American televangelist Tammy Messner was born on March 7, 1942, in International Falls, Minnesota. She married fellow devout Christian Jim Bakker, and together they hosted television ministry shows in the 1960s and '70s, including The 700 Club and the Praise the Lord Club. In 1980, scandal ensued when Jim Bakker was caught having an affair with his church secretary, Jessica Hahn. Numerous other affairs surfaced, and the Bakkers fell from grace. In 1989, Jim Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Around the same time, Tammy filed for divorce, which was finalized in 1992. Afterward, she remarried, worked on a short-lived TV show and published an autobiography. Tammy succumbed to lung cancer on July 20, 2007, at her home in Missouri.
Tammy Messner was born Tamara Faye LaValley on March 7, 1942, in International Falls, Minnesota. The oldest of eight children, Tammy Faye was raised in a devoutly Christian environment by her mother, Rachel. With a desire to become a missionary, Tammy Faye enrolled at North Central Bible College, in Minneapolis, where her engaging personality earned her many friends and one ardent admirer-fellow classmate Jim Bakker. The couple married in 1961, at which time they were forced to drop out of college because of the school’s strict policy regarding married students. They had two children.
With the goal of establishing a traveling ministry, Tammy Faye and Jim spent the next few years preaching in various cities throughout America. In the mid-1960s, they were introduced to Pat Robertson, who was in the midst of launching the Christian Broadcasting Network. At Robertson's request, the Bakkers moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, and agreed to host the Christian talk show The 700 Club. Premiering in 1966, the show met with overwhelming popularity, becoming the prototype of modern television ministry.
In 1973, the Bakkers left CBN in order to establish the short-lived Trinity Broadcasting Systems. The following year, Jim and Tammy Faye became the hosts of an existing North Carolina-based talk show, which they renamed the Praise the Lord Club. Fueled by the success of the PTL Club, the Bakkers quickly established an entire Christian television network, which they called the PTL or Inspirational Network. With contributions from their loyal audience, the Bakkers were able to finance a 2,300-acre Christian theme park, Heritage U.S.A. At the height of their popularity, the Bakkers were celebrities in the gospel circuit, with an opulent lifestyle to match. The PTL Club reached an audience of 13 million viewers, while Heritage U.S.A. attracted six million visitors annually.
The Empire Unravels
The Bakkers' empire began to unravel in 1980, when the national spotlight fell on Jim's adulterous affair with a church secretary, Jessica Hahn. Over the next few years, sufficient evidence of Jim's numerous sexual escapades surfaced, causing the Assemblies of God to strip him of his ministerial credentials. In 1987 and 1988, he made a few failed attempts to rebuild his ministry. Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission's investigation into the financial activities of the PTL Network culminated in Jim's conviction of fraud and conspiracy in 1989. During the tumultuous six-week trial, the federal government succeeded in proving that Jim solicited a total of $158 million from followers of the PTL ($3.7 million of which he used for personal means). He was given a 45-year prison sentence, which was later reduced to six years. Jim Bakker was paroled in 1994, and has since re-established himself as a minister.
In 1992, after a 31-year relationship, Tammy Faye and Jim divorced. The following year, Tammy Faye wed Roe Messner, a family friend and business associate of the Bakkers'. Shortly thereafter, Messner was imprisoned for fraud, but has since been released.
Also in 1996, Tammy Faye teamed with former Too Close for Comfort star J.M.J. Bullock to host a short-lived daily talk show titled The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show. Later that year, she published an autobiography, Tammy: Telling It My Way. Also in 1996, that Tammy Faye was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Tammy Faye was the subject of a fairly well-received documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000), and then in 2004, appeared on the second season of the VH-1 reality series The Surreal Life, which featured B-List celebrities such as Erik Estrada and Vanilla Ice. The group of former stars lived together in a Hollywood mansion while cameras followed their antics. It was during 2004 that Tammy Faye's cancer spread to her lungs.
In May 2007, Tammy Faye announced that doctors had stopped treating her cancer, and her weight soon dropped to 65 pounds. She posted a goodbye letter to her friends and supporters on her website. In early July 2007, a gaunt Tammy Faye made a final TV appearance on Larry King Live, where she said goodbye to fans. Tammy Faye Messner lost her battle with lung cancer on July 20, 2007, at the age of 65, at her home in Missouri.
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