Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker ruled as king and queen of Christian televangelists — until their empire came crashing down.
There were ugly sexual revelations, including hush money doled out to a sultry church secretary. And financial revelations exposing the obscene sums the unholy rollers spent on furs, diamonds and luxury cars.
Then there were the criminal revelations. In 1989, Jim went to prison for defrauding the faithful of $ 158 million.
All the dirty little secrets are revealed in a new book, “PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire,” by history professor John Wigger.
Jim and Tammy Faye were legendary in the ‘80s as co-hosts of “The PTL Club,” a Christian talk show.
Tammy Faye was a caricature of feminine lures: Bleached blond hair, makeup applied with a trowel, and eyelashes that exploded from her face.
Jim was a charismatic preacher. Together they raised hundreds of millions for PTL (“Praise the Lord”), their vast television and amusement park empire.
Viewers donated by dialing 1-800-CALL-JIM.
The two started out in 1960 as small-time evangelical healers working the Bible Belt circuit. But Jim soon found his true calling in proselytizing hardcore prosperity.
Preaching that God had a “special math” for believers that didn’t rely on “facts,” Jim gained serious traction. In 1967, he struck the motherlode of fund-raising: The concept of a call-in Christian talk show.
The first version, “The 700 Club,” aired with Pat Robertson as co-host.
In 1974, Bakker started in own television station, then brilliantly launched his own satellite. “The PTL Club” evolved into a network carried on 1,300 cable systems with 12 million subscribers.
Bakker’s third breakthrough came with Heritage USA, the first of its kind Christian Disneyland, set on 2,300 acres in the rolling hills of South Carolina.
Its spectacular attractions included a 163-foot waterslide, a 14-foot high fiberglass moose, a 501-room luxury hotel and a massive indoor shopping complex.
Christian counseling services were available on request.
The theme park quickly became America’s third most popular attraction behind Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The difference was that Heritage USA enjoyed tax-exempt status.
But Bakker’s megalomaniacal ambitions for expansion turned the park into a money-suck, plunging PTL into one financial crisis after another.
None of that slowed the Bakkers’ epic spending on personal luxuries.
Their shopping sprees reflected insatiable greed. In 1984, after an exhaustive run through luxury stores in Manhattan, they added $ 24,500 in furs (including a full-length Blackglama) and $ 27,500 in jewelry (one item was a $ 6,000 diamond bracelet) to their homeowner’s insurance.
While in New York, the couple stayed at a suite in the Waldorf Astoria, complete with a fireplace and baby grand piano. Wherever they traveled, their hotel bills were astronomical.
Later that year, the couple chartered a Gulfstream for a $ 107,000 flight to Palm Springs. Jim’s feet no sooner touched the ground than he raced off to buy three luxury cars, including two antique Rolls-Royces, totaling $ 170,000.
They shared a secret suite at the Heritage Gold Hotel, with gold-plated bathroom fixtures and a 50-foot walk-in closet. Even the doghouse was air-conditioned.
The Bakkers owned several expansive and expensive homes — two in Palm Springs alone. PTL paid for an endless succession of maids and security guards. The latter also washed the cars nightly, cleaned the hamster cages and performed grocery runs.
Once, when the Bakkers needed their clothes in California, the church paid $ 100,000 to fly their wardrobes in by jet from North Carolina.
In fact, the church picked up the tab for almost everything. The Bakkers continued to collect hefty salaries, as well as bonuses, throughout the burgeoning financial crisis from 1984 to 1987.
The total take was close to $ 10 million in today’s dollars.
But it was sex, as much as money, that brought them to ruin. Jim and Tammy Faye, to all appearances the country’s most Christian couple, were in fact swimming in a cesspool of sin.
Austin Miles, a professional clown, later claimed he walked in on Jim Bakker and three younger males “playing with each other” in the sauna at the Heritage Village complex.
According to Miles, one of the men was stretched naked on a table while Bakker administered an intimate massage.
The clown beat a retreat, but not before Tammy Faye stormed inside. Pounding on the door of the steam room, she screamed at her husband to come out before collapsing in sobs.
The door stayed shut.
The stories of Bakker’s many male frolics would surface later. Meanwhile, an increasingly desperate Tammy Faye started throwing herself at men.
According to the book, she couldn’t keep her hands off her record producer Gary Paxton, best known for the novelty hits “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash.”
Tammy openly declared her love for him, but Paxton insisted nothing had happened when Jim repeatedly accused him. He was fired, regardless.
Tammy definitely got physical with Thurlow Spurr after he joined PTL as musical director in 1979. Jim confronted Spurr, who didn’t deny the affair.
Jim fired him, too. But he couldn’t dismiss the dirtiest secret of all.
Weeks before, he engaged in an ugly sexual encounter with a secretary from the Massapequa, L.I., church. Jessica Hahn was flown into Tampa, Fla., to meet the famed televangelist.
Hahn claims that he raped her, describing a nauseating scene in a hotel room. At first, Bakker pleaded for sex, but when Hahn refused, she says he forced her onto the bed.
According to Hahn, Bakker held her down for an hour, all the while repeated a twisted mantra: “By helping the shepherd, you’re helping the sheep.”
Hahn’s silence was later bought for $ 279,000 in church money, according to the book.
By 1987, Jimmy Swaggert, an Assemblies of God preacher who would later be defrocked in a sex scandal, was on the trail of the Hahn hush money. He had a hungry eye on the PTL ministry.
But it was Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, who won what he thought was the prize. Bakker surrendered the PTL to him just as the Hahn scandal broke.
The Bakkers were a mess. Weeks before, Tammy was rushed, close to death, into emergency detox. The bottles of prescription drugs she was downing half-filled a grocery-bag.
On the plane, Tammy became so delusional that she pulled on a coat and tried to open a door to step out. Sedating her took enough Valium “to kill a truck driver,” according to one of her doctors.
Soon afterward, her husband was indicted on 23 federal charges of wire and mail fraud and one count of conspiracy.
In order to keep Heritage USA afloat, Bakker had knowingly oversold $ 158 million worth of “lifetime memberships” entitling entitled buyers to a three-day annual stay at a Heritage hotel.
The money raised to build those accommodations had been diverted elsewhere. Bakker was accused of running a Ponzi scheme.
In 1989, Bakker he was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to 45 years in prison. The term was reduced to eight, and he was released in 1994.
Tammy Faye, divorced, had already found a new life as a batty but adored gay icon. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a documentary narrated by RuPaul, was a big hit at 2000 Sundance Film Festival.
She died of cancer at 65 in 2007.
Jim’s new ministry, Morningstar, does a booming business from the 700-acre tourist village he’s established outside of Branson, Mo., the mecca for has-been entertainers.
Jim now peddles doomsday predictions and survival gear to weather the coming apocalypse. The “Jim Bakker Show,” co-hosted with his new wife, Lori, seems to be bringing in the bucks.
He’s always been good at that.
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