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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2007, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
TV evangelist Messner dies at 65
Tammy Faye Messner in 2005 file pic
Messner was first diagnosed with cancer in 1996
Former US TV evangelist Tammy Faye Messner has died aged 65 near Kansas City after a long battle with cancer.

Messner became a household name in the US in the 1980s as Tammy Faye Bakker, the wife of preacher Jim Bakker.

Her tearful nationally-televised pleas for money and souls helped turn the Praise The Lord (PTL) network into a multi-million dollar business.

She divorced her husband after sex and corruption scandals led to PTL's collapse, but was not charged herself.

Messner had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996. More recently, the cancer spread to her lungs.

'Going straight to heaven'

On 8 May, she had posted a message on her website saying her weight had fallen to 32kg (65lb) and that doctors were no longer trying to treat her cancer.

"I believe when I leave this Earth because I love the Lord, am going straight to heaven," a gaunt Messner told CNN's Larry King in an interview on 19 July.

Asked by King if she had any regrets, she said: "I don't think about it, Larry, because it's a waste of good brain space."

Bakker said in a statement 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."

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1987 file shot
The Bakker's ministry earned millions of dollars

Born Tamara Faye LaValley in International Falls, Minnesota on 7 March 1942, Messner was the eldest of eight children.

She met Bakker at the North Central Bible College in Minneapolis and were married in 1961. They got their break on TV evangelist Pat Robertson's show, and set up PTL in 1974.

The ministry, at its peak, claimed more than 500,000 followers, the Associated Press (AP) reported. It boasted a hotel, a shopping mall, theme park and other facilities.

But Bakker left the church after admitting an affair in 1987, and was later imprisoned for five years on fraud charges. Messner divorced him in 1992.

She later married Christian construction magnate Roe Messner, who served two years in prison for fraud related to PTL's collapse. She is survived by her husband and two children from her marriage to Bakker.

Tammy Bakker drew audiences of 30 million

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