Sometime in the early 1980s, my boyfriend (now husband) called me to the television to catch The PTL Show with its demented hosts, Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye. We laughed and cried, then laughed and cried some more until our mascara was running down our cheeks and on to our summer white clothing. In that moment, I would not have believed 25 years later, I would shed real tears when it was announced that Tammy Faye had taken her final bow and had gone to be with Jesus.
When she was 6-years-old, little Tammy Faye found Jesus. When she was 16-years-old she found makeup, and she stayed with both of them through her 65 years in this incarnation. She and first husband Jim began as traveling evangelists, parlaying a little Christian puppet show into television stardom. They helped create three television networks, were the first Christian broadcasters with their own satellite, and they built the theme park, Heritage USA, near Charlotte, North Carolina while Reverend Jim was kept busy defrauding his viewers of millions of dollars.
I must confess that in watching them, I was never saved, yet, I was mesmerized. The two of them were like Howdy Doody and Betty Boop come alive. Tammy Faye wept on every show and she sang with the power of Connie Francis. When she would do her famous version of We’re Blest, I would sing along with her.
When the Bakkers were living the good Christian life, they enjoyed two lavish homes, matching Rolls Royces, plus an air-conditioned dog house.
When Tammy Faye sadly took her final bow in the summer of 2007, the outspoken, diminutive, fake eyelash wearing, emotive evangelist had gone from ridiculous Christian television host to vilified woman to the highest honor a human being can possibly hold: Gay Icon.
Tammy Faye is a Gay Icon indeed, in no small measure because of her fabulousness and her honesty. We celebrate Tammy Faye for her perseverance. She fell from grace and lost her fortune when her first husband was found cheating on her and swindling their Christian followers. She talked plainly about her pain in interviews and she stood by her man after his conviction. Three years later, she divorced Bakker, who was serving a 45-year prison sentence.
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (2000) is an enlightened, moving documentary film directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato of World of Wonder Productions. More than a decade and a half later, it remains a cult classic. The film is smartly narrated by our very own RuPaul.
Tammy Faye brought a lesson of love. Days before her passing in summer 2007, appearing on Larry King Live, weighing 68 pounds and ravaged by that fucking cancer, yet still made up in true Tammy Faye fabulousness, speaking barely above a whisper, she reached out saying:
You know, when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.