Tina Turner, unstoppable superstar whose hits included ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ dead at 83
Hillel Italie/The Associated Press | 5/25/2023, 6 p.m.
NEW YORK Tina Turner, the singer and stage performer who teamed with 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 Wednesday, May 24, 2023, after a long illness in her home 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 — she was born Anna Mae Bullock in a segregated Tennessee hospital and spent her later years on a 260,000 square foot estate on Lake Zurich — and overcame so much. Physically battered, emotionally devastated and financially ruined by her 20-year re- lationship 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 Mick Jagger to Beyoncé to Mariah Carey, Ms. Turner was one of the world’s most popular 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 1980s, 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 included a growling contralto that might smolder or explode, her bold smile and strong cheekbones, her palette of wigs and the muscular, quick-stepping legs she did not shy from showing off. She sold more than 150 mil- lion 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. 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, the singers. They toured constantly for years, in part because Ike was often short on money and unwilling to miss a concert. Tina Turner was forced to go on with bronchitis, with pneumonia, with a collapsed right lung.
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. Ms. Turner 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.
“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 Tina for their troubles. When he died, in 2007, a representative for his ex-wife said simply: “Tina is aware that Ike passed away.”
But 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.
Rock stars helped bring her back. Rod Stewart convinced her to sing “Hot Legs” with him on “Saturday Night Live” and Mick 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.
More popular in England at the time than in the U.S., she recorded a raspy version of “Let’s Stay Together” and by the end of 1983, the song was a hit throughout Europe and on the verge of breaking in the states. An A&R man at Capitol Records, John Carter, urged the label to sign her and make an album. Among the material presented to her was a reflective pop-reggae ballad initially dismissed by Ms. Turner as “wimpy.”
“I just thought it was some old pop song, and I didn’t like it,” she later said of “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”
Ms. Turner’s “Private Dancer” album came out in May 1984, sold more than 8 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.
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.
Associated Press Writer Hilary Fox contributed to this report.