By HILLEL ITALY (national AP writer)
NEW YORK (AP) — Tina Turner, the unstoppable singer and performer who teamed up with her husband Ike Turner for a dynamic string of hit records and live shows in the 1960s and 1970s and survived her horrible marriage to triumphing in middle age with the chart-topping “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, died at 83.
Turner died on Wednesday after a long illness at her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, according to her manager. She became a Swiss citizen ten years ago.
Few stars have traveled this far – she was born Anna Mae Bullock in a separate hospital in Tennessee and spent her final years in a 260,000 square foot estate on Lake Zurich – and overcome so much. Physically battered, emotionally devastated and financially ruined by her 20-year relationship with Ike Turner, she became a single-handed superstar in her 40s, at a time when most of her peers were on the verge of falling out, and remained l one of the best gigs for years after.
“How can we say goodbye to a woman who took on her pain and trauma and used it as a way to help change the world?” Angela Bassett, who played Turner in the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” said in a statement.
“Through her courage to tell her story, her commitment to staying the course in her life no matter the sacrifice, and her determination to carve out a place in rock and roll for herself and others like her, Tina Turner showed others who lived in fear what a bright future filled with love, compassion and freedom should look like.
With admirers ranging from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé to Mariah Carey, the ‘Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was one of the world’s most popular artists, known for a core of pop, rock and rhythm and blues favorites : “Proud Mary”. “Nutbush City Limits”, “River Deep, Mountain High” and her 80s hits including “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and a cover from Al “Let’s stick together” from Green.
Her trademarks included a growling contralto that could smolder or explode, her bold smile and strong cheekbones, her palette of wigs, and the muscular, speedy legs she was not shy about showing off. She has sold over 150 million records worldwide, won 12 Grammys, was inducted with Ike into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 (and alone in 2021) and was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2005, with Beyoncé and Oprah. Winfrey among those who praise her. Her life became the basis for a movie, a Broadway musical and an HBO documentary in 2021 that she called her public farewell.
Until she left her husband and revealed their story, she was known as the voracious on-stage foil to Ike, the leading lady of the ‘Ike and Tina Turner Revue’. Ike was billed first and ran the show, choosing material, arrangements, backing vocals. They toured constantly for years, partly because Ike often ran out of money and didn’t want to miss a gig. Tina Turner was forced to continue with bronchitis, pneumonia, with a collapsed right lung.
Other times, the cause of his misfortunes was Ike himself.
As she recounted in her memoir, “I, Tina,” Ike started hitting her soon after they met, in the mid-1950s, and only got more vicious. Provoked by anything and anyone, he would throw hot coffee in her face, choke her or beat her until her eyes were swollen, then rape her. Before a show, he broke her jaw and she took to the stage with her mouth full of blood.
Terrified both of being with Ike and of lasting without him, she credited her burgeoning Buddhist faith in the mid-1970s with giving her a sense of strength and self-esteem and she eventually left early. July 1976. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was scheduled to open a tour marking the country’s bicentennial when Tina escaped from their Dallas hotel room, with just a Mobil credit card and 36 cents, while Ike was sleeping. She dashed onto a nearby highway, narrowly avoiding a speeding truck, and found another hotel.
“I looked at him (Ike) and thought, ‘You just beat me for the last time, you motherfucker,'” she recalled in her memoir.
Turner was among the first celebrities to speak out about domestic violence, becoming a hero for battered women and a symbol of resilience for all. Ike Turner didn’t deny abusing her, although he tried to blame Tina for their troubles. When he died in 2007, a rep for his ex-wife said simply, “Tina is aware that Ike is deceased.”
Little did Ike and Tina’s fans know during the couple’s prime. The Turners were a hot band for much of the 1960s and into the ’70s, moving from bluesy ballads such as “A Fool in Love” and “It’s Going to Work Out Fine” to flashy covers of “Proud Mary and “Come Together”. and other rock songs that brought them crossover success.
They opened for the Rolling Stones in 1966 and 1969, and were seen performing a lustful version of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” in the 1970 Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter.” Bassett and Laurence Fishburne gave Oscar-nominated performances in ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It,’ based on ‘I, Tina,’ but she says reliving her years with Ike was so painful she couldn’t come to terms to watch the movie.
Ike and Tina’s reworking of “Proud Mary,” originally a tight, mid-tempo hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival, helped define their sexual aura. Against the backdrop of funky guitar and Ike’s baritone crooner, Tina began with some spoken words about how some people wanted to hear “nice and easy” songs.
“But there’s one thing,” she warned, “you see, we never do anything nice and easy.
“We always do it right – and hard.”
But by the late 1970s, Turner’s career seemed over. She was 40 years old, her first solo album had failed and her concerts were mostly confined to the cabaret circuit. Desperate for work and money, she even agreed to tour South Africa when the country was widely boycotted due to its racist apartheid regime.
Rock stars helped bring her back. Rod Stewart convinced her to sing “Hot Legs” with him on “Saturday Night Live” and Jagger, who had openly borrowed some of Turner’s onstage moves, sang “Honky Tonk Women” with her on the 1981 tour- 82 of the Stones. At a listening party for his 1983 “Let’s Dance” album, David Bowie told guests that Turner was his favorite singer.
“She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous,” Jagger tweeted on Wednesday. “She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”
More popular in England at the time than in the United States, she recorded a raucous version of “Let’s Stay Together” at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London. By the end of 1983, “Let’s Stay Together” was a hit across Europe and on the verge of breaking into the United States. A Capitol Records A&R man, John Carter, urged the label to sign him up and make an album. Among the material featured was a thoughtful pop-reggae ballad co-written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle and initially dismissed by Tina as “wimpy”.
“I just thought it was an old pop song, and I didn’t like it,” she later said of “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”
Turner’s “Private Dancer” album was released in May 1984, sold over eight million copies and featured several hit singles, including the title track and “Better Be Good To Me”. He won four Grammys, including record of the year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” the song that came to define the lucid image of his post-Ike years.
“People look at me now and think what a hot life I must have lived – ha!” she wrote in her memoirs.
Even with Ike, it was hard to mistake her for a romantic. Her voice was never “pretty” and love songs were never her specialty, in part because she had little experience to draw on. She was born in Nutbush, Tennessee in 1939 and reportedly received “no love” from her mother or father. After her parents separated, she moved around Tennessee and Missouri often, living with various relatives. She was outgoing, loved to sing, and as a teenager frequented blues clubs in St. Louis, where one of the best draws was Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Tina didn’t care much about his appearance the first time she saw him, at Club Manhattan.
“Then he got on stage and took his guitar,” she wrote in her memoir. “He hit a note, and I thought, ‘Jesus, listen to this guy play.'”
Tina quickly made her move. During intermission of an Ike Turner show at nearby Club D’Lisa, Ike was alone on stage, playing a blues melody on the keyboards. Tina recognized the song, “You Know I Love You” by BB King, grabbed a microphone and sang. As Tina remembered, a stunned Ike shouted “Giirrlll!!” and demanded to know what else she could do. Despite her mother’s objections, she agreed to join his group. He changed his first name to Tina, inspired by comic book heroine Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and changed his surname when he married her in 1962.
In rare moments of leniency from Ike, Tina found success on her own. She added a roaring lead vocal to Phil Spector’s titanic production of “River Deep, Mountain High,” a flop in the United States when it was released in 1966, but a hit overseas and eventually a standard. She also starred as Acid Queen in the 1975 film version of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy.” More recent film work includes “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and an appearance in “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.
Turner had two sons: Craig, with saxophonist Raymond Hill; and Ronald, with Ike Turner. (Craig Turner was found dead in 2018 of an apparent suicide). In a memoir published later in 2018, “Tina Turner: My Love Story,” she revealed that she received a kidney transplant from her second husband, former EMI record executive Erwin Bach.
Turner’s life seemed like an argument against marriage, but his life with Bach was a love story young Tina wouldn’t have thought possible. They met in the mid-1980s, when she flew to Germany to promote a record and he picked her up from the airport. He was over a decade younger than her — “the prettiest face,” she said of him in the HBO documentary — and the attraction was mutual. She married Bach in 2013, exchanging their vows in a civil ceremony in Switzerland.
“It’s that happiness that people talk about,” Turner told the press at the time, “when you don’t wish for anything, when you can finally take a deep breath and say, ‘It’s okay’.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Turner died on Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Hilary Fox contributed to this report.