By Dilay Gundogan, AFP

ISTANBUL, Turkey–Touted as the ��Turkish Liberace,�� late singer Zeki Muren adored women’s clothes, outrageous makeup and was held up as a gay icon �X an unlikely hero for modern-day Turkey. Yet a new show on his life is pulling in record crowds in Istanbul. Muren bucked all trends in a country known for its conservatism. He was considered a national treasure by the time of his death in 1996, as dear to the hearts of Turks as Frank Sinatra was to Americans. He neither confirmed nor denied suggestions he was gay, yet became a hero for the country’s homosexuals. Oddly, this never dented his popularity even in Turkey’s often homophobic society. A consummate entertainer, Muren was a beloved movie star as well as a prolific songwriter and eccentric vocalist, a master of sentimental ��Turkish art music,�� which has its origins in the court music of the Ottoman Empire.

This �X and his extravagant clothing, baubles and oversized rings �X earned him the nickname ��Turkish Liberace�� after the flamboyant U.S. entertainer who died in 1987. Entitled ��Here I am, Zeki Muren�� after one of his big hits, the Istanbul exhibition offers a rare look at his extraordinary life. Dozens of photos �X from early childhood to flashy stage shows, films, world travels and nights out with stars �X along with letters and shimmering artifacts pay homage to his legacy. ‘Part of our DNA’

In its first 40 days, the show drew a record of 42,000 visitors to the Yapi Kredi Culture Center in the city’s cosmopolitan Beyoglu district, the most for any exhibition held at the site. Many said this was a sign that Istanbul cultural life remains vibrant, despite complaints that non-Islamic arts are being squeezed out under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.