Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Life Goes On

By Rebekah Gleaves

AUGUST 21, 2000:  How strange it must be to live life as a caricature.

As a mid-'80s icon, Tammy Faye Bakker's smudged likeness was garishly silk-screened onto T-shirts that read "I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall."

With teary eyes hiding behind her famed fingery eyelashes, Tammy Faye has pleaded with us through the television set to come to Jesus, to send money, and to forgive herself, her husband, and her fallen Praise the Lord (PTL) ministry. And strangely enough, we have.

Now, with a critically acclaimed documentary of her life, it seems that after a decade of hibernation Tammy Faye has emerged, a phoenix with feathers like a peacock.

"The movie is called The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and it's very fair," she says, her voice wavering slightly. "There are places in it that really hurt me and places that make me smile, but it's my life and it's the truth."

While Jim Bakker was in jail for five years for defrauding his followers, Tammy Faye filed for divorce and remarried. Her new husband is Roe Messner, who Tammy says she met during the PTL days when he helped the Bakkers build Heritage U.S.A., their religious theme park in South Carolina. But heartache seems to follow Tammy Faye, and shortly after their marriage Roe Messner had to spend time in jail, 24 months in all, for not reporting $20,000 of his income.

"He lost everything when PTL went down," says Tammy Faye, "so he understood everything I went through. I married someone who was a friend to me before he became a lover to me."

Tammy Faye went from being a partner in the largest Christian satellite network in television history and a co-owner of a successful amusement park to a woman convicted in the court of public opinion. After her world and family fell apart, Tammy Faye herself entered the Betty Ford Clinic with a prescription drug addiction.

But, if ever there was a comeback kid, it's Tammy Faye. In fact, she wrote the book, literally, on comebacks. Her autobiography, Tammy, Telling It My Way, was recently released and even includes photos of a young Tammy Faye, sans make-up.

As notorious as Tammy's cosmetological choices have been, the evangelist says she would never consider getting a makeover. She feels that her make-up is an integral part of her personality and her individuality and, make-up artists Kevin Aucoin and Bobbi Brown be damned, she won't change it for anyone.

"I have never considered changing my appearance," says Messner. "I will not change my look. I have held on to what I feel is right for me and I don't think people should change their looks just because other people think that they should. My body is the last thing that I have that is still truly personal. Our bodies are personal. If we want to tattoo them or pierce them that's our business, not anyone else's."

In fact, not only does Tammy Faye support the choice of some to be tattooed, she is tattooed herself, sort of. Several years ago Tammy says she elected to have makeup permanently tattooed into her skin, adding eye liner, lip liner, and eyebrows permanently to her face.

"I think it was a great idea," she says. "This way, when you wake up you don't feel faceless. You can wake up and already have a face."

Her feelings toward Jim Bakker are equally intriguing. Tammy Faye is adamant that Jim Bakker has done nothing wrong and insists that she would begin a ministry with him again if he asked.

"I think the public has realized that Jim Bakker is a good man," she says. "I will shout it from the rooftops, 'Jim Bakker is not a criminal!' He may have made some mistakes, but they weren't intentional. All of that, all of those allegations, were trumped up by Jerry Falwell so he could keep the ministry we built."

Even after having watched her own life unravel, Tammy Faye says she doesn't live in regret.

"You can't move forward when you're looking in the rear-view mirror," she says casually. "Sure, there are things that I wish had happened differently, but it doesn't do any good to live in the past. It's like an egg that you drop on the floor; you can't put it back in the shell once it has broken."

Tammy Faye is forging ahead, hawking her book, her movie, and a new line of bath products.

"A friend of mine said bath products would be a good thing to sell. I mean, if I had gone with makeup instead, then men couldn't use it."

Most impressively, she wastes little time on negativity. When asked about her blatant copycat, Jan Crouch -- the purple-haired, weeping wonder on the Trinity Broadcast Network -- Tammy Faye is diplomatic.

"Everybody tells me that she copied me. I take that as a compliment. I don't know if Jan copied me because I don't know her heart, but they [Paul and Jan Crouch] have certainly copied everything else Jim and I did."

And so goes the life of a recovering pop culture casualty. The source of countless jokes, the bizarre star of a religious diorama, and an amalgam of 1980s consumerism and excess, Tammy Faye looks forward to what the future holds for her.

"I keep getting surprises," she says. "It's like fireworks going off in the sky. I just don't know what the future holds for me."


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