Liberace Museum Closes Its Glittery Gates The museum was once one of the most-visited attractions in Las Vegas. But after Sunday, the black mink cape lined with 40,000 Swarovski crystals, the Rolls Royce covered in little mirrors and the mirror-encrusted Baldwin grand will go into storage.
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Liberace Museum Closes Its Glittery Gates

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Liberace Museum Closes Its Glittery Gates

Liberace Museum Closes Its Glittery Gates

Liberace Museum Closes Its Glittery Gates

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Before Lady Gaga, before Elton John, there was Liberace. People of a certain age will remember the candelabra on his piano, the flamboyant costumes, even the self-deprecating humor in his distinctive voice.

"My clothes may look funny but they're making me the money," he once said.

At one point, thanks to Las Vegas, Liberace was the highest-paid entertainer in the world. That's where he created the museum that bears his name. It was one of the most-visited attractions in Vegas, but so few people come nowadays that the Liberace Museum is closing Sunday.

Maybe this is just one more story about how Vegas is constantly changing, but maybe not. After all, Sinatra is still Sinatra. Elvis still has impersonators performing here. So what happened to Liberace?

Marion Blank saw him decades ago and still remembers his charisma, personality and showmanship.

"It was really a spectacular show," she recalled. "He came on in a car and all glitzed up as he usually is. It was just a wonderful experience."

She came from Indiana for one last visit to the Liberace Museum to see the outrageous costumes — like a black mink cape lined with 40,000 Swarovski crystals; the over-the-top cars, including a Rolls Royce covered in little mirrors; and the piano collection featuring a mirror-encrusted Baldwin grand.

Liberace was a classically trained pianist, but he wanted to please the masses. He said he played classical without the boring parts.

Museum archivist Jerry Goldberg calls it classi-pop. It made Liberace famous.

"The biggest problem was you didn't leave humming or singing his music because he played other people's music," Goldberg said. "His name more or less has died out because there's nothing to associate him with except the bling and showmanship."

Liberace's biggest fans were middle-aged women in the 1950s through the 1970s — a shrinking demographic. He might have become a gay icon.

Goldberg says many people, including his own mother, knew Liberace was gay.

"But back then it would have been a catastrophe for his career, so he never admitted it up to the day he died, never came out of the closet," he said.

The biggest problem for the Liberace Museum may be its location. It's more than 2 miles off the Vegas Strip, and visitors just don't want to make the trip.

But now that it's closing, locals like Katie Driscoll are coming.

"My mother watched Liberace all the time when I was growing up, played the piano, so did I," she said. "I moved here, became a showgirl and heard that it was closing and I didn't want to miss it."

Then there's Philip Balian. When he heard the Liberace Museum was closing, he got on a plane to Vegas from London.

"I watched him as a child on television and saw him play, and I said to my parents, 'I want to learn to play the piano. I want to be like that guy with the sparkly jacket.' "

Balian learned to play the piano, but he doesn't wear a sparkly jacket. He's on his first trip to the U.S., and was thrilled that the museum staff let him play Liberace's mirror-encrusted grand piano for some of the final visitors.

After Sunday, the piano and the other artifacts at the museum will go into storage, and Liberace's fame will fade a little further.