Proposed Holographic Liberace Show Raises Real Issues

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Forgive this column if it rains on anyone’s synthetic parade, but … a holographic Liberace “live” show in Vegas? Opinions line up behind “it’s cool” or “it’s creepy.” Answer: technologically cool, morally creepy.

Recently, the company Hologram USA announced the project—still light on details—that will give us the god of glitter “interacting” with audiences. True, this city trades on simulations—on the Strip we replicated Paris, rebuilt the pyramids, reflowed Venetian canals and resurrected ancient Rome—but does reanimating an entertainer cross a line?

Exhumations dig up the dead. Zombie movies dig up the “undead.” Now comes digging up someone’s being. Surely it’ll amuse us—isn’t that the priority? Excuse the sarcasm, but beyond jeopardizing the phrase “rest in peace,” this triggers questions more authentic than the headliner.

Let’s chew on a few:

  • Given that most of Liberace’s original fan base is dead, and whatever exists now of genuine, nostalgic enthusiasts is a small niche, that leaves a modest audience at any one show to appreciate his talent and showmanship, and a whopping audience that’s there for a techno-dazzle freak show. Is that what Liberace—a tent pole of Vegas’ founding entertainment legacy with Elvis and the Rat Pack—deserves?
  • Yes, the Liberace Foundation blessed this endeavor. Yes, we imagine what immortality, even artificially, would be like. Yet would you be comfortable with your image, words and actions existing beyond your control? Allowing others to present—and manipulate—you to future generations without veto power? Eternal life as a puppet?
  • Technological fascination aside, isn’t this just soulless? Tribute artists at least bring personal interpretation to bear, as I expect Bob Anderson will on January 24, when, aided by makeup and passion, he might just introduce new colors to our perceptions of Frank Sinatra when he opens in the Palazzo’s new celebration. In a YouTube era when past performances are instantly retrievable, we don’t need higher-tech reruns. We need low-tech humanity.
  • Decades ago, Liberace was, in the parlance of a more guarded era, “fey.” Now he’d be gay—an identification he rejected till the day he died. Whatever you think he owed or didn’t owe the gay community given his public prominence—or how ridiculous his denials were—through what prism should his closeted stance be viewed?


Will show creators exploit it as a punch line, with no way for the man to object? If not, will the show’s mere existence invite 21st-century audiences with the benefit of progressive hindsight to chortle at an entertainer who did what the entertainment industry required to survive during his own shortsighted era? Would he even do a show today, knowing the grandma-fan constituency that thought he was just extravagant had vanished?

Can’t we let Liberace own his own legacy as he left it, even if we apply 2015 sensibilities to it? Aren’t we all entitled to that regarding our own lives? Are we so restless for entertainment we can’t let the deceased rest, either?

In nature, it’s vultures that feed off the dead.

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