Remembering “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” Singer Tiny Tim’s Brutally Honest Last Words

Tiny Tim’s last words and final moments were a far cry from the long-haired, baggy-clothed persona of the lighthearted and campy performer. After reaching musical immortality with his 1960s cover of the 1920s ditty, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” that same song would ultimately usher in his demise.

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Tiny Tim, born Herbert Butros Khaury, began performing in the early 1950s. He was a dedicated, consummate performer up until the very end, dying of a heart attack shortly after stepping offstage at a gala benefit for the Women’s Club of Minneapolis.

We revisit his harrowing final moments on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

The “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” Performed Had Multiple Ongoing Health Issues

As sudden as the eccentric performer’s death might’ve appeared to the attendees of the Minneapolis Women’s Club Evening Under the Stars gala, Tiny Tim—who, at six-foot, one inch tall, was not tiny at all—had been suffering ongoing health issues for years leading up to his death. He had various ailments that required extended hospital stays, including diabetes and congestive heart failure.

Before what would become his final performance, Tiny Tim had collapsed onstage at the Uke Expo at Montague Grange Hall in Montague, Massachusetts, in September 1996. The musician remained in the hospital for three weeks, and doctors advised him to retire from performing. He didn’t. Two months later, he agreed to play a few of his hits, including “Tiptoe Through the Tulips, at the Minneapolis Women’s Club benefit gala for free, much to the chagrin of his manager, Gil Morse.

According to Justin Martell’s biography Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim, Morse implored his client to sit the gig out. “I have to do this,” Tiny Tim replied. “If I was getting paid, I could refuse to do it. But I’m not getting paid, and I don’t want them to think I am not doing it because I am not getting paid. I have to do it” (via Medium).

Tiny Tim’s Last Words Came Seconds After His Last Song

In a somewhat anticlimactic turn of events, Tiny Tim almost didn’t perform at the gala at all, thanks to an overextended set from the house band. After the organizers realized the weak, tired musician was about to head home, they told the band to step down so Tiny Tim could perform. Unfortunately, the band’s abrupt stop caused many attendees to believe the night was over, and Tiny Tim took the stage to a dwindling crowd.

The decades-long performer accompanied himself on ukulele and performed five songs, closing with his most recognized hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Tiny Tim only made it through a few bars of the song before shuffling offstage. His third and final wife, Susan Khaury (née Gardner), approached him as he struggled to leave the stage and asked, “Are you all right?” Tiny Tim replied, “No, I’m not.” 

Those three words would be the last the iconic performer would ever speak. Tiny Tim collapsed in his wife’s arms before paramedics rushed him to the hospital. Medics tried to resuscitate the performer for 45 minutes to no avail. Khaury was in the room with her husband when they pronounced him dead at 11:20 pm on November 30, 1996. Today, April 12, 2024, marks what would’ve been the musician’s 92nd birthday. Musicians, television shows, and films continue to celebrate his music today, including the Nickelodeon cartoon Spongebob Squarepants and the 2010 horror movie Insidious.

(Photo by Larry Ellis/Daily Express/Getty Images)

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