Behind the Candelabra by Scott Thorson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a well-written book. Thorson and his ghost-writer did a great job.
The behind-the-scenes story of Liberace is captivating with lots of action and excess. I knew little about Liberace going in and this book serves as a great introduction to the man and his life.
Thorson starts the book off well, playing the narrator instead of choosing sides. Near the end, around 80%, that shifts heavily. Perhaps realizing the audience for the book would be Liberace’s fans, and not wanting to go up against a dying old man proved too much for him, as near the end I feel the claws really came out and it proved unnecessary.
It starts with Liberace’s pornography, of which Thorson says:
They all depicted homosexual acts and, even at the age of eighteen, I found the movies offensive and boring.
I have found in my life few times when things are both offensive and boring. They seem opposite emotions.
Thorson blames their relationship break-up jointly on Liberace’s pornography addiction and on his own drug addiction, although even the drug addiction he tries to blame on Liberace:
At first I tried to ignore the symptoms of his growing restlessness. When I couldn’t we usually wound up fighting. Then I’d take a little cocaine to help me over the rough spots. As the frequency of our arguments increased, so did my drug usage. With the wisdom of hindsight I realize that my drug habit caused some of the difficulty between us.
Thorson details a life spun out of control, culminating in him being holed up for two days doing drugs with a gun (!):
Angry; God, I’d never been so fucking angry! If Lee had made the mistake of walking in at that moment, I think I’d have killed him then and there.
And then two pages later says:
Meanwhile, Lee was back in Palm Springs, convinced that I now represented a serious danger to his health and happiness. He was scared to death. Of me!
The exclamation mark is what did it for me. You are out of control on drugs with a loaded gun, imagine him being afraid of that! Especially when you said you’d kill him two pages before. Thorson comes off badly in this section.
During their break-up, Thorson states:
Lee had his mind set on two things: the Academy Awards and the pleasure he would enjoy with his two houseguests later that evening. His cup was running over while mine had come up empty.
It doesn’t ring true. Thorson stops being sympathetic at this point. Liberace is continuing his mandatory bookings and Thorson is hurt by this, seeing it as a personal attack. It’s immature.
He then again blames Liberace for his drug problem:
Losing him in such a brutal way helped to accelerate my drug usage—which in turn deepened my problems.
He closes with:
Rightly or wrongly, I felt he’d ruined my life and I’d made up my mind to make him suffer for it.
It’s hard to see in any way how Liberace could have ruined his life.
The book does have a new postscript from the author, and it seems like enough material for a second book. It’s CRAZY, being shot, the witness protection program, turning straight, being an evangelical Christian, being a part of the John Holmes Wonderland murders…. Yikes!
Yet even still, 26 years after the man’s death, Thorson can’t resist a final finger pointing, blaming Liberace for his drug use again:
In any event, in 2005, I could no longer resist the temptation to return to something like the life I had had with Lee. The problem was there was no Liberace. I had to finance my own lifestyle, and all I knew from a practical standpoint was drugs. I threw myself headlong into the crystal meth scene.
This bothered me and brought the book down at the end. Thorson needs to stop blaming his life’s problems on his 4.5 year relationship with a man who’s been dead 26 years. I hope he finds a way to do that.
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