Herbert Butros Khaury — also listed as Herbert Buckingham Khaury — was known professionally as Tiny Tim. Born in Manhattan to parents from Poland and Lebanon (embracing both Jewish and Catholic traditions), Khaury began teaching himself guitar at the age of 6.
Before his teen years, Khaury became proficient at the guitar, violin, mandolin, and ukulele. After having his appendix removed as a teen, he remained largely housebound, failing to graduate from high school after repeating his sophomore year multiple times, and ultimately taking menial jobs after dropping out.
Listening to the radio constantly in his time off, one day he heard Rudy Vallée sing in a falsetto, decided to sing along, and “had something of a revelation – I never knew that I had another top register,” describing the realization as a religious experience.
Khaury landed a job as a messenger at the New York office of MGM Studios, where he became even more fascinated with the entertainment industry. He then entered a local talent show and sang “You Are My Sunshine” in his newly discovered falsetto. He started performing at dance club amateur nights under different names, such as Texarkana Tex, Judas K. Foxglove, Vernon Castle, and Emmett Swink.
Before settling on Tiny Tim, Khaury became locally popular as a novelty act and quirky personality. His flamboyant dress, long hair, and white face makeup all gradually became part of his trademark look.
Tiny Tim’s one and only hit was his falsetto rendition of the pop standard “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Released in 1968, it reached #17 on the Billboard charts. Tiny Tim became a constant in pop culture for a time, appearing repeatedly on comedy and variety shows (Laugh-In, Sonny & Cher) and talk shows (The Tonight Show). He married Vicki Budinger (“Miss Vicki”) on The Tonight Show in 1969, registering a record-breaking TV audience (21 million viewers) for the event. (The couple divorced in 1977.)
In 1969, his children’s album For All My Little Friends received a Grammy nomination.
The original version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was composed by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Joe Burke and Al Dubin. It was first performed by the crooner Nick Lucas, who sung it in the 1929 musical Gold Diggers Of Broadway.
- Burke and Dubin would later team up with composer Harry Warren to write such standards as “We’re in the Money,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and “Lullaby of Broadway.”
After years of weight, heart, and health problems, Tiny Tim died in 1996, after suffering a heart attack in the middle of performing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” at a gala benefit hosted by the Women’s Club of Minneapolis.
Tiny Tim remains a cult favorite for his vibrat0-heavy interpretations of various standards and quirky originals, many sung in lower ranges than his trademark falsetto. His final collaboration with Brave Combo — a legendary polka fusion band — is still making waves in some circles.