RALEIGH, N.C. - Live one day at a time, without fear, Tammy Faye Messner said earlier this month as she battled cancer, weighing just 65 pounds.
Messner, who as Tammy Faye Bakker helped her 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 passed away peacefully 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.
Messner had frequently spoken about her medical problems, saying she hoped to be an inspiration to others.
"Don't let fear rule your life," she said. "Live one day at a time, and never be afraid." But she told well-wishers in a note on her Web site in May that the doctors had stopped trying to treat the cancer.
In an interview with CNN's Larry King earlier this month, an emaciated Messner — still using her trademark makeup — said, "I believe when I leave this earth, because I love the Lord, I'm going straight to heaven." Asked if she had any regrets, Messner said: "I don't think about it, Larry, because it's a waste of good brain space."
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."
Jim Bakker said in a news release that his ex-wife "lived her life like the song she sang, 'If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.'"
"She is now in heaven with her mother and grandmother and Jesus Christ, the one who she loves and has served from childbirth," he said. "That is the comfort I can give to all who loved her."
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."
"I wanted to help people ... maybe show the inside (of the experience) and make it a little less frightening," she said.
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.
Messner was never charged with a crime in the Bakker scandal. She said she counted the costs in other ways.
"I know what it's like to hit rock bottom," she said in promotional material for her 1996 video "You Can Make It."
Spotts said the family is considering a public memorial service for the coming weeks.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press