A restaurant worker comes to the table where Tiny Tim is about to order a late lunch consisting of two orders of fried zucchini, a platter of tomato bread and a Budweiser. (He wants something imported, but it isn’t available.)
“I hate to say this,” the employee says. “But I thought you were, um, dead.”
Tiny Tim – who at 6 feet tall isn’t tiny – responds softly . . . deadly serious.
“You know,” he says, “a lot of people think that.” Then Tiny Tim lets out an uneasy laugh:
“Well, at least we can talk about it.”
It’s been a strange 90 minutes for falsetto singer Tiny Tim, whose 1968 novelty hit “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” earned him a curious fame that still holds. Standing with his ukulele in Springfield’s Old Capital Plaza at lunch hour Tuesday, he turned more heads than a car accident.
First, he handed a $50 bill to an unknowing person as part of a local radio promotion, then gladly signed autographs, played his ukulele and sang for passers-by. Several people approached him and recalled his 1969 wedding ceremony to Miss Vicky on “The Tonight Show.” Others asked him to sing “the tulips song.”
One woman gave him her telephone number.
“Sometimes jobs come in quickly,” says Tiny Tim, who’s spending the week in Springfield working at WCVS-AM. “Other times it’s slow as molasses.”
Sipping his beer with three small straws, Tiny Tim says he enjoyed the lunchtime recognition.
“It was surprising,” he says. “That kind of reaction happens now and then. It’s amazing.”
A resident of New York City, Tiny Tim still does promotions “from Europe to Australia,” he says, “to pay the bills.”
In recent years, he’s appeared in everything from circuses and rock oldies shows (including one at the state fair last summer) to a horror movie. The film “Blood Harvest” featured Tiny Tim as an insane clown, but it’s never been released by an independent studio.
Sporting shoulder-length, curly hair, Tiny Tim is unfailingly courteous and soft-spoken. Tiny Tim won’t discuss his age, but three reference books agree that he’ll turn at least 65 years old on April 12. “I thank Jesus Christ and Revlon for renewing my look,” he says, adding that he colors his hair either red, brown or black every two weeks.
In 1968 and ’69, Tiny Tim made 10 appearances on “The Tonight Show,” including one in which he exchanged wedding vows with Miss Vicky.
“Mr. (Johnny) Carson asked us when we were going to get married. I told him, `We’re going to get married at her mother’s house in New Jersey on Christmas Day,’ ” Tim recalls. “He said, `Wait, a minute, why don’t you do it on our show?'”
The couple’s marriage lasted three years.
To make a long story short (Tiny Tim didn’t), he and Miss Vicky weren’t compatible.
In 1984, Tiny Tim married another woman, “Miss Jan, who’s at least 20 years younger than me,” he says. They’ve been separated for several years.
“I dream if I ever get to heaven,” Tiny Tim says, finishing his fried zucchini and beginning a third bottle of Budweiser, “I can find the eternal princess who will always be there waiting for me, never grow old, the right type of sensuality. Someone like Vanna White.”
The restaurant’s empty now, and Tiny Tim is in the mood to reminisce, so he comments about random subjects.
His hair: “What (the rock group) Kiss and those heavy metal acts look like today, I started.”
His name: “In 1960, my manager said, `If you go on a talent show and they say Tiny Tim, they expect a midget. When they see your height, it creates an illusion and they’ll remember it.'”
And “Tulips”: “It has a good melody. I don’t get tired of the song. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me.”
With that, he pulls his ukulele from a plastic bag and sings a few songs, including one praising Jessica Hahn that he performed on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
Later, he’s asked how he’d like to be remembered. There’s a long, long, long pause. “He played his part well,” he says, then adds. “He was a real nowhere man.”