Des Moines was home to a famous musician in the early 1990’s for three years before he moved to Minneapolis. This musician was best known for playing his trusty ukulele while singing in a falsetto voice that has yet to be replicated by current artists. Who was this famous rock star who made Des Moines his brief home? Tiny Tim.
Born on April 12, 1932 in New York City as Herbert Khaury to a Lebanese father and Jewish mother, Herbert dropped out of high school to pursue his of becoming a singer. He taught himself how to play both the guitar and ukulele and would perform under the stage name Larry Love at a small lesbian cabaret club in the 1950’s where he become a regular.
By the 1960’s Herbert changed his name (allegedly suggested by his manager as a joke in reference to his height since Herbert was a little over six feet tall) to be based off the character in the Charles Dickens novel,”A Christmas Story ” and started making appearances on national television shows such as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and You are What you Eat giving him national exposure as being, how to put this nicely, an eccentric performer more known for his polite mannerisms than for being a typical musician with a chip on their shoulder.
After a memorable performance of singing Tiptoe through the Tulips to Dean Martin while on Laugh- In, he was signed with Frank Sinatra’s record label Reprise and produced his debut album “God Bless Tiny Tim” featuring what would go on to become his most famous and recognizable song- “Tiptoeing through the Tulips”. The song would go on to be on the top 20 music charts and his album went on to sell 200,000. His second album- with the very original and thought out title- “Tiny Tim’s Second Album” came out the second year but didn’t have the same amount of success as his debut album.
In 1969, he married his 17 year old girlfriend Vicki Budinger (Miss Vicki) on the Tonight Show. The wedding episode gave the Tonight Show it’s largest rating of the show’s run with 85% of the television audience watching the event. Though they would eventually have a daughter they named Tulip, Tiny Tim and his wife would divorce after eight years of marriage. He would later marry two more times.
By the 1970’s, Tiny Tim’s popularity started to wane once audiences realized he was more of a novelty act than a real performer. He spent the 1980’s playing much smaller venues including community centers and high school theaters as part of the Roy Radin Vaudeville Revue. After Roy Radin, he joined a circus and toured with them for their 36 week schedule.
In 1992, he moved to Des Moines and lived first at the Hotel Savory and then moved to the Hotel Fort Des Moines. He became a regular performer at local bars like the Gray’s Lake Inn and Holiday Inn South. He became such a fixture locally that he would often be seen shopping at the Hyvee grocery store for hair color. He moved to Minneapolis in 1995.
In 1996 while performing at a ukulele festival at Montague Grange Hall in Massachusetts, Tiny Tim suffered a heart attack and was taken to the local hospital where his recovery took three weeks before being released. He was given explicit directions to no longer perform since it had a detrimental effect on his health. He ignored the doctor’s advice and performed at the Gala Benefit at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis on November 30, 1996. He suffered a heart attack while on stage and was rushed to the Hennepin county hospital where he died after doctors spent an hour and fifteen minutes trying to resuscitate him. He was interred at a mausoleum at the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Though Tiny Tim didn’t live in Des Moines for very long, he was for a few years, Des Moines’ most famous musician and has continued to have the legacy of being America’s favorite eccentric performer.
Click here to learn more about the Cherry Sisters and their fight against the Des Moines Leader newspaper for libel.