She's gone now, but through the miracle of YouTube, you can spend a few minutes with Tammy Faye Bakker, discussing the thing that made her such a figure of lasting fascination—in the secular world, anyway: her makeup. In the clip, the fabled televangelist rummages through her stash, showing off the foundations of her legend. She holds up a nearly empty blush compact, and allows as how she has to go to "the swap" to buy some more. Next, her powder: "When I cry, it takes away the tears." Then, the lipstick—which is white, but "turns pink when you put it on." Finally, she reveals her secret weapon: L'Oreal Waterproof Lash Out mascara, applied lavishly to her fake eyelashes to achieve her signature look. "Without my eyelashes, I wouldn't be Tammy Faye," she says. "I don't know who I'd be, but I wouldn't be me."
Together, she and her eyelashes made history, of a sort. Along with her first husband, Jim Bakker, she helped build an evangelical empire worth millions of dollars—complete with a theme park, resort, and cable television network whose anchor offering, which Jim and Tammy hosted together, was beamed into some 13 million households at its peak in the mid-1980s. It all came crashing down amid charges of financial and sexual impropriety, which sent Jim Bakker to prison, cost him his ministry and made Jessica Hahn—a church secretary with whom he had intimate relations—a household name. His wife would battle a pill problem and bouts of depression. But the collapse of their world did not destroy Tammy Faye—who remarried (to another man who did some time behind bars), returned to cable, albeit briefly (as cohost of the secular "Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show," with sitcom actor Jim J. Bullock), was memorialized in a documentary, and even wound up on the reality TV show "The Surreal Life," alongside a former male-porn star. She became a campy icon of pop culture, and she never lost her faith.
Tammy Faye literally came in from the cold—from International Falls, Minn., the oldest kid in a family of eight; her father, a truck driver, and mother divorced when Tammy Faye was 3. She grew up in the Pentacostal church and wrote in her autobiography of having a religious experience when she was 10 that persuaded her to dedicate herself to her faith. As a teenager, she followed her church's strict edicts and did not indulge in dances or movies. She attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, where she met Jim Bakker; he proposed on their first date. An Assembly of God minister, Bakker and his bride hit the tent-show circuit, singing, preaching, and spreading the good word, before Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network put them on TV.
They took to the new medium—exhorting the audience with a strange blend of soap-opera drama, Jerry Lewis's telethon tactics and reality TV. Tammy Faye told viewers about how she felt she had done the devil's work when she first put on makeup, only to realize, through God, that it was OK. If viewers were suitably moved, they were invited to ring in and purchase Tammy Faye's own line of cosmetics. She had been discussing her own struggle with addiction to prescription drugs, for which she sought treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic, when less sympathetic stories of the couple's activities began to break.
After vowing to stand by her man, Tammy Faye divorced Jim during his stint in prison (he was released in 1994), and married a contractor who had worked at the Bakkers' theme park, Heritage USA. She took his last name, Messner, but by that point, the world knew her simply as Tammy Faye. Though she cut short her appearance on the "Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show," owing to her initial diagnosis with cancer, the program, cohosted by an openly gay actor, helped cement her status as a friend and supporter of the gay community—which has not always been welcomed by prominent evangelicals. Over the last decade, the limelight has had a hard time letting go of her. She cooperated with the makers of "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a sympathetic documentary, appeared as a character on "The Drew Carey Show," popped up on "Entertainment Tonight" and discussed her illness openly, on "The Larry King Show," as well as a Sundance channel program featuring her son, Jay Bakker, entitled "One Punk Under God." (Jay, bedecked with tatoos and piercings, has taken to the family business.) She also maintained her own Web site. Over the weekend, tammyfaye.com went dark. I hope they have L'Oreal Waterproof Lash Out in heaven.