Despite the mask of mascara and rouge, Tammy Faye -- no last name necessary -- always seemed more genuine than most of the other televangelists who shared the national stage with her.
Tammy Faye, who, along with her first husband, Jim Bakker, built an empire that included the TV's immensely successful PTL Club and the Christian resort and theme park Heritage USA, died Saturday at age 65 after a long battle with cancer. In the end, despite her perpetually upbeat personality, the ravages of her disease had left her a shell of her former self.
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker rose to the top of the evangelical heap with their huge success as Christian broadcasting pioneers in the 1970s. Heritage USA, an outgrowth of that fame, played a key role in their downfall in the 1980s, which involved both a sexual and financial scandals.
While Tammy Faye always was something of a joke that she wasn't in on, her empathy for people in trouble and her giggly persona seemed sincere. That was reinforced in her life's second act, when, married to church contractor Roe Messner, she renounced her former lavish lifestyle and gained something of a campy cult following among gays, many of whom admired her grit and giddy style.
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She was self-aware enough to realize that she would be remembered more for her eyelashes than anything she might have said. Nonetheless, she served as an example of someone who came back from adversity and never lost hope.
Tammy Faye Messner showed that she had the gumption to come back from adversity.