Tammy Faye Messner dies of cancer


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tammy Faye Messner, who as Tammy Faye Bakker helped her husband, Jim, build a multimillion-dollar evangelism empire and then watched it collapse in disgrace, died Friday at her home near Kansas City, Mo. She was 65.

She had been suffering from colon cancer, which had spread to her lungs.

A family service was held Saturday in a private cemetery, where her ashes were interred.

Jim Bakker said in a statement that his ex-wife "lived her life like the song she sang, 'If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.' "

She divorced Bakker, 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.

She and Bakker, an Assemblies of God minister, worked as traveling evangelists in the early years of their marriage. He preached; she sang and played the accordion. They began their television career in the mid-1960s, joining Pat Robertson's fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network as the original hosts of "The 700 Club."

In 1974, the Bakkers founded the Praise the Lord network, based in North Carolina, and achieved wide popularity as hosts of the syndicated "Jim and Tammy Show." At its peak, in the '80s, the PTL show reached as many as 13 million households, always to a drumbeat of appeals for donations.

The Bakkers' enterprises, including Heritage USA, a 2,300-acre religious theme park and resort in Fort Mill, S.C., grew in value to more than $125 million.

Messner's second husband also served time in prison. She married Roe Messner, who had been the chief builder of Heritage USA, in 1993. In 1995, he was convicted of bankruptcy fraud, and he spent about two years in prison.

Tamara Faye LaValley was born on March 7, 1942, in International Falls, Minn. When she was 3, her mother and her father, a truck driver, divorced. Her mother then married a widowed textile mill worker and created a new household in which Tammy was the oldest of eight children.

She had a strict religious upbringing and, when she was 10, had an epiphany of sorts, which she described in her 1996 autobiography, "Tammy: Telling It My Way." At the Pentecostal church that her mother attended, she reported, she began speaking in tongues, prompting her to promise to devote her life to religion.