By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Brett Vinovich
TAMMY FAYE BAKKER MESSNER PERCHES HERSELF on the edge of a brown velour sofa in the sitting area of her manager's eighth-floor Century City hotel room, yanks the neckline of her black nylon top forward, dips her nose into her bountiful cleavage and takes a deep sniff.
"Do I smell like hot dogs?" she wants to know.
Earlier in the afternoon, she'd spent a couple of hours serving 10-inch stretch chili dogs to unsuspecting customers at Pink's on La Brea Avenue, attracting camera crews from VH1, the Discovery Channel and a BBC documentary team. "She was really slinging the dogs," said one observer, who arrived to find the televangelism veteran and gay icon behind the counter, a baseball cap turned backward on her head. "Everyone in line was saying, like, 'What is she doing here?'" Of course, when anyone in the crowd lifted a camera, Tammy Faye immediately stopped working, cocked her head and struck a movie star pose, prompting one amateur photographer to note, "All those girls behind the counter wear more makeup than she does. Instead of sticking out, Tammy Faye just sort of blended in."
Tammy Faye blending in? In the mid-'80s, when she was first introduced to most of the secular world, this would have seemed impossible. Think about her regular nightly news appearances as the incessantly bawling, overly made-up wife of then-husband Jim Bakker, who destroyed both of their wildly successful Christian TV careers by trysting with ministry secretary Jessica Hahn. Not much later, he was convicted of wire fraud and spent five years in prison.
These days, Tammy Faye still weeps at the drop of a hat, but the passage of time has blunted the shock value of her appearance. Surpassed by Botox queens like Cher and Joan Rivers, whose frozen, incessantly tinkered-with faces are painful to look at, Tammy Faye and her excessive style -- the enormous, dangly earrings, the boulder-sized shoulder pads, the fringy dyed hair, the lips frosted pink and tattooed around the perimeter with lip liner -- are somehow reassuring. Even her most Technicolor cosmetic flourish, three layers of different-colored eye shadow on her infamous heavily mascaraed eyes, and the smudges of black eyeliner that give her the look of a perpetually astonished raccoon, don't seem that weird, only labor-intensive.
How long does it take to put her face on? Anywhere from five to 20 minutes, she insists. Get out of here! "Honey," she says, "after doing it as long as I have, it's down to a science." She claps her hands, cackles loudly and, making sure that I get her point, gives my leg a playful kick with the toe of her pointy sandal. "I am always camera-ready."
She's also 22 pounds thinner and counting, thanks to Slim-Fast, which she's eager to talk about. "For the first three weeks, I ate one meal a day and drank two Slim-Fasts -- always milk chocolate because I'm a chocoholic -- for the other meals. And it just came right off!" She delivers equally persuasive, unsolicited raps on the glories of L'Oréal Lash-Out mascara and E-6000, a super adhesive. Don't even get her started on Diet Coke, which she consumes in such volume that she now considers it a regenerative substance. "They say the body is made up of a certain amount of water. Well, mine is made out of Diet Coke. I am probably pickled in it and will live forever!"
She's never been offered an endorsement deal by any of the makers of her favorite products -- "Someone's really dumb," she says -- but, almost as if she's been in sales too long, she can't help hawking them to you, anyway. When she was a young girl, growing up poor in industrial Minnesota, she worked in every department at Woolworths except the candy section. ("I'm only 4'11" and I couldn't reach over the counter!") Substitute dime-store merchandise for God and $1,000 memberships in Heritage, USA (the erstwhile Christian theme park that she and her ex-husband started), and isn't it possible to draw a line from her first job to the profession that brought her notoriety?
"That's an interesting thought!" says Tammy Faye, then swiftly steers the subject to her growing roster of projects and job offers. There's We Are Blessed, a still-unsold cartoon show pilot voiced by herself and animated by Klasky-Csupo (Rugrats), and she was asked to duke it out with Sylvester Stallone's mother, Jackie, in a celebrity boxing match. (She passed.) A couple of deals for her own reality TV series have come her way, too. She wasn't keen on the first concept, which was obviously inspired by the success of The Osbournesand involved a camera crew taking up residence in her living room until Tammy Fayesized antics occurred.
"I felt that would be boring," she says, adding that she's doubtful about the entertainment value of watching her clean up pee-pee left by her two Yorkshire terriers, Muffins and Tuppens. "And just wait until they see me come out of my bedroom in my old pink pajamas and pink bathrobe a few times."