MINNEAPOLIS - Tiny Tim's one hit became his swan song.
Nearly three decades after he first crooned "Tiptoe Thru' the Tulips" in his trademark falsetto, the ukulele-strumming singer fell ill while performing his signature tune and died.
Tiny Tim was thought to be 64.
His widow, Susan Khaury, said he cut short "Tiptoe" during a benefit for the Woman's Club of Minneapolis and told her he was not well. She was trying to help him back to their table when he collapsed.
"He went out with a big bang. Very theatrical," she said. "That was his way, to collapse in front of hundreds of people."
Tiny Tim died at a Minneapolis hospital late Saturday. A hospital spokeswoman said the cause apparently was cardiac arrest.
Born Herbert Khaury, Tiny Tim built his career on his single hit song in 1968, his stratospheric falsetto, an asexual and childlike stage persona and a flair for self-promotion.
The 6-foot-1 entertainer with long, frizzy hair made his first national television appearance on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in."
In an era of acid-tinged performers, the older Tiny Tim seemed to offer a benign, comic foil. "Tiptoe Thru' the Tulips" is a remake of a 1929 hit by Nick Lucas, but Tiny Tim appropriated the song on behalf of the flower generation.
"He was so gracious and polite that that kind of became part of his `cartoon image,' calling everyone `Sir' and `Miss,' " said radio host Dr. Demento.
Tiny Tim's 1969 marriage to Vicki Budinger, whom he called "Miss Vicki," on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" attracted an audience of 40 million viewers. They had a daughter, Tulip Victoria, before they divorced.
The performer was known for his falsetto, but also sang in a baritone. His albums include "God Bless Tiny Tim," "Prisoner of Love," "Rock," and "Girl."
Tiny Tim moved to Minneapolis in 1995 after marrying Susan Khaury, his third wife.
He had suffered from congestive heart failure, diabetes and other problems. He fell off a stage on Sept. 28 after suffering a heart attack during a ukulele festival in Massachusetts. His doctors warned him he might live only another year or two.
"I am ready for anything that happens," he said after his release. "Death is never polite, even when we expect it. The only thing I pray for is the strength to go out without complaining."
A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Minneapolis.