Idol Chatter

tammyfayepicforblog.jpgYesterday afternoon, a friend of mine sent me the link flacking Tammy Faye Messner‘s “Larry King Live” appearance scheduled for 9:00 p.m. The subject line read, “This is terrifying.” For anyone who tuned in last night, or saw the clip, the sight of the terminally ill, 65 pound former wife of televangelist Jim Bakker was startling. In fact, King so much as said so at the onset of the taped segment, noting that if she was only weighing 65 pounds, that weight was all heart.
There are few people in this world that I have a profound admiration for, but Tammy Faye is one of them. Like many people, I grew up knowing her as the cherubic faced, mascara clad other half of the couple at the heart of the PTL scandal and didn’t know much else. That is until I saw the brilliant documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato called “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” The film opened my eyes to what a talented, charismatic, loving, and indefatigable woman the oft-caricatured evangelist is. This woman endured the hostile takeovers of projects she nurtured and built into successes , public humiliations that most of us will never know, recurrences of cancer and yet, she still manages to laugh and love others.
This woman evokes a pathos in me that is overwhelming; she does not allow herself to be a victim and has a constant, unbreakable faith–something the best of us would have a hard time doing. And she has unconditional love for everyone, absolutely everyone. She was one of the first prominent Christians to publicly open her arms to AIDs sufferers and build a bridge with the gay community.

As silly as it seems, I remember trying to hold back tears when, in Bailey and Barbato’s follow-up documentary “Tammy Faye: Death Defying” for the WE channel, chronicling her recurrence of cancer, Messner bemoans the fact that a round of chemo was, ironically, making her trademark eyelashes fall out but leaving her hair unscathed.
And her appearance on VH1’s “The Surreal Life” cemented her place in my heart when she became the mother to an oddball household which included porn superstar Ron Jeremy and Vanilla Ice. Not usually an emotionally moving show, unless nausea counts (think the Brigitte Nielsen/Flavor Flav season), I was caught off guard by how touched her fellow castmates were by her interaction with her gay fan base.
But, the Tammy Faye on the screen last night was a mere shell of the woman I have come to admire. The robust woman with the equally robust laugh was gone, save for flashes of her trademark grin. Gone was her boisterousness, replaced by a whisper thin, almost painful voice. But the spark was there in her heavily made-up eyes. As her son Jay, a preacher in his own right, said later in the show, her body was giving up, but not her spirit. This is, after all, the woman who has survived for over a year when given just 15 days to live.
Larry shared questions from the audience and chatted amiably with Tammy Faye. She was doing the interview as a way of giving the love back to all those who were sending love her way. She was joined by her husband, Roe Messner, who unfortunately ended the interview by plugging Tammy Faye’s book, which certainly was a good way to supply people with answers to questions, but seemed a bit tasteless.
Larry was then joined by Jay Bakker and Deepak Chopra, who offered a wonderful assessment of Tammy Faye’s struggles. The holistic guru and best-seller said that Messner was a real inspiration and that she had surrendered to her fate, but was not resigned to it, a wonderful attitude to have. In fact, Chopra helped bring the point home that the interview wasn’t just a portrait of a suffering celebrity, but a portrait of a typical family dealing with a terminal illness.
Roe looked tired and had himself lost weight. Jay spoke of his sister, the primary caregiver, as having hard times and feeling exhausted, and Tammy Faye spoke of her lack of fear about dying, but her concern for how hard it would be for her children when she goes.
The same friend who sent me the original email, asked this morning, “Why did she do it?” I’m sure many people are asking the same thing after seeing and hearing the frail former gospel singer. As hard as it must have been for her to do, and as hard as it was to watch, I’m glad she did it. As Chopra noted, Tammy Faye was probably helping thousands of people by setting a great example for those in the same situation.
Related Links

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  • Ron Jeremy on Tammy Faye
  • Beliefnet Interview with Tammy Faye
  • Clips from

  • Tammy Faye faces mortality
  • Tammy Faye battles cancer
  • Messner ‘in god’s hands’
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