When Tammy Faye Bakker’s daughter, Tammy Sue, remembers her mom, she remembers her singing. Not the singing that the bubbly televangelist performed during her popular Christmas specials or on her dozens of albums. It’s the way she’d sing around the house.
“She sang differently when we were at home than when she did live or when being recorded,” Tammy Sue Bakker told TODAY. “I loved hearing that voice. It was almost like this 1940s gorgeous thing that she would do, and I would beg her (to) please record that. Sadly, she never did. There’s just so many wonderful things that I wish the world could know about her.”
Even though she wants to share these unknowns, Tammy Sue doesn’t really want to reflect with the media on the legacy of her mom, who died in 2007. It’s painful for her. Her mother once said, “I won’t go forward looking in the rearview mirror of my life,” and, well, like mother, like daughter.
But right now, with her family once again in the spotlight because of a new film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Tammy Sue feels she doesn’t have much of a choice.
“It’s been very challenging over my life because people have done films, books, articles, television shows, plays, musicals and all kinds of things about my family,” she shared. However, she said neither she nor her one brother has been consulted on these projects. Just last week when she turned on the TV to watch a rerun of “Modern Family,” a Tammy Faye Bakker reference came up.
“I’m a big girl and that’s par for the course, but that’s not really normal,” she said. “It’s strange to live that life.
“So when I first saw that they were going to do this film, frankly, I was not happy about it, only because I was like… here we go again.”
Based on a 2000 documentary of the same name, the new “Eyes of Tammy Faye” film starring Jessica Chastain tells the story of how Tammy Faye Bakker and Jim Bakker became two of the most powerful figures in the televangelical world before their downfall in 1987. Jim Bakker was convicted of fraud and served five years in prison — but despite never being criminally implicated herself, Tammy Faye suffered massive consequences for her husband’s crimes and for years was a social outcast and pariah.
On that, her daughter said, “She never really got the unconditional love she gave to so many, and that’s what makes me sad because she just wanted to love everyone.”
In tandem with the biopic, out Friday, Tammy Sue Bakker sat down with TODAY for her first interview in 17 years. Hesitant to open up, the 51-year-old graciously shared memories of her mother in hopes that people will better understand the woman behind the wigs and makeup who her daughter believes is still misunderstood to this day.
‘The makeup was a really big deal for people’
Tammy Sue Bakker was never given the opportunity to choose the stage for herself. “She was born on the set of a television show,” her parents often joked. The Bakkers were almost like a first iteration of the Kardashians, their personal lives put on display as its own form of entertainment.
“It’s funny because someone else has made that reference before,” Tammy Sue said of the Kardashians comparison. “We sent out Christmas cards to all the viewers, we were on my mom’s albums, on magazine covers, in books and all these things that we were doing. Our lives were very open and basically on display for the world to see.”
When Tammy Sue was born in 1970, the Bakkers were on their ascent to becoming the co-founders of the PTL network, which stood for Praise the Lord. At its height, it reached 20 million viewers across dozens of countries. They also built Heritage USA, a massive complex in South Carolina that featured a Christian-themed amusement park. As Tammy Sue grew up, she found comfort on the stage as a singer. In 1986, when she was just 16 years old, she released her debut Christian album, “16,” which was edgy and progressive for its time.