Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker Messner

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, 65, a singer whose flamboyant style was an essential part of the evangelical television programs she co-hosted with her then-husband, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, died Friday at her home near Kansas City, Mo., a spokesman said last night. She had colon cancer that spread to her lungs.

A taped interview with Mrs. Messner had appeared on "Larry King Live" Thursday night on the CNN network. The ravages of her cancer were clearly visible and she was said to weigh only about 65 pounds.

Joe Spotts, her longtime manager, told The Washington Post last night that she had been cremated and buried in a "remote location."

He said she wanted to do the interview "because she knew the end was near and wanted to talk to the people and be with the people one more time." She "held on just for that," he said.

In the interview, she told King that "I talk to God every day. And I say, 'God, my life is in your hands and I trust you with me.' "

Mrs. Messner, whose face was once one of the most familiar in the public arena, divorced Jim Bakker in 1992 while he was serving a prison sentence for fraud and conspiracy. Her fame continued in a reduced way, and in 1993, she married Roe Messner, a business associate of her first husband who was later imprisoned for bankruptcy fraud.

Mrs. Messner was never implicated in any crimes. Charles E. Shepard, a former investigative reporter who wrote a book on the Bakker ministry's rise and collapse, said: "Every impression I got is that she was not involved in the business. She was very involved in the spending money that [Jim] Bakker fraudulently received."

The Bakkers' story, which attracted enormous media coverage, was one of the most compelling chapters in the American subculture that combined the power of television with the influence of evangelical religion.

After starting as itinerant Bible Belt preachers, the Bakkers made a shift to television in 1965 on Pat Robertson's new Christian Broadcasting Network. Within a decade, Jim Bakker created a Charlotte-based business that included the PTL Television Network as well as a Christian resort and theme park called Heritage USA.

PTL once stood for Praise the Lord or People That Love. To its many critics, it stood for "pass the loot."

At their peak in the mid-1980s, the Bakkers claimed to reach more than 13 million viewers and have more than $100 million in annual revenues. Heritage USA, across the state line in Fort Mill, S.C., drew a reported 6 million people annually to its water park, faux Main Street shopping mall and Victorian storefronts.

Humorist P. J. O'Rourke once wrote that being at Heritage USA "was like being in the First Church of Christ Hanging Out at the Mall."

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