Tina Turner, the unstoppable singer and stage performer who teamed with then-husband Ike Turner for a dynamic run of hit records and live shows in the 1960s and ‘70s and survived her horrifying marriage to triumph in middle age with the chart-topping “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” has died at 83.
Ms. Turner died Tuesday in her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, according to her manager. She became a Swiss citizen a decade ago.
“She was truly an enormously talented performer and singer,” tweeted Mick Jagger, whom Ms. Turner helped in shaping his own dynamic stage presence. “She was inspiring, warm, funny, and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”
Few stars traveled so far and overcame so much. She was born Anna Mae Bullock in a segregated Tennessee hospital and spent her latter years on a 260,000 square foot estate on Lake Zurich. Physically battered, emotionally devastated, and financially ruined by her 20-year relationship with Ike Turner, she became a superstar on her own in her 40s, at a time when most of her peers were on their way down, and remained a top concert draw for years after.
With admirers ranging from Beyoncé to Mick Jagger, Ms. Turner was one of the world’s most successful entertainers, known for a core of pop, rock, and rhythm and blues favorites: “Proud Mary,” “Nutbush City Limits,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the hits she had in the ‘80s, among them “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Her trademarks were her growling contralto, her bold smile, her palette of wigs, and the quick-stepping legs she did not shy from showing off. She sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 12 Grammys, was voted along with Ike into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 (and on her own in 2021), and was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2005, with Beyoncé and Oprah Winfrey among those praising her. Her life became the basis for a film, a Broadway musical, and an HBO documentary in 2021 that she called her public farewell.
Until she left her husband and revealed their back story, she was known as the voracious on-stage foil of the steady-going Ike, the leading lady of the “Ike and Tina Turner Revue.” Ike was billed first and ran the show, choosing the material, the arrangements, and the backing singers. They toured constantly for years, in part because Ike was often short on money and unwilling to miss a concert. Tina was forced to go on while battling illnesses.
Other times, the cause of her misfortunes was Ike himself.
As she recounted in her memoir, “I, Tina,” Ike began hitting her not long after they met, in the mid-1950s, and only grew 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 shut, then rape her. Before one show, he broke her jaw and she went on stage with her mouth full of blood.
Terrified both of being with Ike and of being without him, she credited her emerging Buddhist faith in the mid-1970s with giving her a sense of strength and self-worth and she finally left in early July 1976. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was scheduled to open a tour marking the country’s bicentennial when Tina snuck out of their Dallas hotel room, with just a Mobil credit card and 36 cents, while Ike slept. She hurried across a nearby highway, narrowly avoiding a speeding truck, and found another hotel to stay.
“I looked at him [Ike] and thought, ‘You just beat me for the last time, you sucker,’ ” she recalled in her memoir.
Ms. Turner was among the first celebrities to speak candidly about domestic abuse, becoming a heroine to battered women and a symbol of resilience to all. Ike Turner did not deny mistreating her, although he tried to blame Ms. Turner for their troubles. When he died, in 2007, a representative for his ex-wife said simply: “Tina is aware that Ike passed away.”
By the end of the 1970s, Ms. Turner’s career seemed finished. She was 40 years old, her first solo album had flopped and her live shows were mostly confined to the cabaret circuit. Desperate for work, and money, she even agreed to tour in South Africa when the country was widely boycotted because of 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 Mr. Jagger, who had openly borrowed some of Ms. Turner’s on-stage moves, sang “Honky Tonk Women” with her during the Stones’ 1981-82 tour. At a listening party for his 1983 album “Let’s Dance,” David Bowie told guests that Ms. Turner was his favorite female singer.
Ms. Turner’s “Private Dancer” album came out in May 1984, sold more than eight million copies, and featured several hit singles, including the title song and “Better Be Good To Me.” It won four Grammys, among them Record of the Year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” the song that came to define the clear-eyed image of her post-Ike years.
“People look at me now and think what a hot life I must have lived — ha!” she wrote in her memoir.
She was born in Nutbush, Tennessee, in 1939 and would say she received “no love” from either her mother or father. After her parents separated, she moved often around Tennessee and Missouri, living with various relatives. She was outgoing, loved to sing, and as a teenager would check out the blues clubs in St. Louis, where one of the top draws was Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm.
In rare moments of leniency from Ike, Tina did enjoy success on her own. She added an explosive lead vocal to Phil Spector’s titanic production of “River Deep, Mountain High.” She was also featured as the Acid Queen in the 1975 film version of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy.” More recent film work included “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and a cameo in “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
Ms. Turner had two sons: Craig, with saxophonist Raymond Hill; and Ronald, with Ike Turner. In a memoir published later in 2018, “Tina Turner: My Love Story,” she revealed that she had received a kidney transplant from her second husband, former EMI record executive Erwin Bach.
Ms. Turner’s life seemed an argument against marriage, but her life with Mr. Bach was a love story the younger Tina would not have believed possible. They met in the mid-1980s when she flew to Germany for a record promotion and he picked her up at the airport. He was more than a decade younger than her – “the prettiest face,” she said of him in the HBO documentary – and the attraction was mutual. She wed Mr. Bach in 2013, exchanging vows at a civil ceremony in Switzerland.
“It’s that happiness that people talk about,” Ms. Turner told the press at the time, “when you wish for nothing when you can finally take a deep breath and say, ‘Everything is good.’ ”
This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer Hilary Fox contributed to this report.