Tina Turner died after a long illness in her home near Zurich in Switzerland, her publicist confirms
Tina Turner, whose volcanic voice and dynamic dance moves earned her the Queen of Rock crown over the course of a 60-year career, has died at age 83.
The legendary singer died Wednesday, May 24 after a long illness at her home near Zurich in Switzerland, her publicist Bernard Doherty confirmed in a statement.
“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 Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” the statement read. “There will be a private funeral ceremony attended by close friends and family. Please respect the privacy of her family at this difficult time.”
Since 1994 the American-born singer had been living in Switzerland with her husband, German actor and music producer Erwin Bach, earning her Swiss citizenship in 2013. In recent years she battled a number of serious health problems, including a stroke, intestinal cancer and total kidney failure that required an organ transplant.
Boasting one of the longest careers in rock history, Turner scored Billboard Top 40 hits across four decades, earning her Grammys, a Kennedy Center Honor, and entry into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Most recently, Turner was the focal point of an HBO documentary on her life titled Tina.
Turner’s incendiary singing, glittery stage-wear and seemingly inexhaustible energy as the frontwoman for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue made her and her then-husband one of the most electrifying acts of the 1960s, serving up high octane covers of “Proud Mary,” “Come Together,” and “I Want to Take You Higher.”
Striking out on her own as a solo artist in the ’70s, Turner reinvented herself as a star of the MTV age, notching hits with “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “The Best,” and “Private Dancer” — becoming one of the highest-selling female artists on the planet in the process.
Turner’s early years were marred by her tumultuous marriage to musical partner Ike Turner, who subjected her to brutal acts of physical and psychological abuse. (He died in 2007.) Her survival and harrowing escape was dramatized in the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do with It starring Angela Bassett.
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Born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939 in the town of Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner began singing in a Baptist church choir. Her childhood was not a happy one; at the age of 11 her mother left home in an effort to flee her abusive husband. Two years later, when Turner was a teen, her father married another woman and left the state, leaving Turner and her sisters in the care of her grandmother.
Turner would meet her future husband Ike in the late 1950s, when he was performing on the St. Louis club circuit with his band, Kings of Rhythm. He was 25 years old, and Turner was just 17.
“Ike wasn’t conventionally handsome,” she wrote in her 2018 memoir My Love Story. “Actually, he wasn’t handsome at all — and he certainly wasn’t my type. I was used to high school boys who were clean-cut, athletic, and dressed in denim, so Ike’s processed hair, diamond ring, and skinny body looked old to me, even though he was only 25. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘God, he’s ugly.'”
Tina became a member of the band, and after a relationship with the sax player, Raymond Hill — which resulted in the birth of her first son, Craig, in 1958 — her association with Ike took a romantic turn. Even when she became pregnant with his child, business was never far from his mind. After the band’s first studio recording with Tina netted Ike $25,000, he sensed an opportunity that had nothing to do with love. “My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his money-maker,” Tina later wrote. “He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”
Around this time, Ike gave the future superstar her famous moniker — against her wishes. “Tina” was inspired by a character in a favorite television show. He also insisted she take his surname, implying both marriage and a certain degree of ownership. In fact, he even trademarked the name “Tina Turner.”
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Their son Ronnie was born in October 1960, and the couple made their union official two years later with a quickie ceremony in Tijuana. Ronnie died of complications of colon cancer in December at age 62.
Her marriage to Ike did little to stabilize their partnership, and the pressures of growing fame contributed to the tensions. “Our life together was a mockery of a ‘normal’ relationship: defined by abuse and fear, not love, or even affection,” she wrote.
That same year, Ike penned a new song for his band called “A Fool in Love.” When the intended singer failed to show up for the session, he asked Turner to sing a “guide” vocal for a demo. The result was deemed strong enough for release that July, earning them a Top 40 hit.
So began a string of early R&B smashes including “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (which earned them a Grammy), “I Idolize You” and “I Can’t Believe What You Say.” At the behest of Ike, they toured extensively when the hits started drying up, sometimes doing stretches of 90 dates at a time under the Ike & Tina Turner Revue banner.
They maintained a breakneck pace with frequent appearances on rock ‘n’ roll television shows like Hollywood a Go Go, American Bandstand and Shindig! and concert films like The Big T.N.T. Show.
Even without a hit, their raw energy attracted the attention of many famous and powerful fans, including superproducer Phil Spector, who signed them to his label. Their bombastic 1966 single “River Deep — Mountain High” fizzled in the lower regions of the charts, but it caught the attention of the Rolling Stones, who tapped the Revue to serve as their opening act on their tour that fall, paving their way to more high profile gigs and appearances on television.
By the dawn of the ’70s the married duo had begun issuing funked-up covers, including the Beatles’ “Come Together,” Sly Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” and famously, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” which soared to No. 4 in 1971 and would become one of Turner’s signature songs.
As their star status increased, so too did Ike’s abuse and controlling nature. “There was violence because he had this fear that I was going to leave him,” Turner said in 2018. Ironically, it was Ike who had extramarital affairs. “The other women, because I didn’t love him that way… the other women weren’t so bad, but it was the constant, constant ill-treatment.”
Following years of torment, Turner famously fled her husband in 1976 with nothing but a Mobil card and 36 cents in her pocket. She made her escape while the pair were on tour, staying at the Statler Hilton in Dallas, Texas. “I just took a chance,” she recalled in 2017. “I said, ‘The way out is through the door’ and while he was on one of his sleeping times, I just left the hotel, went out the kitchen way and down to the freeway.”
Despite the immense risk, Turner never looked back. “I walked out without anything and had to make it on my own for my family and everyone so I just went back to work for myself,” she remembered. “It was very difficult and dangerous because Ike was a violent person and at that point he was on drugs and very insecure. I had no money. I had no place to go.”
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From there, she rebuilt her career, playing solo gigs for the first time in decades, and going head to head with her soon-to-be ex-husband in the courts and she sought custody of her kids — and her name.
“I told the judge, ‘It’s only blood money. I want nothing,'” she wrote. “I did have one request. I wanted to continue using the name ‘Tina Turner,’ which Ike owned. I walked out of that courtroom with the name Tina Turner and my two Jaguars, one from Sammy Davis, Jr. and one from Ike, and that’s it. It seems so funny now — no money for food or rent, but two Jaguars! Considering my age, 39, my gender, my color, and the times we lived in, everything was strong winds against me.”
But she came back stronger than ever. The ’80s would see her score hits like “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Private Dancer,” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” and videos on a nascent MTV made her a star for a whole new generation — and transformed her into a global icon. Her 1984 solo disc Private Dancer earned four Grammy Awards and eventually sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Her success continued through the ’90s, during which time Turner released a pair of high-selling albums, sang the theme to the James Bond film GoldenEye, and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
But aside from music, it was also a time for reflection. She published her memoir, I, Tina, and saw her story come to life on the big screen with What’s Love Got to Do with It.
In 2008 she announced that her Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour would also be her last, and from that point on she largely retired from the music industry. She began to focus more on her private life, notably her relationship with German actor and music producer Erwin Bach. After decades together, the pair married in 2013.
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In 2018, she made one of her last public appearances, dropping in at the premiere of the London musical based on her life story, Tina, which details every turbulent moment of her 50-year singing career.
“I’ve been blessed with a wonderful career,” she wrote in the show’s program, “and after more than 50 years of performing I don’t need a musical, I don’t need another show. But I get so many cards and letters — I still can’t believe how people feel about me on stage and the legacy they say I left. People tell me I gave them hope. It meant so much to people I feel I have to pass it on, and I hope this show serves what the people need, as a reminder of my work.”
Most recently, she was interviewed in an HBO documentary, which was released in March 2021.
“I had an abusive life,” she said in the documentary, which was laced with exclusive footage and interviews with Turner and other important members of her life. “There’s no other way to tell the story. Buddhism was a way out.”
“I started really seeing that I had to make a change. Divorce, I got nothing. No money, no house. So I said, I’ll just take my name,” she added.