Wladziu Valentino Liberace, commonly known as Liberace, was one of the most famous people in the world for more than 30 years. In the course of his career he played for presidents, royalty and even for the pope. In the mid-50s, when average working folks made about $5,000 a year, Liberace was making $50,000 a week in Las Vegas and millions of dollars a year from TV appearances and product endorsements. His schmaltzy lounge act, while snickered at by the guardians of high culture, was the stuff of dreams for several generations of middle American housewives who saw him as the embodiment of gentlemanly refinement, not to mention success.
But for all his money and fame Liberace spent the greater part of his life having to deny his nature. In person and in the press he expended tremendous energy to convince people he wasn't gay. He went as far as to sue both the Daily Mirror tabloid in the UK and the scandal rag Confidential in US for libel because they implied that he was (he won both cases). In 1984 however an ex-flame of his sued him for millions in a palimony suit that claimed the two had had a five year long romantic affair. Though Liberace continued to publicly deny he was gay the times had changed and most people had come to accept the obvious. The publicity and tabloid attention on his private life didn't hurt his earning power one bit either as his final live concert engagement at Radio City in New York in 1986 earned him some $2.5 million.
Around that same time though people began to notice Liberace was losing weight and seemed uncharacteristically listless at times. The press began to speculate on possible reasons yet Liberace claimed that his appearance was simply the result of his being on the Watermelon Diet and that there was nothing to worry about. But on February 4, 1987 it was announced that Liberace had died at his home in Palm Springs California at age 67. The cause of death was listed by his doctor as cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure yet several days after his death the Riverside County Coroner in California declared that Liberace had died from an HIV related illness and that his doctor had circumvented normal reporting procedures in an effort to cover it up.
Ultimately his death (along with that of Rock Hudson a year and a half earlier) helped focus attention on the extent of the growing HIV epidemic, with the two deaths marking a turning point of sorts in public perceptions as well as the media's handling of the story in general.
For the record, filming is set to start in 2012 on an HBO movie about Liberace starring Micheal Douglas and Matt Damon.