Jim Bakker was originally born as James Orson Bakker in Muskegon, Michigan on January 2, 1940. By his own admission he lived a rather wild life as a youth but at some point he decided to turn things around and become a minister. In 1960, whild studying for the ministry, he attended a revival meeting conducted by Oral Roberts and there became aware of the relationship between selling religion and traditional show business.
Ordained in 1964, that same year Bakker began working with Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network with his wife, Tammy Fae. The two developed their own daily children's show, "Come On Over," which was an immediate success. Bakker seemed to have a natural instinct for appealing to an audience and it even seems to have been his idea to get Robertson to change his signature "700 Club" show from a nightly telethon to a talk/variety program.
This success and closeness to Robertson was good for Bakker's career, but it also fueled jealously among others at the Christian Broadcasting Network. In 1972 the Bakkers decided to try and make a career on their own; as a going away present some staffers at CBN decided to trash the Bakkers' sets and destroying the puppets used in the kids' shows. This seems to have left Jim with a permanent sense of impending persecution.
At first they formed Trinity Broadcasting and, with Paul Crouch, they created the daily talk show "Praise the Lord." This relationship didn't last quite a year and in the "divorce," Crouch would keep Trinity Broadcasting while the Bakkers kept the PTL initials - although they now stated that it meant "People That Love." His new PTL Club began on January 13, 1974 as a "Tonight Show" style program like he convinced Pat Robertson to use with his "700 Club" show.
Within just two years it was carried on 70 commercial stations and 20 cable services. At the height of their ministry, Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker were watched by about 13.5 millions viewers across the country. They also owned Heritage USA, a Christian-themed retreat and gospel park of 2,300 acres which grossed nearly $130 million dollars annually.
In 1980 Jim Bakker had a one-night stand in a motel room with Jessica Hahn, an event which would bring down his ministry when it came to light in 1987 (along with Tammy Fae's off-and-on dependency on drugs). On March 19, 1987 he resigned his post at PTL because of it and in May of that year he was defrocked by the Assemblies of God church.
On December 5, 1988 he was charged with having illegally diverted millions of dollars from the PTL ministry for his own personal use. It was revealed that the Bakkers owned a 10,226-square-foot condo in Florida (which he called a "parsonage" with $60,000 in gold fixtures, not to mention the his-and-hers Rolls Royces. As a result of what he did, the National Religious Broadcasters adopted a new code of ethics defining proper moral and financial standards.
In October of 1989 Jim Bakker was convicted on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy - his sentence was 45 years, unusually long for such a case. On appeal the sentence was reduced to 18 years in August 1991 and the following year he and Tammy Fae divorced; she then proceed to marry his best friend, Roe Messner. On July 1, 1994 Jim Bakker was moved to a halfway house and in January of 1995, he was released from prison.
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