Tiny Tim; was he a con artist, or just a really, really strange dude? (There's a hint at the end of this post.)
Born Herbert Buckingham Khaury in New York City, Tiny Tim was most famous for his rendition of 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' sung in his distinctive high falsetto/vibrato voice accompanied by a ukulele.
When he was five years old his father brought home a wind up gramophone and a 78 rpm record that featured a 1905 recording of Henry Burr singing "Beautiful Ohio". Herbert immersed himself in the music of the past, listening for hours in his room to Rudy Vallee, Al Jolson, Henry Burr, Irving Kaufman, Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Byron G. Harlan, and Bing Crosby.
Khaury began singing and playing the ukulele in his natural voice, but it was not until 1952 that anyone paid attention to him. In a 1968 interview on the Tonight Show, Khaury described the discovery of his high voice: "I was listening to the radio and singing along as I was singing I said 'Gee, it's strange. I can go up high as well."
He then entered a local talent show and sang "You Are My Sunshine" in his newly discovered voice. Khaury then tried different stage names like Darry Dover, Vernon Castle, Larry Love, and Judas K. Foxglove. He finally settled on Tiny Tim in 1962 when his manager at the time, George King, booked him at a club that favored midget acts.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Tiny Tim developed a cult following. In the 1960s he was seen regularly near the Harvard University campus as a street performer, singing old Tin Pan Alley tunes. His choice of repertoire and his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage popular music impressed many of the spectators.
Tiny Tim's biggest break came when he was booked on the immensely popular Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Dan Rowan announced that Laugh-In believed in showcasing new talent, and introduced Tiny Tim. The singer entered, blowing kisses, and sang "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" to an amused Dick Martin.
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This stunt was followed by several more appearances on Laugh-In and a recording contract with Reprise Records. He made a name for himself as a novelty performer, appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (where he got married to 17-year old "Miss Vicky,") Ed Sullivan, and Jackie Gleason. At the height of his career, he was commanding a weekly salary of $50,000 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(His marriage didn't last long. They had a daughter, Tulip, and after she filed for divorce Vicki appeared nude in Oui Magazine, as Victoria Lombardi.)
In 2000, the Rhino Handmade label released the posthumous Tiny Tim Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This recording had been made in 1968 at the height of Tiny Tim's fame, but Reprise Records never released it. It sat on the shelf until its limited Internet release some 32 years later. The limited-numbered CD sold out and was reissued on Rhino's regular label.
While Tiny Tim was generally thought of as a novelty act, his records display a wide knowledge of American songs. In August 1970 he performed at the "Isle of Wight Festival 1970" in front of a crowd of 600,000 people.
His performance, which included English folk songs and rock and roll classics, was a huge hit with the multinational throng of hippies. At the climax of his set, he sang "They'll Always Be an England" through a megaphone which brought the huge crowd to its feet. This can be seen in the 1995 movie of the event, "Message to Love."
Tiny Tim suffered a heart attack on stage at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis and was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center where he died after doctors tried to resuscitate him for an hour and fifteen minutes.
One admirer recalled that Tiny Tim's outrageous public persona was a false front belying a quiet, studious personality: "Herb Khaury was the greatest put-on artist in the world. Here he was with the long hair and the cheap suit and the high voice, but when you spoke to him he talked like a college professor. He knew everything about the old songs."