Tiny Tim (originally, Khaury, Herbert Buckingham)

views updated

Tiny Tim (originally, Khaury, Herbert Buckingham)

Tiny Tim (originally, Khaury, Herbert Buckingham), oddball pop phenomenon of the late 1960s; b. N.Y., April 12, 1933; d. Minneapolis, Minn., Nov. 30, 1996. When Tiny Tim appeared on Rowan & Martins Laugh-In in 1968, no one was quite sure what to make of him. Here’s this guy with a massive, hooked nose, powdered face, and long, scraggly, dyed hair, wearing baggy clothes, singing one of the greatest hits of 1929 (12 weeks at #1 in 1929 for Nick Lucas), “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in a vibrato-laden falsetto, strumming a ukulele.

As it turned out, the answer to both questions was yes. Herbert Khaury was born to a Lebanese father and Jewish mother, both working in the garment industry. As a young man, he didn’t fit in. He spent hours poring through the sheet music collections at the N.Y. Public Library, learning songs on his ukulele. By the late 1950s, he was playing the songs of Rudy Vallee on the ukulele as “Larry Love the Singing Canary,” performing at Hubert’s Museum in Times Square as a freak attraction. By the early 1960s, he’d moved up in the world, playing places like Café Bizarre in Greenwich Village. By 1964, he had taken the Dickensian moniker of Tiny Tim for keeps and often played at a club called the Scene, one of the places Jimi Hendrix would frequent only a few years later. Tim earned some notoriety for singing both parts of romantic duets, singing the woman’s part in a warbly falsetto and the man’s in his natural baritone. He was booked on TV shows like Merv Griffin and earned a part in Peter Yarrow’s film You Are What You Eat.. Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, brought Tim to the attention of the president of his record company, who signed the unlikely performer. His first album, 1968’s God Bless Tiny Tim, which included “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” went to #7 while the single hit #17. Thus began Tim’s 15 minutes of fame.

Tim became a regular on the Tonight Show, leading to his Dec. 17, 1969 wedding to 17-year-old “Miss Vicki” Budinger on the show. For several decades, this episode of the show was the highest-rated late night show ever! However, Tim’s second album didn’t do nearly as well, and by the time he put out For All My Little Friends in 1969, he had lost his novelty appeal. There just weren’t that many people who enjoyed the sheer musicology of what Tim did. By 1977, his marriage to Budinger had gone the way of his musical career. Tim performed club dates when he could through the late 1970s and 1980s, occasionally recording material that ranged from minstrel show songs from the turn of the century to AC/DC.

In the mid-1990s, Tim attracted the attention of a new generation of musical experimenters. In 1996 he recorded Girl with Tex.-bred polkamaniacs Brave Combo, featuring his underground hit cover of “Hey Jude.” He also appeared on TV shows like Roseanne. In the midst of this renewed activity, he suffered a heart attack, collapsing on stage at a ukulele convention in Mass. He died shortly afterwards in his new hometown of Minneapolis, where he’d moved after his third marriage.


God Bless Tiny Tim (1968); Tiny Tim’s Second Album (1969); For All My Little Friends (1969); Tiptoe through the Tulips: Resurrection (1987); Live in Chicago (1995); I Love Me (1995); Prisoner of Love (1996); Girl (1996); Christmas Album (1996); Rock (2000).

—Hank Bordowitz