Who Is Tammy Faye Bakker? All About the Televangelist Who Jessica Chastain Portrays in New Biopic

The Eyes of Tammy Faye opens in theaters on Sept. 17

Tammy Faye Bakker and Jessica Chastain
Tammy Faye Bakker and Jessica Chastain. Photo: bettmann/getty; Dave Benett/WireImage

Tammy Faye Bakker is getting the biopic treatment!

On Wednesday, the first trailer for the upcoming movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye was released, which sees Jessica Chastain portraying the famed televangelist who died at age 65 in 2007 after colon cancer spread to her lungs.

The biopic, for which Chastain, 44, also serves as producer, tells the story of Tammy and her first husband Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield), who grew their Christian news program, the PTL Club, into a multimillion-dollar industry before it collapsed following a sex scandal involving Jim and his secretary, Jessica Hahn.

But who is Tammy exactly? Read on to find out more about her.

Tammy Faye Bakker

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 — Tammy Sue and Jay — with ex Jim, who she worked alongside as they prayed for sinners on the PTL (Praise the Lord) Network, one of the nation's first and most successful television ministries.

The network later crashed and burned when Jim was convicted in 1989 of defrauding supporters of his PTL ministry of more than $150 million, including a $265,000 payment to church secretary Hahn to keep quiet about their affair.

"It was the worst time in my life," Tammy 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.

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Never indicted in the mess, Tammy divorced Jim 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.

Jim served five years in prison, remarried and in 2003 launched the New Jim Bakker Show broadcasting out of Branson, Mo.

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.

Tammy later died of inoperable cancer in 2007. CNN's Larry King announced after her family asked him to personally make the statement. She was 65.

Chastain previously revealed to PEOPLE that she did almost 10 years of research for her forthcoming role, including reading up about and watching interviews of Tammy.

"I just was so blown away by her and her story," Chastain told PEOPLE. "The thing I loved the most about Tammy is her capacity to love. She knew what it felt like to not feel important, and she didn't want anyone to experience that."

Searchlight Pictures describes the drama as an "intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. In the 1970s and 80s, Tammy Faye and her husband, Jim Bakker, rose from humble beginnings to create the world's largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, and were revered for their message of love, acceptance and prosperity."

"Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life," the description continues. "However, it wasn't long before financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire."

The Eyes of Tammy Faye opens in theaters on Sept. 17.

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