RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
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.
LIBERACE: My clothes may look funny, but they're making me the money.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: At one point, thanks to performing in Las Vegas, Liberace was the highest-paid entertainer in the world. And he created a museum that bears his name, which was once among the most-visited attractions in Vegas. Those days are gone, and so few people visit the Liberace Museum, it's closing on Sunday.�NPR's Ted Robbins hurried over before it was too late.
TED ROBBINS: 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 she still remembers his charisma, personality and showmanship.�
Ms. MARION BLANK: It was really a spectacular show. He came on in a car. And all glitzed up as he usually is.�And it was just a wonderful experience.
ROBBINS: 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.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBBINS: That's a recording of Liberace playing the Baldwin.�He was classically trained, but Liberace wanted to please the masses.�He said he played classical without the boring parts. Classi-pop, museum archivist Jerry Goldberg calls it.�It made Liberace famous.
Mr. JERRY GOLDBERG (Museum Archivist): But the biggest problem was, you didn't leave humming or singing his music because he played other people's music.�His name more or less has died out because there's nothing to associate him with except the bling and showmanship.
ROBBINS: His biggest fans were middle-aged women in the 1950s through the 1970s - a shrinking demographic.�Liberace might have become a gay icon, Goldberg says - lots of people, including his own mother, knew Liberace was gay.
Mr. GOLDBERG: A lot of people knew. His mother was aware of his lifestyle. But back then it would have been a catastrophe for his career, so he never admitted it, even up to the day he died. Never came out of the closet.
ROBBINS: But the biggest problem for the Liberace Museum may be its location.�It's more than two miles off the Vegas Strip.�And visitors just don't want to make the trip. Though now that it's closing, locals like Katie Driscoll are coming.
Ms. KATIE DRISCOLL: My mother watched Liberace all the time when I was growing up, played the piano. And so did I.�And I moved here, became a showgirl and heard that it was closing, and I didn't want to miss it.
ROBBINS: Then there's Philip Balian.�When he heard the Liberace Museum was closing, he got on a plane to Vegas from London.
Mr. PHILIP BALIAN: I watched him as a child on television and saw him play and I said to my parents: I'd like to learn to play the piano. I want to be like that guy with the sparkly jacket.
ROBBINS: Philip Balian learned to play the piano.�No sparkly jacket, but now on his first trip to the States he is thrilled that the museum staff let him play Liberace's mirror-encrusted grand piano for the final visitors.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBBINS: After Sunday, the piano and the other artifacts here will go into storage, and Liberace's fame will fade a little further.�
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Las Vegas.��
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