Tina Turner: Legendary Rock ’n’ Roll Singer Dies at 83


Tina Turner, the pioneering rock ’n’ roll star who became a pop behemoth in the 1980s, has died aged 83 after a long illness.

Her health had declined recently; she received a diagnosis of intestinal cancer in 2016 and underwent kidney transplantation in 2017.

Mick Jagger said that Turner’s high-kicking, energizing live performances served as inspiration for his stage character because of how she confirmed and accentuated Black women’s early role in rock’n’roll. After spending two decades making music with her controlling husband Ike Turner, she went it alone and, after a few false starts, with the release of the album Private Dancer, became one of the key pop idols of the 1980s. Three memoirs, a biography, a jukebox musical, and the acclaimed documentary film Tina all provided accounts of her life.

In a statement on Wednesday night, her publicist Bernard Doherty said: “Tina Turner, the ‘Queen of Rock’n Roll’ has died peacefully today at the age of 83 after a long illness in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model.”

In 2018, scholar Daphne A Brooks wrote for the Guardian: “Turner’s musical character has always been a charged combination of mystery as well as light, melancholy mixed with a ferocious vitality that often flirted with danger.”

Turner was up near Nutbush, Tennessee, where she recalls picking cotton with her family as a young child. Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939. As a teenager, she talked or rather, sang her way into Ike’s band in St. Louis after singing in the little town’s church choir. He had first turned her down until he overheard her take the stage during a Kings of Rhythm performance to sing BB King’s You Know I Love You.

Ike gave her the name Tina Turner after seeing her vocal prowess and registered the name as a trademark in case she left him and he wanted to replace her in his show. When Turner attempted to leave the group early on after getting a feel of his erratic nature, he beat her with a wooden shoe stretcher. He immediately turned nasty.

“My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his moneymaker,” Turner wrote in her 2018 biography My Love Story. “He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”

With the Ike and Tina Turner single A Fool in Love, which broke the US Top 30 and began a series of solid chart success, she made her recorded debut under the moniker in July 1960. However, it was their live performances that propelled them to fame. Due to their economic success, Ike aggressively traveled the Ike and Tina Turner Revue on the Chitlin’ Circuit, performing in front of crowds that included people of different races. Their first album to chart was Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show, which was released in 1964 by Warner Bros imprint Loma Records.

Several of the biggest names in rock courted the pair throughout the second half of the 1960s. They supported the Rolling Stones in the UK and then the US, and celebrities like David Bowie, Sly Stone, Cher, Elvis Presley, and Elton John visited their Las Vegas residency. Phil Spector produced the 1966 single River Deep – Mountain High.

They were a powerhouse on the charts and Grammy winners in the 1970s, but their run came to an end when Turner split up with Ike in 1976 because he had been abusive and disloyal on a regular basis. Baby, Get It On, from the 1975 movie adaptation of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, featured her as Acid Queen, a character with the same name as her second solo album, and was her final single with the group.

Turner only received two cars and the rights to her theatrical name as part of the divorce, which was finally settled in 1978. She claimed in the documentary Tina that “Ike fought a little bit because he knew what I would do with it.”

Turner, who had already released two solo records, continued to pursue a solo career, but it would take her until the release of her fifth album, 1984’s Private Dancer, for her to replace the previous image of the shimmying rock’n’roller with one of a powerful, mullet-sporting, leather-clad pop icon and avoid being prematurely relegated to the oldies circuit.

In the documentary Tina, she described Private Dancer as her debut. “I don’t consider it a comeback,” she said. “Tina had never arrived.”

Turner attributed the positive influence of Buddhism, particularly the practice of chanting, on her life in the 1980s. She co-starred with Mel Gibson in 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a film unrelated to music. Her 1986 global smash I, Tina, which was eventually made into the 1993 movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? starring Angela Bassett as Turner, was her debut book. She sang the GoldenEye theme song in 1995 for the James Bond movie.

While she will return to the stage in 2008 to perform with Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards and for a final tour to honor 50 years of her career, Turner declared her retirement in 2000, a year after releasing her final solo album, Twenty Four Seven.

That was conclusively the end. “I was just tired of singing and making everybody happy,” she told the New York Times in 2019. “That’s all I’d ever done in my life.”

Turner collaborated on the musical Tina with Phyllida Lloyd, which premiered in 2018 and won Laurence Olivier and Tony awards for its respective West End and Broadway runs. “This musical is not about my stardom,” Turner said of the production. “It is about the journey I took to get there. Each night I want audiences to take away from the theatre that you can turn poison into medicine.”

Turner often said she did not relate to the “invincible” persona that others put on her. “I don’t necessarily want to be a ‘strong’ person,” she told the New York Times. “I had a terrible life. I just kept going. You just keep going, and you hope that something will come.”

Turner became the first singer to have a UK Top 40 success in seven straight decades in 2020 thanks to a remix of her 1984 single What’s Love Got to Do With It? by the Norwegian producer Kygo. 30 years after Ike and Tina Turner’s entrance, she was given a solo induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.

Erwin Bach, a German music businessman, was Turner’s second spouse. After 27 years of dating, they got married in July 2013 and settled in Switzerland. Turner gave up her US citizenship in 2013 to become a Swiss citizen.

Craig Raymond Turner, her firstborn, passed away in July 2018. Turner stated last year that her other son Ronnie “left the world far too early” when he passed away at the age of 62. Ike Turner Jr. and Michael Turner, two of Ike Turner’s sons whom she adopted, are her surviving children.

Turner admitted to having some significant health issues in 2020, but stated her last 10 years had embodied her idealized picture of bliss.

“True and lasting happiness comes from having an unshakeable, hopeful spirit that can shine, no matter what,” she said. “That’s what I’ve achieved, and it is my greatest wish to help others become truly happy as well.”

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