- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C. — Tammy Faye Messner, who as Tammy Faye Bakker helped her then-husband, Jim, build a multimillion-dollar evangelism empire and then saw it collapse in disgrace, died Friday at age 65, her booking agent said yesterday.

Mrs. Messner, who had battled colon cancer since 1996 that more recently spread to her lungs, died peacefully at her home, said the agent, Joe Spotts. A family service was held yesterday in a private cemetery, where her ashes were interred, he said.

She had frequently spoken about her medical problems, saying she hoped to be an inspiration to others.

“Don’t let fear rule your life,” she said. “Live one day at a time, and never be afraid.” But she told well-wishers in a note on her Web site in May that the doctors had stopped trying to treat the cancer.

In an interview with CNN’s Larry King last week, an emaciated Mrs. Messner — still using her trademark makeup — said, “I believe when I leave this earth, because I love the Lord, I’m going straight to heaven.”

Asked if she had any regrets, she said: “I don’t think about it, Larry, because it’s a waste of good brain space.”

For many, the TV image of the then-Mrs. Bakker forgiving husband Jim’s infidelities, tears streaking her cheeks with mascara, became a symbol for the wages of greed and hypocrisy in 1980s America.

She divorced her husband of 30 years, with whom she had two children, in 1992, while he was in prison for defrauding millions from followers of their PTL television ministries. The letters stood for “Praise the Lord” or “People that Love.”

Mr. Bakker said that his ex-wife “lived her life like the song she sang, ‘If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.’ ”

“She is now in heaven with her mother and grandmother and Jesus Christ, the one who she loves and has served from childbirth,” he said. “That is the comfort I can give to all who loved her.”

Mrs. Messner’s second husband also served time in prison. She married Roe Messner, who had been the chief builder of the Bakkers’ Heritage USA Christian theme park near Fort Mill, S.C., in 1993. In 1995, he was convicted of bankruptcy fraud, and he spent about two years in prison.

Through it all, Mrs. Messner kept plugging her faith and herself. She did concerts, a short-lived secular TV talk show and an inspirational video. In 2004, she cooperated in the making of a documentary about her struggle with cancer, called “Tammy Faye: Death Defying.”

“I wanted to help people,… maybe show the inside [of the experience] and make it a little less frightening,” she said.