Former televangelist was battling cancer

Tammy Faye Messner, who as Tammy Faye Bakker helped her then-husband, Jim, build a multimillion-dollar evangelism empire that collapsed in disgrace, has died, her manager said Saturday. She was 65.

Messner had battled colon cancer since 1996 that more recently spread to her lungs. She died Friday at her home near Kansas City, Mo., said Joe Spotts, who was also Messner’s booking agent.

A family service was held Saturday in a private cemetery, where her ashes were interred, he said.

For many, the TV image of then-Mrs. Bakker forgiving husband Jim’s infidelities, tears streaking her cheeks with mascara, became a symbol for the wages of greed and hypocrisy in 1980s America.

She divorced her husband of 30 years, with whom she had two children, in 1992 while he was in prison for defrauding millions from followers of their PTL television ministries. The letters stood for “Praise the Lord” or “People That Love.”

Messner’s second husband also served time in prison. She married Roe Messner, who had been the chief builder of the Bakkers’ Heritage USA Christian theme park near Fort Mill, S.C., in 1993. In 1995, he was convicted of bankruptcy fraud, and he spent about two years in prison.

Through it all, Messner kept plugging her faith and herself. She did concerts, a short-lived secular TV talk show and an inspirational videotape. In 2004, she cooperated in the making of a documentary about her struggle with cancer, called “Tammy Faye: Death Defying.”

A 2000 documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” delved into the rise and fall of the PTL ministry, largely through interviews with Messner. Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato garnered wide critical praise for their intelligent and sympathetic depiction of the former PTL co-star.

Spotts said the family is considering a public memorial service for the coming weeks.

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