INDIO, CALIF., FEB. 9 -- Liberace died of a disease caused by AIDS, and his death certificate was a deliberate attempt by his doctors to "play fast and loose" with authorities and cover up the cause of death, Riverside County Coroner Ray Carrillo said today.

Liberace, 67, died Feb. 4 at his home in Palm Springs. His lawyer, his manager and his publicist all denied he had died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and Dr. Ronald Daniels, a physician who treated the entertainer, said death was caused by cardiac arrest due to heart failure brought on by subacute encephalopathy, a brain inflammation.

Carrillo rejected the death certificate, ordered an autopsy, which was performed Friday, and announced the results today at a crowded news conference.

"Mr. Liberace did not die of cardiac arrest and cardiac failure due to encephalopathy and anemia as certified by the physician on the death certificate," Carrillo said. "Our postmortem has precluded any conjecture. He did die of AIDS.

"... Somebody was trying to play fast and loose with the Riverside County Coroner's Office," Carrillo declared. "They probably pulled something they thought they could get away with. Fortunately it was in a case where there was a lot of publicity.

"The original cause of death did not make sense," Carrillo said. "Encephalopathy does not cause heart disease."

The coroner added that Daniels' failure to report the correct cause of death would be reported for possible disciplinary action to California's Board of Medical Quality Assurance. A similar failure by Forest Lawn Memorial Park, where Liberace was entombed Saturday, will be reported to the state board responsible for regulating mortuaries, he said.

Daniels' receptionist said the doctor is declining comment.

Forest Lawn spokesman Dick Fisher said in Los Angeles that the mortuary had relied on the doctor's death certificate. "We're not doctors, we're not medical examiners. That's all we can do," he said.

Less than an hour after the recorded time of his death, Liberace's body was taken to Los Angeles County, where it was embalmed at Forest Lawn.

When Los Angeles County health officials called Carrillo's office to confirm the death certificate so that they could issue Forest Lawn a burial permit, Carrillo ordered the body returned to Riverside County for an autopsy so he could determine the underlying cause of death.

Carillo said he is certain that Liberace's doctors were aware that he had suffered from AIDS "for months or maybe even years."

He said toxicological studies and microscopic examination of tissue taken from the entertainer's body during the autopsy proved Liberace suffered from a form of pneumonia.

He also said Liberace suffered from a calcification of heart valves due to "the AIDS virus allowing these micro-organisms to develop. In layman's terms, he died of an opportunistic disease caused by AIDS," the coroner said.

"We will notify the {Riverside} county Department of Health of our findings and it will be their responsibility to follow up to determine if he had contact with anyone. I don't know whether he had relationships with anyone."

Liberace had long denied he was homosexual. In 1959 he won a libel suit against the London tabloid Daily Mirror, which implied in a 1956 column item that he was homosexual.

He repeated the denial in 1982 when his former live-in chauffeur and travel secretary, Scott Thorson, brought a palimony suit against the entertainer. Thorson said Liberace promised him $70,000 a year for life when Thorson moved in as his lover. The entertainer settled the suit for $95,000.