Tiny Tim’s Early Humble Beginnings
Like we already mentioned a second ago, the man behind the earworm that is Tip-Toe; Through the Tulips was born Herbert Khaury in New York City on April 12, 1932. His mom, Tillie, made clothing and her father was a Rabbi. She immigrated to the United States from the soviet city Brest-Litovsk which is in the present-day tumultuous nation of Belarus.
Butros, Khaury’s father. was also in the textile trade and hailed from Beirut. His dad was actually a Catholic priest. There’s a joke in there somewhere about the son of a priest and the daughter of a Rabbi getting together; but we’ll leave that for the comments section.
Khaury had an early interest in music which initially took root when his father gifted him an old-timey wind-up phonograph record player when he was a young boy. He would sit and listen to the only record that he owned ‘Beautiful Ohio’ by Henry Burr for hours at a time.
At the young age of six, he taught himself how to play the guitar and began writing simple melodies. He soon became an avid record collector. And spent the free time that he had at the New York Public library brushing up on the then brief history of the burgeoning record industry and its first major stars.
At the library, he would make photocopies of sheet music that he would take home and learn how to play. What started off as a childhood hobby, quickly became his life-long passion.
When he was only 11, he started learning how to play the violin. Then he picked up the mandolin and ukulele, and before long he was dishing out songs like no one’s business.
He had a routine appendectomy 1945 and spent his time in recovery reading the bible and listening to music on the radio.
Herbert received his education at George Washington High School but wasn’t what you would call a star-student. He dropped out after his sophomore year and started working odd jobs to get by.
Discovering His Signature Falsetto Voice
It was during that time that he spent recovering from his appendectomy. And listening to music on the radio that he discovered that he had the rare talent to sing with a very high pitch. He told Johhny Carson on The Tonight Show back in 1968 that he had been listening to Rudy Vallee sing in falsetto; when he realized that he could sing along and match the same notes. He had previously been unaware that the had the gift of singing in such a manner. When he made the discovery, he described it as something like a religious experience.
In 1952. he got a job working as a runner-boy at the New York office of MGM studios. It was there that his love affair with the entertainment industry really started to flourish. He decided to give performing a shot himself when he entered into a local open mic competition; and sang the old familiar classic ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in his signature falsetto style.
From there he took his new-found journey into show business further by performing in night clubs during their rookie nights; under a whole bunch of different stage names. Back then he was going by a whole slew of monikers like Judas K. Foxglove, Emmett Swink, and Texarkana Tex just to name a few.
To differentiate himself from the other performers he would go up on stage wearing outlandishly loud attire. He grew his hair out and wore make-up to make himself look paler than he really was. His mother, thinking that he had lost his marbles. She had fully intended to commit him to the psychiatric care of Bellevue Hospital but his father protested and stopped that from happening.
Another Name Change and Rise To Fame
In 1959, he swapped out his various stage names and started performing under the alias of Larry Love. The Singing Canary while performing as a side-show act of sortss at Hubert’s Museum and Live Flea Circus in New York’s Times Square. He then linked up with a talent scout that sent him out to audition at various Greenwich Village venues where he landed several unpaid gigs that helped him get his name out there.
This is when he started playing Tiptoe Through The Tulips – his signature ukulele fueled magnum opus.
He got his first paid gig at a venue called Page 3; A queer nightclub in Greenwich Village where he performed nearly every night of the week for 5 to 6 hours at a time for a measly 96 dollars a month. For the next several years, he performed under the names Dary Dover and then Sir Timothy Timms.
But he picked up the Tiny Tim tag when he was working with a band of little people. At 6 feet 1 inches tall, he stood in stark contrast with his compact cohorts. You might already know that Tiny Tim was also the name of the Charles Dickens character in A Christmas Carol.
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Tiny Tim – The Film Star
Tiny Tim got a huge break when he appeared in Normal Love. A 1963 experimental film directed by Jack Smith, where he played a glamorously dressed musical monster. He followed that film role up with a small part in the indie flick You Are What You Eat in 1968. Where he sang several songs in his falsetto style like Sonny Bono’s I Got You Babe and Be My Baby from the Ronettes.
These film credits led to him booked on the Rowan and Martin Laugh-in a popular anthology sketch comedy variety show at the time. On that program, he played a conglomeration of A Tisket A Tasket and On The Good Ship Lollipop on his Martin Ukulele; before busting out Tiptoe Through The Tulips – much to the dismay of the audience and hosts.
God Bless Tiny Tim
It was in 1968, that the unorthodox performer finally cut a record entitled God Bless Tiny Tim which was released by Reprise records. The album featured an orchestrally arranged rendition of his signature song along with a slew of other equally whimsical tracks like Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight and I Got You, Babe.
His follow-up record Tiny Tim’s 2nd album saw far fewer record sales than his first. His 4th release, For All My Little Friends released in 1969 was a compilation of children’s songs that earned him a Grammy nomination.
After the 60s wrapped up Tiny Tim’s fame began to fade. He continued to play gigs across the United States including several high-grossing shows in Vegas.
Following his contract with Reprise ending, he founded with his wife at the time. Victoria Budinger, the humorously titled label VicTim records, but their marriage would end in divorce in 1974.
Tiny Tim married his second wife Jan Alweiss in 1984 and then his third wife Susan Marie Gardner in 1995.
He saw a bit of a second wave of popularity in the late 80s and 90s. In 1986, he performed with the indie rock band Camper Van Beethoven and starred in the 1987 film Blood Harvest as the devious Mervo the Clown. In 1993 he released the albums Rock and I love Me and then his final album Girl in 1996.
Tiny Tim’s Tragic Death
The musician had a long history of heart trouble and on September 28, 1996. He had a heart attack on stage at the Ukulele festival in Montague,Massachusetts. He was immediately taken to the hospital where he spent several weeks recovering before being discharged. The doctors had strongly counseled him not to take to the stage again because of his health and pre-existing conditions seeing that he had already had cardiovascular issues and diabetes.
He couldn’t help but return to the stage – regardless of the sound medical advice that he should not. On November 30, 1996, he played his last show at a gala benefit show put on by the Women’s Club of Minneapolis. Even though he reportedly told his wife Susan that he wasn’t feeling well before going on stage, he did so anyway because he didn’t want to let his fans down.
The audience had mostly cleared out by the time he performed his last song – Tip-toe Through the Tulips. Halfway through the song, he had another major heart attack once again on stage. When he left the stage, his spouse asked him if he was okay. He told her that he wasn’t feeling well right before collapsing at their table. He never regained consciousness. EMTs attempted to resuscitate him using CPR and he was quickly taken to a nearby hospital were repeated attempts were made to revive him but none of them were successful. He was declared dead moments later
He was laid to rest at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Even though Tiny Tim is no longer with us, he will never be forgotten. A large tulip themed mural is dedicated to him in a Macquarie University student building in Sydney Australia. And a star featuring his name was painted on the outside of the Minneapolis theater First Avenue. An honor that is only awarded to the most prestigious artists to have played at the venue.
Do you think that Tiny Tim is deserving of the honors and accolades that he has received or do you think that Tip-toe Through the Tulips was just an obnoxious one-hit-wonder? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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