Liberace, who died in 1987 from complications from AIDS, never publicly admitted to being gay during his lifetime.
His former lover Scott Thorson – whose memoir the film Behind the Candelabra is based – is sharing details of some of the lengths the late entertainer went through to remain closeted.
To quiet growing rumors about his sexuality in the 1950s, Thorson writes in a column published today in TheWrap.com that Liberace would escort such famous women as Susan Hayward, Gale Storm, Rosemary Clooney, Mae West, and Judy Garland to parties and have his photo taken with them.
At one point he became engaged to a Las Vegas dancer named JoAnn Del Rio. But the marriage never took place.
‘When it came to JoAnn, the problem was not that he didn’t like her; it was that he still loved men,’ Thorson writes. ‘After Lee’s death, JoAnn’s father was reported to have claimed responsibility for ending the engagement because he knew Lee was gay. But Lee told me he never planned to walk down the aisle, with JoAnn or anyone else. His engagement served to squelch the rumors about his sexuality – period!’
A few years later, he began a high-profile ‘relationship’ with world champion figure skater Sonja Henie (pictured with Liberace) and a columnist for the London Daily Press described him as ‘deadly, sniggering, snuggling, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.’
Liberace sued the newspaper and won, convincing a judge he was not gay.
‘After the London court case came to an end, Lee never again felt the need to camouflage his true nature by dating ladies,’ Thorson writes.