Loving Liberace: ‘Behind the Candelabra’ Premieres Sunday on HBO

The next 'Brokeback Mountain,' or just another cliche love story? Tune in this Sunday and judge for yourself.

Michael Douglas (left) as Liberace, and Matt Damon (right) as his lover and chauffeur, Scott Thorson.

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon? Together for an HBO gay-love flick about Liberace and his boy-toy Scott Thorson?

If I hadn’t seen the trailer (below) for myself, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

HBO will premiere on Sunday what might be the gayest mainstream love story to be told through film since Brokeback Mountain debuted all the way back in 2005. (And yes, it really has been that long since we all drooled over Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as they got frisky in a camping tent.)

The film, which will be entering movie theaters over in Europe, is an adaptation of scorned Liberace lover Thorson’s book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace. Director Steven Soderbergh first came up with the idea of using Douglas as Liberace after watching him do impressions between takes while on the set of Traffic in 2000. Until recently, the film had been in funding limbo (not unlike Joey Stefano biopic X-Rated, which you can read about in G Philly‘s summer issue), with Douglas and Damon having patiently waited for the project to be green-lit.

Aside from being one-half of a volatile love-hate relationship with Thorson, Liberace famously took the spotlight as the reigning ’60s and ’70s Queen of Fab without once uttering the words, “I’m gay.” His 15-minute-long The Liberace Show would open each week as a showcase of the glitz and glamour of his Vegas home (which now rests in foreclosure, as you can see in the second video below) and, at one point in time, managed to reach a staggering 30 million viewers each week. For perspective, American Idol‘s all-time ratings peak was 30 million during its 2006 season.

The aloof-but-affable Liberace died of AIDS-related complications in 1986, though his HIV status was denied at the time — as was his relationship with Thorson.

Said Liberace once to his piano-concert audiences: “I’m no good … I’ve just got guts.”

Check out these clips, and don’t forget to tune in to Behind the Candelabra this Sunday at 9 p.m. while you endure your hangover from this weekend’s Memorial Day festivities.

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