I first saw the diminutive preacher's wife in 1985, after I moved to small-town Pine Bluff, Ark., to start my newspaper career. At noon, I'd drive home for lunch to watch Tammy Faye and her televangelist husband, Jim Bakker, on their Praise the Lord Network. It was as irresistible as rubbernecking past an eight-car pileup.
With her tragicomic life -- heavy mascara, on-screen crying, those big wigs! -- she was a ready-made reality TV star and gay diva, the new roles she adopted after Jim was convicted on federal fraud charges in 1989 and sent to prison. Indeed, Sparky and I saw her sing on stage at the Castro Theatre in a 2001 traveling show with her co-star, over-the-top film director John Waters. "I refuse to label people," she said in the 2000 documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the New York Times said today, reporting her death Friday night from cancer, at 65. "We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt, and God didn’t make any junk."
[Photos: top row, far left, in 1987; bottom row, from left: box cover art for Eyes of Tammy Faye; in a fierce blond wig in 2005; on TV again this year, after her cancer returned; bottom inset: an undated TV appearance]