I can’t believe I was so remiss in marking the death of an amazing American figure: Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Tammy Faye Bakker. She died of cancer on July 20. I remember the Jim Bakker scandal when it happened in the ’80s, but I knew very little about it and even less about Tammy Faye herself. She was such an easy comedic mark, both for newscasters and comedians, that all I picked up on was the makeup and the eyelashes.
Then I saw the documentary about her, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and my whole concept of her changed. She was a remarkable woman with flaws to spare but whose heart was not among those flaws. I had never known any of the back story on the fall of Jim Bakker, or what it cost her. I had never known that she and Jim were the first television ministers to actually reach out to gays and to people with AIDS, and I remember the scene where she talked to a man with AIDS on TV. That was a daring thing to do in those days and it’s much to her credit that her religious beliefs prompted her to kindness, love and understanding for people who must have been a little out of her social sphere.
The film is mostly from her point of view, so no doubt it glosses over some things, but a woman who could be that loving is okay in my book. I hope there’s a heaven for people like her, and that people remember the good in her instead of the easy jokes that stuck to her like barnacles.
I believe some friends of mine and I are going to have an honorary viewing of the film soon, and we’ll toast the woman who lived through scandal, addiction, heartbreak and family misery but was still fascinating right up to her death. Be well, Tammy Faye. You’ll be missed by a world that doesn’t have enough of your kind of love.