Tina Turner, resilient singer hailed as the ‘Queen of Rock and Roll,’ dies at 83
By Lisa Respers France
(CNN) — Tina Turner, the dynamic rock and soul singer who rose from humble beginnings and overcame a notoriously abusive marriage to become one of the most popular female artists of all time, has died, according to a post on her verified Facebook page. She was 83.
A riveting live performer, Turner had a string of R&B hits in the 1960s and early ’70s with her domineering and violent husband Ike Turner before she left him – fleeing their Dallas hotel room with 36 cents.
Her solo career floundered for years before she mounted a stunning comeback in 1984 with her multiplatinum album “Private Dancer” and its No. 1 hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Before long Turner was a global superstar, commanding MTV with her spiky wigs, short skirts and famously long legs strutting across concert stages in three-inch heels.
Her talent earned her acclaim as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” while her resiliency made her a hero to battered women everywhere. When she sang of pain and heartache in her husky, full-throated voice, every word rang true.
“For a long time I felt like I was stuck, with no way out of the unhealthy situation I was in,” she told Harvard Business Review in 2021. “But then I had a series of encounters with different people who encouraged me … And once I could see myself clearly, I began to change, opening the way to confidence and courage. It took a few years, but finally I was able to stand up for my life and start anew.”
‘He knew I had potential to be a star’
She was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 to poor sharecroppers near Nutbush, Tennessee, a rural community north of Memphis that she later made famous in her autobiographical song, “Nutbush City Limits.” She spent her early years living with her grandmother after her parents split.
“We weren’t in poverty. We had food on the table. We just didn’t have fancy things, like bicycles,” Turner said in a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“We were church people, so on Easter, we got all done up. I was very innocent and didn’t know much else. I knew the radio—B.B. King, country and western,” Turner said. “That’s about it. I didn’t know anything about being a star until the white people allowed us to come down and watch their television once a week.”
Following the death of their grandmother in the 1950s, Turner and her sister Ruby moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to live with their mother.
It was in St. Louis that she began to visit some of the local clubs and met musician Ike Turner, whose band, Kings of Rhythm, were popular in the area. He recruited her at age 17 to join his band as a singer.
“Ike had to come to the house and ask Ma if it was OK for me to sing with him. He knew I had the potential to be a star. We were close, like brother and sister,” Turner told Winfrey. “On his off nights, we’d drive around town, and he would tell me about his life, his dreams. He told me that when he was young, people found him unattractive. That really hurt him. I felt bad for him. I thought, ‘I’ll never hurt you, Ike.’ I meant it. He was so nice to me then, but I did see the other side of him.”
She began performing as Tina Turner and, in 1960, they formed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Their relationship evolved and their son Ronnie was born that same year. They married in 1962 and raised four children, including two children from Ike’s previous relationships and Tina’s son, Craig, also from a previous relationship.
A brutal union
As Turner has stated in her autobiography and in interviews, the physical abuse began almost from the start.
Thin-skinned and mercurial, Ike Turner would fly into fits of rage at the slightest provocation, she said, adding that he would hit her with whatever was available – coat hangers, telephones, a wooden shoe stretcher, his fists.
Often, she said, he’d even beat her before they went onstage.
“He’d hit me in the ribs, and then always try to give me a black eye. He wanted his abuse to be seen. That was the shameful part,” Turner told Winfrey.
Tina sang lead on most of their songs with the help of female backup singers, while her husband remained in the background, usually on guitar. Their musical partnership yielded a string of R&B hits, including “A Fool In Love,” “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary,” their 1971 cover of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, which reached No. 4 on the pop charts and won them a Grammy.
But offstage their marriage remained tumultuous, fueled in part by Ike Turner’s cocaine addiction.
“Another night we had a fight in the dressing room, and when I went onstage, my face was swollen,” she told Winfrey. “I think my nose was broken because blood was gushing into my mouth when I sang. Before, I’d been able to hide under makeup. But you can’t hide swelling.”
She stuck with Ike Turner for more than a decade, terrified of his temper and determined not to abandon him like others had.
But things came to a head in July 1976 when they flew to Dallas for a show. Turner wrote in her book that after a flight on the airplane, her husband began hitting her in a car on the way to their hotel. While he slept, she slipped out of their room, carrying only a Mobil credit card and 36 cents – “a quarter, a dime and a penny.”
She fled across a busy highway to a motel, where a sympathetic clerk saw her bloodied face and gave her a room. She then called a lawyer she knew, who arranged for a friend to pick her up and put her on an airplane back to Los Angeles.
“After my plane landed in California, my heart was in my ears. I was afraid Ike would be there because when I’d left once before, he tracked me down on a bus…” she told Oprah. “So when I got off that plane, I ran like mad. I said to myself, ‘If he’s here, I’m going to scream for the police. And I had one chant in my head: ‘I will die before I go back.’”
Her rise to international fame
By then a friend had introduced Turner to Buddhism and its practice of chanting, which she credited with giving her the strength to leave her husband. Raised Baptist, Turner embraced Buddhism whole-heartedly in middle age and said its teachings changed her life.
“I came to understand that any achievement stems from inner change,” she told Harvard Business Review. “The more I studied Buddhist principles, the deeper I dug within myself and cleaned up whatever attitudes or habits were standing in my way.”
She and Ike were formally divorced in 1978 after a long legal battle. She wrote in her book that he retained most of the earnings and assets they had earned as a couple, while she cared for their four sons. The divorce almost ruined her financially, and for the next few years Turner performed on TV specials and in Las Vegas as she struggled to rebuild her career.
Her comeback gained momentum after she hired Australian manager Roger Davies in 1979. Rod Stewart invited her to perform “Hot Legs” with him on “Saturday Night Live” two years later, and in 1983, her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” became a hit in England.
Then came “Private Dancer,” which spawned three Top 10 hits, won her three Grammys and eventually sold more than 10 million copies. Although she didn’t like the song at first and had to be talked into recording it, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” made her, at 44, the oldest female artist to score a No. 1 hit.
In 1985, at the peak of her powers, she sang on the all-star charity single “We Are the World,” performed with Mick Jagger at the historic Live Aid concerts and co-starred in Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic film “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” scoring another hit with “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” a song from the movie.
The next year Turner chronicled her early career and abusive marriage in a best-selling memoir, “I, Tina,” which was adapted into a hit 1993 film, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” starring Angela Bassett.
The hit albums, singles and sold-out concerts continued throughout the late ’80s and ‘90s, and Turner remained a popular live act well into the new millennium – especially in England.
Turner moved to Switzerland in the 1990s with German boyfriend Erwin Bach, an executive for her record company. He was 16 years younger. The pair married in 2013 after a 27-year romantic relationship and in 2022 bought a $76 million estate on Lake Zurich.
“I pay taxes here (in the US). My family is here,” she told CNN’s Larry King in 1997. “I left America because my (biggest) success was in another country and my boyfriend was in another country. Europe has been very supportive of my music.”
Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and she was inducted as a solo artist in 2021. “Tina,” a musical based on her life story, opened on Broadway in 2018.
Turner is preceded in death by her two sons, Craig, who died in 2018, and Ronnie, in 2022.
“Some of the happiest moments in my life were the birth of my beautiful baby boys, Craig and Ronnie, and marrying my partner and soul mate, Erwin Bach,” she told NBC’s Today Show in 2021.
Professionally, she said, her happiest moments were performing live.
“One of my early career goals was to become the first Black woman to fill stadiums around the world,” she told NBC. “At the time, it seemed impossible. But I never gave up, and I’m so happy I made that dream come true.
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