Friday, Oct. 12, 2001 | 9:04 a.m.
Seymour Heller, Liberace's personal manager for 37 years, who vehemently denied that the renowned entertainer was dying of AIDS and insisted Liberace's rapid weight loss was the result of a watermelon diet, died Tuesday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 87.
Services for Heller, who spent considerable time in Las Vegas looking after Liberace's interests before the flamboyant pianist died on Feb. 4, 1987, and part of the next year here in unsuccessful litigation to become executor of Liberace's multimillion-dollar estate, will be Sunday in Beverly Hills.
"Seymour was so honest and so sincere, and he was like a brother to Liberace," said Liberace's longtime housekeeper, Gladys Luckie, 90, who resides in Las Vegas. "He always tried to do what was best for Liberace, whether it was giving advice or finding the best places for him to perform."
Heller threatened to sue the Las Vegas Sun when the newspaper told the world in a copyrighted Jan. 24, 1987, story that the entertainer and longtime Las Vegas resident had AIDS.
"We are categorically denying that Liberace has AIDS," Heller said at the time. "We are demanding a retraction, and if this is not done we intend to immediately file a libel suit."
Late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun responded to international media inquiries: "We stand by our story."
Heller, in response to questions about Liberace's quick and severe weight loss, a symptom of AIDS, said Liberace was suffering from anemia brought on by a 15- to 20-pound weight loss as result of a watermelon diet. Heller told the Sun that Liberace was taking iron pills and eating three meals a day. "(Liberace) just got out of a habit of eating food," he said.
After Liberace's death, a Riverside County, Calif., coroner's autopsy determined the entertainer died of AIDS.
In May 1988, in Clark County District Court during a case in which Heller tried to replace Liberace's Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Joel Strote as executor, Heller testified that Liberace assured him in one of their final conversations that he did not have AIDS.
"He (Liberace) said, 'I don't have AIDS, call Joel Strote and let's sue them," Heller testified. "I really never knew how sick he was until January, when the Sun called up and said they knew he had it. I denied it. I denied it for many moons. I never believed any of it."
In August 1988, Strote prevailed in the case brought by Heller, Luckie, Liberace's sister, Angie Liberace Farrell, Liberace's companion, Cary James, and another housekeeper, Dorothy McMahon.
Heller began managing Liberace in 1950. Under Heller's guidance, Wladziu Valentino "Lee" Liberace first gained national attention in 1952 with "The Liberace Show," a 15-minute Tuesday night NBC television program in which he and his brother, George Liberace, played classic tunes.
Garbed in trademark furs, flashy jewelry and a wardrobe of outrageous costumes sequined from neck to ankle -- and playing bejeweled Steinway pianos -- Liberace long was a major Las Vegas headliner.
After Liberace's death, Heller retired from the management business.
Heller's survivors include his wife, Billie of Beverly Hills; two sons, David and Bruce; and a daughter, Elizabeth, all of Los Angeles. Sun reporter
Angela Soo contributed to this story.