On October 17, the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas will be history, a victim of the ongoing recession and Liberace’s dwindling fan base. Yesterday, Liberace Foundation board chairman Jeffrey Koep announced plans to close the museum, which since 1979 has celebrated the life and career of Liberace (1919-87), the flamboyant entertainer and pianist who once delighted audiences by pounding out songs on rhinestone-encrusted pianos while wearing outlandish sequined capes.
According to Koep, the museum’s financial problems are threefold: Its endowment has shrunk from $12 million to $5 million, visitation has declined from a peak of 450,000 visitors per year to just 50,000 in 2009, and the foundation’s rental income is down (thanks to vacancies in the strip mall where the museum is located). “In order to keep the museum open, we have had to go into our endowment, and we’re hitting a point where we can’t do that anymore,” he says.
But the core issue is that fewer and fewer people know who Liberace was. Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor Newsletter puts it succinctly when he says, “Young kids don’t care about Liberace.”
Koep hoped that Steven Soderbergh’s planned biopic (set to star Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover) would “give [the museum] a shot in the arm,” but a film release is nowhere in sight, though Douglas (recently diagnosed with throat cancer) says he still plans to make the movie.
The news follows in the wake of 2009’s closure of the Las Vegas Art Museum, which makes Vegas the largest city in the United States without a public arts museum.