July 23, 2007 -- Well-wishers left more than 300 pages of condolences for Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, freezing her website repeatedly Sunday as thousands poured out their prayers and thanks for the TV preacher's ex-wife whose battle with cancer had finally ended. Messner, who was 65 when she died Friday at her home near Kansas City, Mo., was flamboyant in life but her death was observed quietly.
A pioneer with her first husband in TV evangelism that once reached 12 million viewers, Messner was remembered Saturday in a service attended only by her two children and other immediate family. Her ashes were buried the same day in Kansas.
"She didn't want a funeral. She did not want crying and sadness," said Joe Spotts, her manager. "She wanted a celebration with lots of balloons."
Spotts said there will be balloons at a public memorial the family plans to hold. No date has been set, but it probably won't take place for at least a month. Spotts said Messner's second husband, Roe, who was with her when she died, has carried out her final instructions "to the letter." That included having Rev. Randy McCain, an openly gay minister from the Open Door Community Church in Sherwood, Ark., conduct the private service.
In the 1980s, the Bakkers "invented the moves" that the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other televangelists copied, says Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who studies evangelism. But unlike them, she says, the co-hosts of the PTL Club, short for Praise the Lord, "wanted to preach a positive gospel rather than a negative gospel."
The couple's optimistic message was eventually overshadowed when their opulent lifestyle and evangelical empire came tumbling down in scandal. Bakker admitted to an affair with a church secretary and went to prison for defrauding millions from their PTL television ministries. Tammy Faye was not charged, and the couple divorced in 1992. The next year she married Messner, who built the Bakkers' Heritage USA Christian theme park in South Carolina. He later spent time in prison for bankruptcy fraud.
Bakker, who now lives in Branson, Mo., and hosts a television ministry with his second wife, said in a statement that Messner "lived her life like the song she sang, If Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade.
Messner was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996. Her battle against its recurrence in her lungs was the subject of a 2005 cable TV documentary, Tammy Faye: Death Defying.
She sat for an interview with CNN's Larry King less than 48 hours before she died. Her 4-foot-11 frame was emaciated at 65 pounds, and she gasped for breath, but she still wore her trademark heavy makeup and black mascara. "I believe when I leave this earth, because I love the Lord, I'm going straight to heaven," she said.
Contributing: Associated Press