Behind The Candelabra is a memoir about Scott Thorson’s life with Liberace. Scott recounts how he met, came to live with, love, work with, and got rejected by Liberace. Liberace was known as Mr. Showmanship as he gave extravagant performances on the piano. While he never admitted to being homosexual, according to Thorson, Liberace led a very flamboyant life within the gay community and often would maintain homosexual relationships by hiring them onto his staff. Thorson’s memoir about their relationship and how it ended abruptly in 1982 was published in 1988 and was written after Liberace died of AIDS in 1987.
I have very mixed emotions about this book. The book itself did not feel like an act of revenge. The book seemed to simply tell about the relationship that was a huge part of Scott Thorson and Liberace’s lives. I don’t feel like Liberace was bad mouthed or slandered. I don’t feel like Thorson was taking pot shots at his former lover, even though he could have as Liberace was not around to defend himself. The novel paints Liberace as a very passionate man who loves with his whole being. Unfortunately, it seems that his love fades and can be transferred quickly and become just as fierce towards the next lover. For me, it was interesting learning about how Thorson became enveloped in Liberace’s life and came to love him deeply. Thorson describes his relationship with Liberace (who was 40 years Thorson’s senior) as if it lasted a lifetime, but in reality it started when Thorson was 17 but was over before Thorson reached 23 years of age.
Did Liberace mistreat Thorson? Well, all I have to go by is Thorson’s side of the story but I would say that this is a very complicated question. Scott was asked to come and live with Liberace when he was 17, and so was Scott even mature enough to understand that by doing so that he would be denying himself opportunities to establish his own career and security? Maybe not. Also, Thorson tells that Liberace led him to believe that he was building some security by having an income and a house in his name. So, when they broke up, Thorson probably was surprised to find that this wasn’t the case. On the other hand, Thorson was 23 when the relationship ended and could have still been able to make something of his life.
Thorson’s argument against this would be that he was so messed up from having been hooked on drugs by Liberace plastic surgeon that he couldn’t get out of the hole that he found himself in. I guess Thorson may not have had the support of family and friends that he needed in order to get clean. Alternatively, who is to say what Scott’s life would have been like if he had never met Liberace. He could have ended up in the same drug hole or he could have ended up a veterinarian like he wanted to become.
The movie was actually a fair representation of the book and did a good job of not painting either Liberace or Thorson in an entirely negative light. The acting was well done, of course, starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. There were some other big names in the movie that added decent support. The director, Steven Soderbergh, couldn’t find funding in Hollywood for the movie stating that it was “too gay” and so the movie was released on HBO. After learning more about him and watching a number of interviews of Scott Thorson, I am not sure that the movie being “too gay” is the only reason the movie didn’t get made in the traditional Hollywood means (more about this below). The movie, in my opinion, wasn’t bad but it wasn’t that great either. Maybe I was a little bit bored and perhaps I was just a bit disenchanted after learning more about Thorson as a person.
In the epilogue and afterward of the book, Scott admits that he wrote the book because he needed the money, because he wanted to get back at Liberace some and that he was still involved in drugs after breaking up with Liberace. These facts do not speak well for the viability of the book, in my opinion. After Scott Thorson was thrown out of his and Liberace’s house and “thrown away like a piece of trash”, he was witness to a quadruple murder committed by Eddie Nash. He was sent through the witness protection program and moved to Florida where he worked at a church. He started appearing on their radio show and began to get some notoriety for his radio shows. Eddie Nash’s guys found him and shot him 5 times leaving him very injured and in need of painkillers. This fact did not help his drug addiction.
Since early 2000, he has done a number of interviews where he has claimed a number of different, rather crass facts about Liberace, what he was like in bed, about Michael Jackson, what he was like in bed all while using language that was very disrespectful (a different picture from the book). A lot of what he has said contradicts and discredits some of the details that are in the book. In 2008, Thorson was sentenced to 4 years in jail because of felony drug and burglary charges. He went to jail for a short time but was put on parole and in the meantime has been diagnosed with colon cancer. At the beginning of 2014, he was sentenced to 8 to 20 years for failing drug test and violating his parole. He is in jail now. Part of me feels sorry for him, but as I have a brother who has constantly had bad things happen to him, I know that there is a person who is unlucky and there is a person who makes his own luck.
I didn’t dislike the book or the movie but I probably won’t be recommending it to anyone because I majorly question the validity of the novel and am annoyed that any of my money may have gone to Thorson. I guess if you are a Liberace fan, you might enjoy reading about another side of him that was less public but I would caution you that this side might not be entirely accurate.