Tiny Tim

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The subject of this article is the 20th-century American singer.
For the fictional child created by Dickens, see A Christmas Carol.
Tiny Tim
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Tiny Tim

Herbert Khaury (April 12, 1932November 30, 1996), better known by the stage name Tiny Tim, was an American singer and ukulele player. He is most famous for his rendition of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" sung in his distinctive high falsetto. He is generally thought of as a novelty act, though his records display a wide knowledge of American songs and genuine musical talent. He was sometimes derisively referred to as the master of the disturbing.

Tiny Tim's year of birth is unclear - he lied about his age on a number of occasions, and various sources give 1933, 1932, 1930, 1926, 1923, or 1922, although shortly before his death he said he was 64 years old, which would put his year of birth at 1932. According to www.tinytim.org, and photos taken of his passport and birth certificate, Tiny was born on April 12, 1932.

He was born in New York City, the son of a Lebanese father and Jewish mother. Legend has it that he first sang in a lesbian cabaret bar; whatever the truth of this, he certainly went on to sing in a very wide variety of clubs and bars, as well as entering a large number of talent competitions in an attempt to be discovered. He used a number of pseudonyms, but eventually settled on naming himself Tiny Tim, after the character from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (see above).

Tiny Tim already had something of a cult following around New York when he appeared in the film You Are What You Eat. This led to a booking on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, which turned out to be his big break. Appearances on the shows of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason followed, and he made a name for himself as a novelty performer. As well as his extraordinarily high falsetto voice, his appearance - long curly hair, large nose, six foot one in height and clutching his relatively tiny ukulele - helped him in standing out from the crowd.

In 1968, his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, was recorded. It contained a version of what was his signature song, "Tiptoe Thru The Tulips", which was a hit when released as a single. The other songs displayed his wide-ranging knowledge of the American songbook, and also allowed him to demonstrate his baritone voice, which was less often heard than his falsetto. On one track, a version of "I Got You Babe", he sang a duet with himself, taking one part in falsetto, and the other in the baritone range. "On the Old Front Porch" extends this to a trio, including a boy (Billy Murray), the girl he is courting (Ada Jones), and her father (probably Murray again).

Another notable track was a cover of "Stay Down Here where You Belong", written by Irving Berlin in 1914 to protest the Great War. It is a powerful condemnation of those who foment war. (Groucho Marx also used this song as part of his own act, at least in part to irk the ultra-patriotic Berlin, who in later years tried in vain to disown the song).

The following year, he recorded and released two more albums, Tiny Tim's Second Album, and For All My Little Friends, a collection of children's songs. Also in 1969, he married Victoria May Budinger ("Miss Vicki") on the Johnny Carson show, a publicity stunt which attracted 40 million viewers (the two divorced eight years later).

After that, however, the television appearances dried up, and he became rather more obscure. He continued to play around the United States, and got several lucrative gigs in Las Vegas before things got so bad that in 1985, he resorted to joining a circus for eight months. He briefly lived in Australia, then moved to Des Moines, Iowa before marrying for the third time (his second marriage had lasted for just one month) and moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In the 1990s, interest in Tiny Tim seemed to pick up a little. He began to release records again, including I Love Me (1995) and Girl (1996), as well as appearing frequently on the Howard Stern Radio Show and Stern's movie, Private Parts (1997) and occasional appearances on other TV programs. He also worked with a number of other artists, including Brave Combo (who were his backing band for Girl) and was championed by, and collaborated with, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.

In September 1996, he suffered a heart attack, but continued to play concerts when he was released from hospital. However, while playing "Tiptoe Thru the Tulips" at a concert in Minneapolis in November of that year, he suffered a further heart attack, and died.

Perhaps the inherent oddness of the "Tiny Tim" act made it difficult for audiences to appreciate what the man, Herbert Khaury, was doing... trying to keep old songs and artists alive. He gave his singing voice and verbal praise to long-silent early recording stars Billy Murray, Ada Jones and many others.

He was very conservative and traditionalistic in his views on both religion and marriage, a fact which may have been counterproductive with his young wives. Despite many adversities, he frequently invoked his faith as something that helped keep him going.

In 1999, Tiny Tim's song "Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight" was included in the SpongeBob SquarePants pilot episode, Help Wanted. SpongeBob is an ever-optimistic character, which could have been said of Herbert Khaury as well.

Sound sample

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