Most Americans over 50 remember Tiny Tim, an entertainer with a ukulele, a high pitch falsetto voice and a signature song. A sea of humanity watched him marry Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The episode was as highly anticipated and touted as the 1st moon landing. My family watched on a black & white TV in my dad’s bedroom.
Tiny Tim rocketed to fame in the late 60s as an effeminate oddity, with his warbly, high-pitch voice, a tiny plastic ukulele, and a face that was a blend of Howard Stern, The Joker and Jimmy Durante.
That Tim was a social outcast, ill at ease, and a weird performer is beyond dispute. For example, he refused to let anyone see him eat, even his new bride. Meals had to be consumed at separate times or in separate rooms. He attributed the behavior to some fringe religious observance. Nonsense! His mother was a Polish Jew and his father, a Lebanese Catholic. In both religions and regions, food is celebrated and central to socializing. He was just very weird.
Could his affectations and quirks have been trumped up to buttress his stage persona? His biographer and a consensus of Wikipedia fans insist that Tiny Tim was the real deal: “Pundits and journalists debated whether the character presented was an orchestrated act, or the real thing. It quickly became clear that he was genuine. He is best described as a lonely outcast intoxicated by fame—and a romantic in pursuit of his ideal dream.” Either way, Tiny Tim and Michael Jackson shared a weird awkwardness when they were not performing. The big difference is that Michael Jackson oozed with raw talent. No one really thought that Tiny Tim had talent. He was just a nice man whom you felt a bit sorry for.
Even if you recall Tiptoe through the Tulips, you may be unaware that Tiny Tim also sang in a deep bass voice. Check out his rendition of Earth Angel, the 1955 doo-wop hit by the Penguins. Although he starts and ends with a deep voice, he reverts to falsetto in the middle. In an alternate version which was removed from YouTube after this article was published, he drops to his knees and smashes an air guitar on the floor. This song is not be the type that is typically accompanied by smashing instruments, but, somehow, the awkward behavior fits with Tim’s persona.
In September 1996, Tiny Tim was 64. As he was beginning to perform at a ukulele festival in western Massachusetts, he suffered a heart attack on stage. Although he survived the event, his doctors urged him to stop performing immediately. Weakened by diabetes and a heart condition, his constitution could easily be overtaxed by his schedule and performing style. Two months later, Ignoring his doctors’ advice, he died, on stage, at a gala benefit in Minneapolis.