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1,000 Crowd Final Service for Liberace

February 13, 1987|From Times Wire Services

LAS VEGAS — Fans, family and fellow entertainers bade goodby to Liberace on Thursday, tearfully singing his theme song, "I'll Be Seeing You," at a church service near the glittering Strip where he performed for five decades.

More than 1,000 people, including Rich Little, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Goulet and Donald O'Connor, crowded into St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church.

"He loved his work, he loved his audiences, and they knew it," Goulet said in a eulogy. "His entertaining was his way of returning to the people the gift that was given to him."

'Final Appearance'

Liberace died Feb. 4 at his Palm Springs home of a disease caused by AIDS.

Father John McVeigh, pastor of the church, told the mourners that Liberace "had his final appearance" when he stood in the sight of God last week.

"There were no bright lights, no critics," McVeigh said. "We pray that a God who is loving, who is peaceful, who is just, will be kind and accepting."

The service memorialized decades of performances in Las Vegas by Liberace, who was known as "the king of pizazz" for his elaborate outfits and stage presentations.

Doctor Had Suspicion

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the attorney for Liberace's physician said the doctor suspected that Liberace had AIDS but did not have conclusive evidence to list the disease as the cause of death.

Riverside County Coroner Ray Carrillo announced Monday that the pianist had died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia caused by AIDS and, without mentioning names, said there was a deliberate attempt to "pull a fast one" on authorities by covering up the cause.

William Ginsburg, who represents Dr. Ronald Daniels, Liberace's physician, disputed the insinuation.

"We categorically deny there was an attempt to cover up, flimflam or pull a fast one," he said. "We categorically admit that we resolved our doubts in favor of (the privacy rights of) Mr. Liberace and his family."

Obeyed the Law

Ginsburg said Daniels and Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage obeyed the law by informing health agencies that tests before Liberace's death showed that he had been infected by the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus, which did not necessarily mean that he had AIDS.

Daniels, a Whittier physician specializing in internal medicine, listed Liberace's death as heart failure brought on by a degenerative brain disease complicated by emphysema.

Ginsburg said Daniels "had a very strong suspicion of AIDS as the cause of death. But AIDS is just as the 'S' in the acronym implies: a syndrome. And we have far from defined all of the combinations of elements that constitute that syndrome.

"Mr. Liberace didn't fall clearly into any of those sets (of symptoms that define AIDS)," he added. "Therefore, although it was a minor doubt, it was a doubt and had to be treated accordingly."

Could Have Been ARC

It is possible that Liberace's symptoms would have put him in the category of suffering AIDS-related complex, or ARC, instead of AIDS itself, the attorney said during an interview.

Ginsburg said that given Daniels' doubts, "given the need to preserve the patient's privacy even in death and the privacy of the family, given the macabre looky-loo interest of a vast portion of the public, and given the fact he had done what was important--report the existence of the virus to responsible health agencies--he felt that all doubts should be resolved in favor of Mr. Liberace and his family."

Sabas Rosas, coroner's supervisor for the Indio office of the Riverside County coroner, which conducted the autopsy, noted Wednesday that state law requires physicians to report deaths involving contagious disease.

"We did our job, as required by law," he said, explaining why Carrillo ordered the autopsy after determining that the information on the death certificate was "insufficient."

'Spread the Disease'

"As for not putting the cause of death on the death certificate and putting what a person died of," he said, "what you are saying is, 'Go ahead, and let's spread the disease,' instead of stopping the disease."

Carrillo said Monday that he would send the death certificate and related medical records to the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance and other state agencies that review medical services.

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