Brokeback Piano: Nicolas Cage Headlines Liberace

7/24/2006 6:55 PM PDT

Brokeback Piano: Nicolas Cage Headlines Liberace

EXCLUSIVE: Nicolas Cage is not leaving Las Vegas; indeed, he's coming back to it, starring in a new biopic about the life of that gold lame luminary, Liberace. What's more, Cage is producing the project as well, via his Saturn Films production company, based on a script by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg.

Friedberg and Seltzer are best known for the campy pop culture-derived hits "Scary Movie" and more recently, "Date Movie," but their look at Liberace's life is understood to be far more serious. And while the duo might seem to be the last choice for a serious biography, the deal kind of makes sense to us: Who, after all, was better at distilling highbrow classics into pop culture than Liberace himself?

Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the pianist's rise to fame began in the 1950s, when his musical TV show (featuring his brother George leading the band) competed with and often bested "I Love Lucy" for ratings. He'd go on to sell millions of records -- over 2 million in 1953 alone.

But was as a live performer that Liberace truly made his mark: As a headliner in Vegas, he had no equal, making $55,000 a week playing at the Riviera nightclub. By 1972, he was earning $300,000 a week, and was only finally dethroned by Elvis. (He reclaimed his mantle as Vegas' highest paid performer after the King's death.)

Liberace's own death, from AIDS, remains perhaps the most tragic and defining aspect of his life as an artist. Despite his status as a gay icon, Liberace always flatly denied that he was homosexual (Most poignantly, his publicist attributed his weight loss in his final months as being caused by a "watermelon diet.") and it's Liberace's worst-kept-secret of a double-life that the project is expected to focus on.

In the early 80s, Liberace's live-in lover Scott Thorson sued him for $113 million in "palimony" after they parted ways, and it is that suit - ultimately dismissed - that insiders say will be used as the starting point to introduce audiences to the secret that vexed Liberace for his entire adult life.

No studio is as yet attached, though Cage is said to be meeting with directors in the weeks to come, and is said to want to go before cameras as early as October of this year.