Tiny Tim, whose quavery falsetto and ukulele made ”Tiptoe Through the Tulips With Me” a novelty hit in 1968, died on Saturday night at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He was 64 and had lived in Minneapolis for the past year.
The cause of death apparently was cardiac arrest, a nursing supervisor, Ellen Lafans, told The Associated Press. He had been in poor health recently, and collapsed onstage after suffering a heart attack while performing at a ukulele festival in western Massachusetts in September.
The cultural turbulence of the late 1960’s produced many strange phenomena, but none stranger than Tiny Tim, a pear-shaped singer with a beak nose, scraggly shoulder-length hair and an outfit that could be described as haute-couture bum. In the age of acid rock, he crooned romantic melodies of the 1920’s, accompanying himself on a ukulele that he pulled out of a paper shopping bag.
For a brief, heady period, Tiny Tim, who had spent years performing in small clubs, often free, was one of the most popular entertainers in America. When he married Vicki Budinger, a 17-year-old fan he called Miss Vicki, on the ”Tonight” show on Dec. 17, 1969, the event was seen by 21.4 million American households, the show’s largest audience.
Tiny Tim, whose real name was Herbert Khaury, was born in New York City and grew up in Washington Heights. He spent most of his time listening to the radio, fantasizing about celebrities and singing along with popular tunes.
From an early age, he doted on the music of vaudeville singers like Arthur Fields and Eddie Morton, as well as crooners like Rudy Vallee. He was drawn, he said, to the music ”when this country was filled with gaiety and singing and romance.”
Early on, Tiny Tim took to wearing white pancake makeup and long hair. He dropped out of George Washington High School and took a variety of menial jobs. Soon he began competing in amateur talent contests, with no success. In 1953, he said, after accepting Jesus into his life and praying for a new vocal style, he hit upon the falsetto that would become his trademark.
”Not only was it easier on my throat, but I found that I was thrilling myself as well,” he said. But he continued to sing in a tremulous, mellow baritone as well, and sometimes alternated voices, duet style.
Billed as Larry Love, the Singing Canary, he sang in Hubert’s Museum in Times Square as a freak attraction. He also sang in small clubs in Greenwich Village, New Jersey and Long Island without pay. In 1962 he landed his first paid engagement, at the Cafe Bizarre in the Village. The following year, his manager, George King, changed the singer’s name to Tiny Tim, leaving behind aliases like Julian Foxglove and Emmett Swink.
In the mid-60’s, Tiny Tim gained new visibilty at a midtown discotheque called the Scene, which often booked top rock acts. His appearances there led to a booking on the ”Merv Griffin Show” and a small part in the film ”You Are What You Eat,” which was made by Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary. It was Mr. Yarrow who brought Mo Ostin, the head of Reprise Records, to hear Tiny Tim at the Scene, an encounter that led to a recording contract. National attention came with an appearance on the first ”Laugh-In” show in 1968, which drew an avalanche of negative mail. Nevertheless, Tiny Tim later became a regular guest on the ”Tonight” show.
His most successful single was ”Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” a remake of a 1929 hit by Nick Lucas that reached No. 17 on the pop charts in June 1968. His first album, ”God Bless Tiny Tim” (1968), sold more than 200,000 copies. It was quickly followed by ”Tiny Tim’s Second Album.” His third album, ”For All My Little Friends,” released in 1969, flopped. By the end of 1970, the Tiny Tim wave had crested. His marriage to Miss Vicki soon unraveled, and in 1977 the couple divorced. He continued to perform, to dwindling audiences.
In the 1980’s, Tiny Tim experienced a mild resurgence, as he was discovered by a new generation of rock musicians. He resumed touring and turned out a flurry of albums that included cover versions of rock songs, as well as the Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville numbers.
Some were merely peculiar, like the heavy-metal album ”Tiny Rock,” which included a cover version of the AC/DC hit ”Highway to Hell.” Other albums earned respectful reviews, notably ”Girl,” a collaboration with the band Brave Combo that included a cha-cha version of ”Hey, Jude.” Other albums from this late period included ”The Impotent Troubadour,” ”I Love Me” and ”Prisoner of Love.” He recently completed ”Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album,” which has just been released.
He is survived by his third wife, Sue Gardner, and a daughter by his first marriage, Tulip Victoria. His second marriage, to Jan Alweiss, ended in divorce.
Initially, journalists and critics debated whether Tiny Tim was a put-on or the real thing. It quickly became clear that he was genuine, a lonely outcast intoxicated by fame, a romantic in pursuit of a beautiful dream. ”These voices,” he told an interviewer, ”really live within me.”
- April, 12, 1932
- Manhattan, New York City
- November, 30, 1996
- Hennepin County, Minnesota
Cause of Death
- heart attack
- Lakewood Cemetery
- Minneapolis, Minnesota