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Evangelist Tammy Faye Messner


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Evangelist Tammy Faye Messner

by Anita Gates


Tammy Faye Messner

KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Tammy Faye Messner, the diminutive and elaborately coiffed gospel singer who, with her first husband, Jim Bakker, built a commercial empire around television evangelism only to see it collapse in sex and money scandals, died Friday, July 20 at her home near Kansas City, Missouri. She was 65.

Her death was reported on her Web site and by her booking agent, Joe Spotts, The Associated Press said. She had been suffering from colon cancer, which had spread to her lungs.

On May 8, Messner, as she had been known since her 1993 marriage to Roe Messner, posted a letter on her Web site, saying that her weight had dwindled to 65 pounds and that doctors had stopped treatment. "Now it's up to God and my faith," she wrote.

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, South Carolina, grew in value to more than $125 million. Messner, who stood 4 feet 11 inches, was known for appearing on camera in overstated outfits and heavy makeup.

She was openly emotional, whether praying for the health of an ailing viewer or for generous financial contributions. When she broke down on camera

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I watched part of the last interview she had just a few days ago with Larry King.

It was creepy...she had to stop every couple of words to catch a breath, her voice was almost completely gone...

And she weighed just 65 pounds. It was like looking at a cadaver...with makeup on. Really scary to see, especially knowing it wasn't just terminal, but imminent.

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