the Liberace Foundation, talking to us about the closing of the Liberace museum in Las Vegas on October 17th.

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