Behind the Candelabra (TV Movie 2013) - Plot Summary Poster

(2013 TV Movie)


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  • Scott Thorson, a young bisexual man raised in foster homes, is introduced to flamboyant entertainment giant Liberace and quickly finds himself in a romantic relationship with the legendary pianist. Swaddled in wealth and excess, Scott and Liberace have a long affair, one that eventually Scott begins to find suffocating. Kept away from the outside world by the flashily effeminate yet deeply closeted Liberace, and submitting to extreme makeovers and even plastic surgery at the behest of his lover, Scott eventually rebels. When Liberace finds himself a new lover, Scott is tossed on the street. He then seeks legal redress for what he feels he has lost. But throughout, the bond between the young man and the star never completely tears.

  • A chronicle of the tempestuous six year romance between megastar singer, Liberace, and his young lover, Scott Thorson.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1977, 18-year-old Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), who works as an animal trainer for movies, meets Bob Black (Scott Bakula), a Hollywood producer, in a gay bar in Los Angeles. At Black's urging, he leaves his adopted home and foster parents Joe and Rose (Garrett M. Brown and Jane Morris) and goes off in search of better-paying work. Black takes Scott to Las Vegas where they see a live stage show of Liberace (Michael Douglas). Afterwards, Black introduces Thorson to Liberace in his backstage dressing room who takes an immediate liking to the handsome younger man. However, Liberace's co-performer and fellow piano player, Billy Leatherwood (Cheyenne Jackson), is cold and avoids Scott and Bob, despite their attempts to be friendly.

    Liberace invites the two men to his luxurious home in Las Vegas. Scott observes that one of Liberace's beloved dogs is suffering from a temporary form of blindness, and with his veterinary assistant background, informs the famous pianist that he knows how to cure the condition. After treating the dog, Scott becomes Liberace's "assistant" at the performer's request.

    Scott moves in with Liberace and soon becomes his lover. Scott even becomes part of Liberace's stage at playing his chauffeur in driving Liberace on stage in a Rolls Royce automobile for his performances. In the meantime, Billy Leatherwood is cut from Liberace's stage act and leaves town after receiving a large bribe from Liberace's management team.

    After another night of lovemaking, Scott confides in Liberace that he is bisexual because he is also attracted to women. Liberace is sympathetic, informing him that he wanted and tried to love women, but was exclusively attracted to men. Liberace relates a story of a "divine healing" where in November 1963 he nearly died from acute kidney failure but claims to have had a near-death experience in which a "messenger" informed him that God still loved him.

    However, flaws in Scott's life with Liberace begin to appear. Carlucci (Bruce Ramsey), Liberace's live-in "house boy", disapproves of Scott and privately warns him that Liberace sooner or later will discard him as he's done with "many teenage boys" in the past. Liberace's long-term manager, Seymour Heller (Dan Aykroyd), also disapproves of Scott and is overly loyal to Liberace in protecting Liberace's (who is called Lee) sexual orientation from the public at all costs for be believes (rightly so) that if Liberace would ever come clean about being gay, he would lose literally everything.

    It gradually becomes clear that Liberace is trying to mold Scott into a younger version of himself. In 1979, after turning 60, Liberace requests his plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe), to do a complete face-lift for himself to make him appear younger. Liberace also requests that Dr. Startz transform Scott's face to more closely resemble his own. Liberace also makes an unsuccessful attempt to formally adopt Scott (since gay unions back then were illegal and not socially acceptable). Scott soon turns to drugs (first pain pills, and later cocaine) as he becomes more angry and frustrated with Liberace trying to control him as well as Liberace's obsession to publicly hide their romance at any cost.

    In 1980, Liberace's mother (Debbie Reynolds), whom he always adored, dies and he holds a funeral. Scott is troubled by Liberace's lack of grief over his mother's death by claiming that he is "finally free."

    In 1981, Scott's increasing drug abuse and Liberace's promiscuity towards younger men creates a rift that ultimately destroys their relationship. Liberace begins moving away from Scott by viewing gay porn videotapes and even takes Scott on an excursion to an adult bookstore and porn shop just as Scott is going through a drug withdrawal.

    In 1982, when Liberace suggests to Scott that they begin seeing other people, Scott becomes upset and goes on a drug bender. When Scott learns that his foster mother has died, he goes to Los Angeles for her funeral and when he returns to Las Vegas, he finds that Liberace has taken in yet another young man, a local dancer named Cary James (Boyd Holbrook) whom he hires as his new "personal assistant". Now, Scott becomes cold, angry and withdrawn and begins giving Liberace a hard time (exactly like Billy Leatherwood had done in the early scenes when Scott first met him backstage).

    After an angry and verbal alternation with Liberace, Scott is then thrown out on the street with all his things in plastic garbage bags by Seymour and his personal security guards where Seymour tells Scott, in in a rude tone, to never to make contact with Liberace again. Scott moves in with Bob Black where he persuades Scott to take Liberace to court with the fact that he should be entitled to half of what Liberace has.

    In 1984, Scott retains an attorney (Paul Reiser) to seek his financial share of the property by suing Liberace for over $100 million in palimony. During Scott's palimony lawsuit, he gives details about his five-year romance with the entertainer, while Liberace flatly denies any sexual relationship or giving any gifts or items to Scott, with the exception of three valuable gold rings (aware that Scott had already pawned them for cash to buy cocaine for himself). However, Liberace's lawyer (Josh Meyers) offers Scott a settlement which is $75,000 in cash along with three of his cars, and three dogs totaling another $20,000 in exchange for dropping his claim to Scott's $250,000 Las Vegas house that Liberace bought for him as well as sign a clause to prohibit Scott from ever revealing the true nature of his relationship with him. Scott reluctantly agrees to settle since he is broke from spending all of his money on drugs.

    Some time later, Scott is working as a clerk in a post office somewhere in Los Angeles where one day he notices a customer carrying a book about Liberace. Scott goes to a bookstore where he views a copy of Liberace's personal picture book titled 'The Wonderful Private World of Liberace' containing photos of his luxurious homes as well as anecdotes by 'Lee' about his "straight" way of life. Scott leaves the store without purchasing the book. He passes by a Los Angeles newspaper stack dated October 3, 1985 with the front page cover detailing actor Rock Hudson's death from AIDS (an ominous thing).

    The following year on Christmas Day 1986, Scott, living alone in a small condo apartment, receives a phone call from Liberace who, speaking in a very weak voice, asks Scott to come visit him at his house in Palm Springs. The following day, Scott drives to Palm Springs to Liberace's house and is shocked to find the entertainer bedridden and dying of AIDS. Liberace thanks Scott for coming to visit saying that he only wanted to see Scott one last time before he died. He gives Scott one of his gold rings by his nightstand as a reminder to him and makes Scott promise never to tell anyone that he saw him like this saying "I don't want anyone to remember me as just another gay queen who died of AIDS."

    Not long thereafter (on February 4, 1987), Liberace dies. Despite efforts to hide the true nature of his death by Seymour and Liberace's immediate family, the newspapers reveal that Liberace indeed died of the AIDS virus. Scott attends Liberace's funeral in Los Angeles in which he imagines seeing Liberace performing one last time on stage with his traditional flamboyance, before being lifted to Heaven with a stage harness.

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