Nelly Power: When Coming Out Isn't a Choice

These men — both real and fictional — who could never 'pass' might be considered the pioneers of gay visibility.

BY Christopher Harrity

November 05 2013 5:00 AM ET


Liberace: Camping All the Way to the Bank

The recent revealing film based on Scott Thorson's book, Behind the Candelabra, has finally put to rest any hope the little old lady from Pasadena may still be clinging to that Liberace was "a matinee idol."

Liberace used his extreme flamboyance as part of his trademark, and while he flaunted his furs, jewels, and bedazzled lifestyle to the public. Could Liberace have come out in his day? It would have ended a very lucrative career, and he not only denied that he was gay but sued multiple times (and won) to prove he wasn't.

In 195, an article in the Daily Mirror described Liberace as "the summit of sex — the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want … a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love," a description which strongly implied he was homosexual without saying so explicitly.

Liberace sued the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not a homosexual and had never taken part in homosexual acts. He won the suit, and the £8,000 damages he received from the Daily Mirror led Liberace to repeat the catchphrase to reporters: "I cried all the way to the bank!"

Liberace fought and settled a similar case in the United States against Confidential. Rumors and gossip magazines frequently implied that he was gay. A typical issue of Confidential in 1957 shouted, "Why Liberace's Theme Song Should Be 'Mad About the Boy!'"

In 1982, Scott Thorson, Liberace's former chauffeur and live-in lover, sued the pianist for palimony after he was let go by Liberace. Liberace continued publicly to deny that he was homosexual and insisted that Thorson was never his lover. The case was settled out of court in 1986.

Liberace died of an AIDS-related illness in 1987.

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