RIP Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Messner has died after her third bout with cancer. She was 65.

I was a great fan and admirer of Tammy Faye, and I am profoundly sad that she’s gone, though also relieved. When she appeared on Larry King’s show, in what was to be her final interview, on Thursday night (Part One, Part Two, Part Three), she was clearly in a lot of pain and had dropped down to 65 pounds. She died the very next morning.

Below is a post I published back in August 2005, about my enduring fondness for the inimitable Tammy Faye.

* * *

I have a confession to make…

I love Tammy Faye Messner.

You might remember her better as Tammy Faye Bakker, the mascara-laden wife of erstwhile televangelist Jimmy Bakker, who made Tammy Faye cry, famously, when he was caught with his pants down and his hand in the cookie jar.

Even though her husband, and many of their PTL associates, seemed like insincere rabble, just out for the last dimes in the handbags of little old ladies, Tammy always struck me as the genuine article—a woman who was filled with boundless faith and love. She also seemed like someone with whom I’d really enjoy sitting and having a long conversation, diametrically different as we are, because she was interesting and thoughtful, and most of all, very funny.

During college, every afternoon, Mr. Furious and I settled in to watch the Jm J and Tammy Faye Show—a talk show so bizarre that it seemed itself to be a parody of a Saturday Night Live talk show parody. The guests were incidental; it was all about Jm J and Tammy Faye, who were the oddest couple, well, ever, and whoever was inspired to suggest the flamingly gay Jm J as foil for the former preacher’s wife Tammy Faye was a genius. (Tammy Faye was given 12 people to choose from, and chose Jm.) They were giddy, silly, hilarious—and interestingly, remain good friends to this day.

Tammy Faye proved herself to be the genuine article after all, ignoring the increasingly vitriolic anti-gay noise from much of the evangelical community, and becoming an out-spoken gay rights advocate, even penning a gay youth advice column, raising awareness about the disproportionate incidences of teen suicide among gay teens, criticizing the church for not welcoming gays, and celebrating pride festivities with her new legions of gay fans. Tammy Faye had been a drag icon for years (it’s all about the make-up!), but her activism wasn’t motivated by a realization there was a community she could cynically exploit for a comeback; instead she was moved by a desire to make sure that desperate gay teens knew they were loved, too. Even if their churches, their friends, or even their parents didn’t…she did.

Bakker told the teens it is appalling that gay teens are twice as likely to commit suicide as heterosexual youths.

”When I read that, my heart almost broke,” she said, adding that a 19-year-old relative committed suicide just recently. ”Suicide is not the way out,” said Bakker. ”Life is precious, and you want to live, live, live.”

She said she has drawn on the hardships and criticism she has faced in the past, from battling cancer to fighting critics’ questions about her makeup and intelligence. And, she offered this advice: ”Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to agree with you … but always remember, no matter what, you have a right to be you,” she said. ”Your `I will’ is more important than your IQ.”

In recent years, Tammy Faye has been the subject of a great documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, chronicling her rise and fall as a televangelist with then-husband Jim Bakker, a season of The Surreal Life (which I didn’t watch), and a very recent documentary, Tammy Faye: Death Defying, which premiered on WE: Women’s Entertainment on July 25 and followed her battle with inoperable, stage 4 cancer—a project she signed onto because, “I felt with cancer and AIDS and these debilitating diseases, we could maybe show the inside (of the experience) and make it a little less frightening.” She went into remission, but has now announced she’s battling the cancer once again, for the third time.

I’m not a praying person, but I think good thoughts for Tammy Faye, and I hope she gets through this latest trial, like she has so many others. I like the world better with a character like Tammy Faye in it, and all the love and hope and inspiration she brings to it. And I don’t care what anyone says—I’ll always love those eyelashes.

Goodbye, Tammy.

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43 Comments

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43 responses to “RIP Tammy Faye

  1. I watched her on The Surreal Life (yeah, yeah, a guilty pleasure) and she was 100% class. I am anti-religion in pretty much all its forms, but she really stood out as an accepting, non-judgmental person who truly cared for everyone and made a real effort to be understanding of everyone, including Ron Jeremy. And there was absolutely nothing fake about it.

    If the devout amongst us were more like her, the world would be a much, much better place.

    –WKW

  2. Those are pretty much my sentiments exactly, Bill. She was just a real nice lady.

  3. Kathy Kattenburg

    What a moving tribute, Melissa. It really touched me, although I didn’t know much about her other than the bare basics of who she was, and so did not have strong feelings about her one way or the other.

    But reading your piece made me feel I knew her a little better. It sounds like she was a fine person.

    Thank you for sharing those loving words.

  4. Chromosome Crawl

    In some ways – too bad. She suprised me with her commitment to ministering to gey teens. In fact, her genuine ability to care for a segment of the population that her less ‘christian’ evangelical cohorts is the one thing that has kept me from writing all evangelicals off.

    It is to bad that she had to suffer so.

  5. marvin

    we lost a TRUE friend to the gay community …

  6. marta

    Thank you so much for the very beautiful way you spoke of Tammy Faye. I am so sorry that Tammy Faye’s genuine Christian love was so rare to so many in other choices and lifestyles…as Christians we have certainly dropped the ball in representing the One we SAY we love. We have failed and it has become apparent to me tonight as I have sought to find something positive about Tammy on the net…the truly loving comments are coming from non-christian sites. I am both dismayed and embarrassed…we have so failed to be at all like Him. Once again my appreciation for your words about the always loving Tammy Faye. I loved her, too.

  7. Tom Moore

    Say what you want about her (or anyone for that fact) But I think she was a sincere person that care about people. Strange at times, but aren’t we all. i appeciated seeing her hold onto her faith at the most difficult times in her life. From PTL to cancer. God Bless her. She will be missed

  8. TERRY FOX

    WE NEED TO REMEMBER WHAT WE ALL SAW AND LOVED IN TABBY FAYE WAS THE TRUE CHRIST. SHE CHOSE HIM AND LIVED HIS PRAISES HER ENTIRE LIFE AS SHE LOVED EVERYOHE. INDEED, THE GAY COMMUNITIES WORLDWIDE HAS LOST A GREAT LADY AND FRIEND.

  9. Jana

    Tammy Faye seemed to be a very genuine person and my thoughts and prayers go out to her family. She was always so positive and happy. I am waiting for tests to determine whether or not I have lung cancer but someone like Tammy shows me that even in the worst case scenario, one can be happy. I hope that she was as happy as she seemed to be. Her family can be assured that her positivity was not in vain…she touched others and made a difference. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

  10. fletch

    will-

    I am anti-religion in pretty much all its forms, but she really stood out as an accepting, non-judgmental person

    IOW, she was less ‘judgmental’ than yourself? :o)

    The Bible says, “Judge not, lest you be judged…”

    I tend towards the Ayn Rand view- “Judge… and prepare to be judged.”

  11. Micky

    SAVED BY GRACE
    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 2004, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages . God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].
    PEACE BE WITH YOU
    MICKY

  12. Jon Swift

    A wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman. I hope God lets her wear mascara in Heaven.

  13. Chris Hawkins

    I’m a Catholic and a Northeasterner- another unlikely Tammy Faye fan and I feel compelled to comment as well. Her last interview with Larry King, particularly her response to the question of what she as to say to her fans made me cry. You should watch it yourself but she said, in effect, that she loves them all and hopes that they all find happiness and go to heaven. It was absolutely sincere and so heart-felt. To me it’s ironic that someone who was so ridiculed for being “tacky” showed so more class, love, faith and strength in the face of death than just about anyone. Thank you for your example and rest in peace Tammy Faye.

  14. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Wisdom of Doubt, Part IX

  15. Pingback: Pajamas Media: RIP, Tammy Faye

  16. What Jon Swift said. I was moved by her words (on Larry King), essentially that she wanted people to know that God loved them, that she loved them, and that she wished them peace and joy.

    Okay, God, more like Tammy please. And fewer of the Other Sort who seem to have forgotten what Jesus said about loving thy neighbor.

  17. I know a few Christians like Tammy Faye. Too few. May her God take her in his arms and welcome her home. Goodbye, Tammy.

  18. I hope God lets her wear mascara in Heaven.

    that made me chuckle. RIP tammy faye.

  19. More Christians like the post-PTL Tammy Faye and even I might be tempted to give it a shot. Funny, silly, yes, even ridiculous — and with a heart as big as all outdoors. What a phenomenally cool lady. Rest in peace, Tammy. And if your belief turned out to be correct, talk to the big guy and convince him that deeds are even more important than faith. Anyone can talk the walk, but walking the walk is hard. And you definitely walked the walk.

  20. Tammy was truly inspirational. She was so endearing because of her innate faith in the good that might be found in people. Some call that naive, but I call it hope, and her hope is the kind that is needed. Please let us find someone to carry on in reaching out to the thousands of gay Christians who feel alone.

  21. i always liked her. i can’t stand many televangelists and her husband was a sad joke but she has always impressed me as having the faith of a child and so i always respected her and her beliefs because she truly tried to treat others as she would wish to be treated.

    i too hope and believe that somewhere right now tammy faye is dolling herself up and that the divine is smiling and telling her how pretty she is.

  22. Pingback: Pharyngula: My eyes are dry and clear

  23. A moving tribute to a unique lady.

    My dad has battled cancer three times and is still a survivor.

    He’s 73 now and says that he won’t fight a fourth time. He says, “I’ll let the Lord take me.”

    Of course, I’d want him to fight to the last. But, the surgeries and treatments made him so weak and sick I can understand that he doesn’t want to got through it again.

    It upsets me that we don’t devote more money to cancer research. Imagine what the billions we’ve spent in Iraq would accomplish — how many lives could be saved.

  24. Shawn

    You people are sheep! She was a scam artist preying on the beliefs of others. She had a good thing going with Jim and jumped ship when he took the blame for their fraud and marries a sugar daddy?? She was a fake, an embezzeler and a fraud. Could turn on the tears at a moments notice if it meant the $$ would flow in. Get real. It’s a better world without her…

  25. Paen

    I think it took a lot of guts to stand up for gays when you come from an evangelic back ground.

  26. Debbie

    I know that Tammy Faye is eating a hamburger (with lots of ketghup)….She has all of her make up on and is dining with Jesus!

  27. Pingback: Property of a Lady » Tammy Faye Messner, 1942 - 2007

  28. Indy

    I was really young when Mr. Bakker when down in flames (I heard he shared a cell in prison with Lyndon LaRouche, in for tax evasion), and never followed Tammy Faye’s career much, but I remember coming across her talk show with the incredibly straight-laced gayish guy late one night- My Lord! The Hair! The Makeup! The way that somber-dressed guy she co-hosted with contrasted against everything else about the show so much, as he sat there in their big golden throne-chairs.

    That, and her ability to start crying whilst just reading the gospel. She’d tear up just reading.

    //didn’t do much for my impressions of the general sanity of the evangelical set, but she sure had style.

  29. Pingback: Tammy Faye Messner (1942-2007) » The Moderate Voice

  30. Susan

    I used to land their show for a bit at a time while channel surfing in the 80’s. She had a real charisma, certainly more so than Jim. Her sense of humor about herself was great. I actually felt kind of bad when Heritage USA went down in flames–remember Kevin’s House?

    She didn’t deserve the pain and misery which followed. Tammy, you be good, my dear. We’ll see you soon.

  31. Brian H

    The perfect exemplar for the old adage, “Sure has a lot of class! All of it 3rd.”

    Blech. Lard given the power of speech.

  32. Pingback: Rest in Peace, Tammy Faye - Second Citizen Forums

  33. Lard given the power of speech.

    And you’re talking about her lack of class?!

    Paging Dr. Irony. Brian H is on the phone for you…

  34. Alicia at Last Left Turn Before Hooterville has a personal tribute having spent time in a green room with her.

  35. oddjob

    Having lived as an Evangelical Christian I wholeheartedly agree with Paen. I thought her make-up was appalling. I wanted to loather her. I rejoiced when PTL came crashing down around them. It was only after that when I learned that she actually cared about homosexual Americans, especially gay teens and the struggles she knew they went through, often at the hands of “Christians”.

    No, she walked the walk. She did it in the tackiest of adornments, and she was daffy and a ditz, but she walked the walk.

  36. BAC

    Thanks for sharing this. I, too, was a fan of Tammy Faye. May she rest in peace.

    BAC

  37. I, too, was an extremely unlikely Tammy Faye fan. Blue Gal was sweet enough to put a link to my post about her in the comments here, but I was a convert after chatting with her for a few hours. She was real in that Dolly Parton down-home way, and taught me a lesson about myself and my judgmentalism.

  38. That’s funny–I compared Dolly and Tammy Faye before, too, on the occasion of Dolly’s 60th birthday.

  39. I think they’re very similar – just as down-home and earthy as can be; not in spite of the cartoonishly overdone hair and makeup and clothes, but because of it. I always loved Dolly, too, even in the 70’s when it was not cool to be a country fan (which at the time I wasn’t, just a Dolly fan.) I watched the Dolly Parton TV show regularly, and she always closed it with “I Will Always Love You”, singing it with a plaintive, heartfelt note that Whitney could never approach in a million years.

  40. Brian

    I thought you all might enjoy this video. I thought it was really funny and touching at the same time.

  41. Pingback: Last Left Turn Before Hooterville: How Tammy Faye Changed My Mind

  42. Arkades

    Poor gal. At least now she is free from pain.

  43. Todd

    In any media appearance – The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Surreal Life, The Tammy Faye and Jm J Show – it was impossible not to love Tammy Faye. She was a beacon of light wherever she appeared. She even forgave the abhorrent Jerry Falwell for all he did to her and Jim Bakker (which was a lot). If anyone deserves to go to heaven, it is her.

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