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Goodbye Tiny Tim He Was Strange, He Was Eccentric, But He Had What He Needed: A Little Bit Of Recognition

Wed., Dec. 4, 1996, midnight

He used only Bounty Microwave or Job Squad disposable paper towels after his baths. Thought any cloth towel was a bit suspect.

He brushed his teeth four times a day with his own combination of Gleem, Macleans and Crest. Thanked God for Plax and was never without his Butler gum pick.

He could tell you every name of every song, who wrote it, who recorded it and in what year. He could tell you how it did on the charts and what he was wearing when he bought it and in what store.

Herbert Buckingham Khaury, better known as Tiny Tim, died Saturday after tiptoeing through the tulips one last time on stage in Minneapolis, at a women’s club. He was 64.

In a world full of acts, his was not one. Oh, he made a little money off it, but the yearning behind the falsetto was not just for show. Sweet, breathless, tattered. Never comfortable but oddly comforting, he was exactly what you thought he might be: himself.

Almost 30 years ago, he had his 15 minutes of fame when he wed 17-year-old Miss Vicky on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” His one hit, “Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips,” was more novelty than music, which would have saddened him terribly if he thought about it, which he must have because he had plenty of time between sets playing half-full rooms in third-rate hotels across America.

At the time of his death, Miss Vicky was long since history; so, too, a second wife, Miss Jan (he’s survived by his third wife, Miss Sue, whom he married last year). A daughter, Tulip, had lived for a while in a foster home.

Never, even when he did Carson, was he that far from the gay bars, freak shows and street corners he had played starting out. When I met him in 1988 while he was playing a four-day stint at a South Florida tavern, a Sons of Italy hall and a Holiday Inn on the highway, he was pleased to report that he played a prison now and again.

He wanted nothing more than to entertain. That is, if you don’t count that he really wanted nothing more than to be billed as “The Eternal Troubadour and the Ambassador of Song.”

If he appeared strange, it was because he was, reveling in his eccentricity, even amused by it. He seemed mildly old-fashioned, spelling out “s-e-x” even as he discussed how he would trade every bit of fame he had for the considerable endowments of porn star John Holmes and how he would have been much happier if he’d made it big, not as Tiny Tim, but as “Larry Love.”

He knew what he was, a guy on the fringe, who had tasted the Big Time only to have it fail him or he fail it. He spent the rest of his life trying to get back there, even putting out a country music album that he was proud to say had been made in a genuine suburb of Nashville.

This was what his life was like, and it would have been easy to pity that, but you didn’t really have to. That was because he still had what he needed. He’d walk into a hotel bar midafternoon and people, real people, knew him. They’d ask for his autograph.

Maybe he wasn’t Robert Redford, though he longed to be. Maybe he couldn’t sing like Rudy Vallee, though he aspired to. Maybe he was just a guy who used Nivea Night Creme and European Collagen Complex every night of his life so he could appear as young as he was when he really was famous.

Maybe that’s something to mourn.


 

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