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.
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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.