Behind the Candelabra, the film about iconic gay pianist Liberace, has won three Emmys, including one for best TV movie.

Sir Elton John paid homage to Liberace at the Primetime Emmy Awards in a special performance on Sunday evening.

Behind the Candelabra stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his secret partner, Scott Thorson.

Douglas took home the best movie actor category. The Hollywood veteran drew laughter as he accepted his award at the 65th Primetime Emmys, joking with co-star Matt Damon sitting in the front row at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, “This is a two hander. And Matt, you’re only as good as your other hand.”

Last week, Behind the Candelabra won 8 awards at the Creative Arts Emmys.

Steven Soderbergh’s directorial project took home best art direction, casting, picture editing, costumes and other major awards after leading the pack with nine nominations.

Yesterday, Soderbergh paid tribute to the two leading actors when he picked up his main Emmy director’s prize, saying: “No matter what we all did … if Michael and Matt don’t show up with those performances, we don’t have a movie”.

Liberace’s final stage performance was at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on 2 November 1986 – his 18th show in 21 days

He died from an HIV-related illness on 4 February 1987, at his winter home in Palm Springs, California, aged 67.

The film explores themes of love and trust, tinged by Liberace’s narcissism and obsession with youth, and by Thorson’s vulnerability as a child raised by foster parents.

During Sunday night’s awards, Douglas and Damon introduced a tribute performance by Sir Elton John.

“This guy played a mean piano,” the British pop icon said, acknowledging the enormous influence Liberace had on his own music “and my dress sense”.

In January, Steven Soderburgh said Behind the Candelabra was turned down by the big Hollywood studios for being “too gay.”

It didn’t get a screen run in the US but was shown at cinemas across the UK and in other countries.

When the film debuted on HBO in May, it achieved the highest ratings for a TV film in the US since 2004.

Executive producer Jerry Weintraub said in June: “We had three and a half million homes just on Sunday night (when the film was broadcast on HBO in America) and that’s without the TEVO-ing. When we’re finished, God knows how many millions of people will see this film and that’s what we wanted. That’s why we made it.”