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Tammy Faye Messner, Ex-Wife of Fallen Televangelist, Dies at 65

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Tammy Faye Messner, the ex-wife of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker whose heavy makeup and emotive personality became prominent features on the face of their televised Christian ministry, died Friday (July 20) at her home near Kansas City, Mo. Messner was 65. “She died peacefully in her home,” said a […]

c. 2007 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Tammy Faye Messner, the ex-wife of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker whose heavy makeup and emotive personality became prominent features on the face of their televised Christian ministry, died Friday (July 20) at her home near Kansas City, Mo.

Messner was 65.

“She died peacefully in her home,” said a statement from her family. “A family service was held graveside in a private cemetery where Tammy’s ashes have been interred. Tammy’s family is grateful for your prayers and very appreciative of the privacy afforded to them at this time.”

An emaciated Messner, who had been fighting colon cancer and weighed 65 pounds, appeared in a taped interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” just one day before her death.

When asked by King what she wanted to tell her supporters, she said: “I genuinely love you and I genuinely care, and I genuinely want to see you in heaven someday. I want you to find peace. I want you to find joy.”

Those words were posted on her Web site, http://www.tammyfaye.com, with a portrait and the dates of her birth and death.

While her now ex-husband, Jim Bakker, built the Praise The Lord (PTL) Club into a multimillion-dollar television empire during the 1970s and ’80s, Messner was seen by some as a women’s Christian broadcasting pioneer. She occasionally hosted the network’s flagship television show, which catered to an upscale, religiously devoted audience.

Unlike Bakker, however, Messner avoided prison time stemming from fraudulent real estate dealings, which eventually brought down the television ministry.

During her later years, after divorcing Bakker, Messner was criticized by some Christian conservatives for embracing AIDS victims and professing compassion for gays and lesbians.

“I’ve been called everything by the media but a Christian,” she said to a 2001 gay rights rally in Tampa, Fla. “Yet I think God loves unique people. Like you, I’ve suffered. We’ve all been misunderstood. We’ve all been made fun of. But I’m not going to allow people who don’t like me to rent space in my brain.”

On his Web site, http://www.jimbakkershow.com, Messner’s ex-husband said his family was “deeply saddened” by her death.

“She is now in heaven with her mother and grandmother and Jesus Christ, the one who she loves and has served from childhood,” said Bakker, who now hosts a TV ministry from Branson, Mo., and is remarried. “That is the comfort I can give to all who loved her.”

Messner’s son, Jay Bakker, also used his Web site (http://www.revolutionnyc.com) to thank those who had prayed for his mother over the years and asked for their continued prayers for her husband and family.

“She had a very peaceful death and is no longer in pain,” said Jay Bakker, who runs a Brooklyn, N.Y., ministry.

He said a public ceremony in honor of his mother is being planned.

Tammy Faye Messner lived a religious life from the beginning. Born in International Falls, Minn., Tammy Faye LaValley was the oldest of eight children. Her mother, Rachel, raised her in a devoutly Christian environment.

With a desire to become a missionary, she enrolled at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, where she met a charismatic fellow classmate named Jim Bakker. The couple dated and married in 1961, when they were forced to drop out of college because of the school’s strict policy regarding married students.

Aiming to establish a ministry, the pair spent the next few years preaching in various cities around America. They eventually settled in Portsmouth, Va., where Bakker launched his career as a televangelist on Pat Robertson’s fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

In 1972, the Bakkers left CBN in order to help establish the upstart Trinity Broadcasting Network. But within two years, Jim and Tammy Faye left in a dispute and became the hosts of a North Carolina-based talk show, which they named the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club.

The Bakkers transformed the PTL Club into a successful Christian television network, at one time attracting 13 million viewers. With contributions from their loyal audience, the Bakkers were able to finance a 2,300-acre Christian theme park, Heritage U.S.A.

As the pair took on a higher public profile, Tammy Faye attracted a bevy of criticism and satire for her thickly layered makeup, which for many would come to symbolize overindulgence and priority to material wealth among evangelical Christian television personalities.

The couples’ empire began to unravel in 1987, after public revelation of Jim’s adulterous affair with a church secretary, Jessica Hahn. That, combined with other reported sexual escapades, caused the Assemblies of God to strip Bakker of his ministerial credentials.

The federal government, meanwhile, launched an investigation into the financial activities of the PTL Network, which culminated in Jim Bakker’s 1989 conviction for fraud and conspiracy, centering on illicit profits from timeshares at Heritage U.S.A.

Bakker resigned from PTL in 1987 and began a 45-year sentence in federal prison, which was reduced to eight years. He was released after 41/2 years in prison. Tammy Faye said that was the most trying time of her life, and led the longtime couple to divorce after 31 years of marriage.

“I don’t know if it was Jessica Hahn that killed my heart, or maybe the fact that Jim allowed such a dreadful thing to happen to our family,” she wrote in her 1996 autobiography, “Tammy: Telling It My Way.” “Somehow I knew that it was not ever again going to be all right between Jim and me, that there was no way to fix it.”

Messner received criticism for divorcing her husband while he was behind bars, but in her book she defended her actions.

“The way I did it, he had time to get used to being alone, time to adjust to the fact that when he got out of prison I would not be there,” she wrote. “I know that was hard for him, but I feel that it was less painful than waiting until he got out.”

In 1993, Tammy Faye wed Roe Messner, a family friend and business associate of the Bakkers.

In 1996, she teamed with gay former “Too Close for Comfort” star J.M.J. Bullock to host a short-lived daily talk show titled “The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show.” Her perceived embrace of an open homosexual brought occasional criticism from supporters.

At one point in the mid-1980s, she insisted on having AIDS patients on the PTL program. She wept openly in one episode as a young man with the disease described how his parents and sister were afraid to touch him.

“How sad,” she said, “that we as Christians, who ought to love everyone,are afraid so badly of an AIDS patient that we will not go up and put our arm around them and tell them that we care.”

In 2000, Messner was the subject of a documentary,

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2000).

She is survived by her husband and son and a daughter, Tammy Sue Chapman.

DSB END MARK

BIO BOX:

1942: Tammy Faye LaValley born March 7 in International Falls, Minn.

1961: Marries Jim Bakker

1970: Daughter Tammy Sue is born

1974: Jim and Tammy Faye launch the PTL Club in a former furniture showroom.

1976: Son Jamie Charles is born

1986: The Bakkers leave PTL because of financial improprieties

1989: Jim Bakker convicted of fraud and sentenced to 45 years in federal prison.

1992: Tammy Faye and Jim divorce

1993: Tammy Faye marries family friend Roe Messner

2000: Tammy Faye is the subject of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” documentary.

2007: Tammy Faye dies of cancer on July 20.1350 words

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