Evangelist Tammy Faye Messner died on Friday morning of inoperable cancer, CNN’s Larry King announced on Saturday night, after her family asked him to personally make the delayed statement. She was 65.
Messner had appeared as a guest on Larry King Live on Thursday, looking frighteningly thin, revealing that she could no longer swallow food and had dwindled down to a mere 65 lbs.
“She had a very peaceful death and is no longer in pain,” Messner’s son Jay Bakker said Saturday in a statement on his Web site. “To grant her wish she was cremated today and her ashes were buried at a private ceremony.”
Added Bakker: “Thank you to everyone for their prayers and support over the years – it has helped me more than you will ever know. Please continue to pray for her husband Roe as well as the rest of my family.”
Messner’s ex-husband Jim Bakker also released a statement Saturday, saying, “Our family is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Tammy Faye. She lived her life like the song she sang, ‘If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.’ ”
King said a public ceremony is being planned. “She wanted a party,” he said, according to CNN. “They’re going to schedule a party in two to three weeks in Palm Springs, Calif. Her friends will be invited. And she wanted it to be a celebration.”
Messner underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1993 and revealed in 2004 that the disease had spread. By 2007, she revealed that her cancer was no longer treatable.
Asked by King what she would most like to be remembered for, Messner jokingly replied, “well, my eyelashes.” Asked if she had a message for her fans, she replied: “I’d like to say that I genuinely love you, and I genuinely care, and I genuinely want to see you in heaven some day. I want you to find peace. I want you to find joy.”
From PTL to The Surreal Life
For two decades, Tammy Faye Bakker was a national icon, best known for dabbing at mascara-tinted tears while then-husband Jim Bakker prayed for sinners on the PTL (Praise the Lord) Network, one of the nation’s first and most successful television ministries. It crashed and burned when Bakker was convicted in 1989 of defrauding supporters of his PTL ministry of more than $150 million, including a $265,000 payment to church secretary Jessica Hahn to keep quiet about their affair.
“It was the worst time in my life,” Tammy Faye later said of the scandal, during which she developed a tranquilizer addiction. “It was as if someone had hit me with a 10-ton truck,” she told NBC.
Never indicted in the mess, Tammy Faye divorced Jim Bakker while he was in prison and married construction magnate Roe Messner, who had helped build the ministry’s Christian theme park and resort Heritage USA in South Carolina.
As Tammy Faye Messner, she launched herself as a new, more ironic celebrity persona and even had a talk show on FOX in the 1990s. A 1999 film about her called The Eyes of Tammy Faye was submitted for an award at Sundance, and she appeared on the VH1 reality show The Surreal Life, which put her in a house with porn star Ron Jeremy and rapper Vanilla Ice.
“That reality show changed my life, once again,” she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2005. “I can’t believe such wonderful blessings are happening to me.”
Her extravagant shopping sprees were as famous as her makeup. She once said she hoped heaven would include a giant shopping center “where there’s no limit on your charge card.”
She had certainly traveled a long way from her humble roots. Born Tamara Faye LaValley in International Falls, Minn., she was the oldest of eight children raised by a mill worker and a homemaker. “I thank God whenever I get into a bathtub, because I never had that when I was a little girl,” she once said.
She had two children with Jim Bakker – Tammy Sue, 37, a minister who assisted her mother with home hospice care in her final months; and Jay, 31, who battled alcohol addiction but has lately emerged as a preacher in his own right, albeit one with tattoos, preaching to a younger generation.
Jim Bakker, 67, served five years in prison, remarried and in 2003 launched the New Jim Bakker Show broadcasting out of Branson, Mo.
Right to the end, Tammy Faye seemed disinclined to dwell on the past. In a blog post to fans, she urged the sick to keep faith: “To those of you who are suffering as I … don’t give up! Make up your mind you’re going to LIVE!! That is NOT EASY. The path gets so long. … You see, God gives out his promises, they do not lie, they do not fail.”