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US TV evangelist Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner dies at 65

A symbol of 1980s-style televangelism, Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner will be remembered for the heavy black mascara that ran down her face because she cried so easily when invoking the name of Jesus, and for soliciting money from viewers.

She will also be remembered for the sex and corruption scandal that brought down her multi-million dollar "Praise The Lord Network" and landed her husband at the time, Jim Bakker, in gaol.

Less prominently, Tammy Faye was one of the few Evangelical Christians who had the support of the gay community because she reached out to those with AIDS in the 1980s, when the illness was newly diagnosed and feared.

Messner died on 20 July of inoperable cancer, just hours after appearing on CNN’s "Larry King Live" talk show. King himself released the news of her death at the family’s request on his 21 July show.

The evangelist was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996, and the disease recently spread to her lungs. Ten weeks ago she posted a message on her Web site saying her weight had dropped to 32kg (65lbs), and she had stopped all cancer treatments.

She never faced charges herself and continued to live a public life as a survivor of drug addiction. Messner told Larry King she had no regrets.

"I don’t think about it Larry," she said the night before her death, "because it’s a waste of good brain space."

PTL Network unravelled in 1987 when Jim Bakker admitting having an affair. Later, he was imprisoned for five years on fraud charges. His wife divorced him in 1992 and later married construction magnate Roe Messner.

Created in 1974, the PTL ministry eventually claimed more than 500 000 followers, and owned a hotel, shopping mall, theme park and other facilities. At its peak, PTL brought in more than $128 million annually and was carried on 1300 cable systems with 12 million subscribers.

Messner was able to bounce back after PTL folded when in 1996 she co-hosted the "Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show" with gay actor Jim J. Bullock. She recently told King, "When we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that."

Tammy Faye Messner is survived by her husband and two children from her marriage to Bakker.

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