Sunday 24 September 2017

Aisling O'Connor: Flamboyant Liberace made it easier to be gay

Aisling O'Connor

'IN the closet' may be fast becoming a defunct term in light of triumphs for the gay-rights movement. In recent months, same-sex unions, partnerships and marriages have been top of the bill in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and here in Ireland. The timing just couldn't be better for Steven Soderbergh's HBO biopic, 'Behind the Candelabra'.

Overcoming cancer during the four-year production, Michael Douglas's commitment to the project is testament to the impact of this exploration of a gay couple living a double life. A statement heterosexual like Douglas playing a gay icon, with Matt Damon as his de facto hubby, is surely emblematic of how far society has come. But did Liberace have a part to play in sexuality fast becoming a non-issue?

Schmaltzy, gaudy, flamboyant, and utterly entertaining – Liberace's act is the stuff of legend. A virtuoso from humble beginnings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his insuppressible campness knew no limits. So long as he could prove that he wasn't gay, despite the fully sequinned pre-20th Century Euro-monarch revolving wardrobe, he was no such thing. And it mattered back then.

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