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Tammy Faye Messner dies

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Ex-husband Jim Bakker: "She lived her life like the song she sang"
  • Televangelist famed for heavy makeup, frequent tears dead at 65
  • She made a final appearance Thursday on "Larry King Live"
  • Former singer survived PTL scandal, drug addiction
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(CNN) -- Tammy Faye Messner, the former televangelist and Christian singer who battled drug addiction and later inoperable cancer, died Friday morning, CNN's Larry King said Saturday night. He said the family had asked him to make the delayed announcement.

She was 65.

Messner was a guest on "Larry King Live" on Thursday. She told him she couldn't swallow food, and weighed only 65 pounds.

King said the family postponed the death announcement for a day so family members could gather. Messner was cremated and interred in a remote part of Kansas at the Kansas-Oklahoma state line, King said.

"The family appreciates all of the well wishes of so many people," the talk show host said on CNN.

"She wanted a party," King added. "They're going to schedule a party in two to three weeks in Palm Springs, California. Her friends will be invited. And she wanted it to be a celebration.

"She died peacefully. Anyone who saw her on our show this week knew that she didn't have long."

King asked her Thursday if she were "a little scared."

She responded, "A little bit," adding that she mainly worried about her family. Video Watch Messner on King's show »

She made dramatic appearances on the now-defunct Christian PTL Network she started with then-husband Jim Bakker, its host. Before millions of viewers, she would often break into tears, prompting her trademark heavy mascara to run.

"Our family is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Tammy Faye," Bakker said late Saturday. "She lived her life like the song she sang, 'If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.'

"My heart aches for my two children, Jamie Charles and Tammy Sue, who loved their mother dearly. They both told me their mom was so full of life that it is hard to believe she is gone."

Bakker said Tammy Sue stayed with her mother almost around-the-clock in the last year to help care for her.

"Tammy Faye's deep faith in God has kept her throughout her life as well as during these last days of her life. In her last 48 hours, she shared her faith in Jesus Christ on worldwide television with millions of people."

After divorcing Bakker, who became steeped in money and sex scandals, she married Christian construction magnate and former PTL contractor Roe Messner in 1993. She was married to Bakker for more than 30 years.

She underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1996. In 2004, she revealed that the disease had spread to her lungs, and in May 2007 she announced that her doctors had stopped trying to treat the illness.

In her appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," Tammy Faye Messner was a shadow of her former self.

"I believe when I leave this Earth, because I love the Lord, I am going straight to heaven," she said.

King said she had sought the interview.

She told King she was bedridden most of the time, had trouble swallowing food -- hence the weight loss -- and was in near-constant pain.

But her sense of humor was still intact. On her Web site, she wrote on Monday, "I crave hamburgers and french fries with LOTS of ketchup! When I can eat that again, it will be a day of victory!"

Asked by King what she would most like to be remembered for, Messner replied, "well, my eyelashes." Messner wore heavy makeup -- her lip liner, eyeliner and eyebrows were tattooed on.

Born Tammy Faye LaValley in International Falls, Minnesota, she married Bakker in 1961. From 1966 to 1973, the Bakkers co-hosted "The 700 Club," on the Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by television evangelist and Christian Coalition founder the Rev. Pat Robertson.

They began The PTL Club -- with the initials standing for "Praise The Lord" or "People That Love" -- in 1974 and later expanded it into a television network. At the height of its popularity, PTL was bringing in more than $128 million annually and was carried on 1,300 cable systems with 12 million subscribers.

In 1978, the Heritage USA theme park opened at the network's headquarters in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The Heritage USA Grand Hotel was added in 1984 and a water park in 1986. That year, more than 6 million people visited the park, making it the nation's third most popular attraction after Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

On March 19, 1987, Jim Bakker resigned from PTL in the face of a scandal involving an affair seven years earlier with Jessica Hahn, a secretary he paid to keep quiet. Hahn received a one-time $115,000 payment and monthly interest payments from a $150,000 trust fund.

The following month, PTL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Also in 1987, Tammy Faye Bakker was treated at the Betty Ford Center for prescription drug addiction.

And in December 1988, Jim Bakker was indicted for fraud and conspiring to defraud churchgoers of $158 million. Tammy Faye Bakker was not named in the indictment.

In 1989, Heritage USA and the Grand Hotel closed, and Jim Bakker was convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Tammy Faye Bakker divorced him while he was incarcerated, and Jim Bakker was paroled in December 1994.

Asked by King on Thursday what she would change in her life if she could, Tammy Faye Messner replied, "I don't think about that, Larry, because that's just a waste of good brain space."

When King suggested that she might want to forget the PTL Club, she said, "I have gotten over that, thank God. That was a terrible, horribly bad experience."

The Bakkers' 30-year-old son, Jay, is a pastor who co-founded the Revolution Church in Brooklyn, New York -- a church aimed at those who feel rejected by traditional approaches to Christianity, stating on the church's Web site that he wrestled with religion after seeing the "excommunicative" treatment his parents experienced from the church after the scandal.

Tammy Faye Messner has also been known as one of the few evangelical Christians who had the support of the gay community. She was one of the first televangelists to reach out to those with AIDS when it was a little-known and much-feared disease. In return, she told King in July, "When I went -- when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that."

She was able to bounce back after PTL folded. In 1996, she co-hosted the "Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show" with gay actor Jim J. Bullock. In 2000, a documentary based on her life, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And in 2003, she appeared on The WB network's reality show, "The Surreal Life."

Over her life, Messner also recorded more than 25 albums and wrote several books. In 1996, she wrote her autobiography, "Telling it My Way." She also wrote "Run to the Roar," a book about overcoming fear, and in 2003 wrote her last book, "I Will Survive, and You Will Too."


Despite her battle with cancer, Messner told King she kept her Christian faith, instructing her doctors not to tell her how much time they believed she had left. "I don't have any date written on me anywhere that says I'm going to die at any time, and so I just give it to the Lord," she said.

Asked if she had a message for her fans, she replied: "I'd like to say that I genuinely love you, and I genuinely care, and I genuinely want to see you in heaven someday. I want you to find peace. I want you to find joy." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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