American singer Tina Turner, who left a hardscrabble farming community and abusive relationship to become one of the top recording artists of all time, died on Wednesday at the age of 83.
She died peacefully after a long illness in her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, her representative said.
Turner began her career in the 1950s during the early years of rock and roll and evolved into an MTV phenomenon.
In the video for her chart-topping song “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, in which she called love a “second-hand emotion,” Turner epitomized 1980s style as she strutted through New York City streets with her spiky blond hair, wearing a cropped jean jacket, mini skirt, and stiletto heels.
With her taste for musical experimentation and bluntly-worded ballads, Turner gelled perfectly with a 1980s pop landscape in which music fans valued electronically-produced sounds and scorned hippie-era idealism.
Sometimes nicknamed the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Turner won six of her eight Grammy Awards in the 1980s. The decade saw her land a dozen songs on the Top 40, including “Typical Male”, “The Best”, “Private Dancer”, and “Better Be Good to Me”. Her 1988 show in Rio de Janeiro drew 180,000 people, which remains one of the largest concert audiences for any single performer.
By then, Turner had been free from her marriage to guitarist Ike Turner for a decade.
The superstar was forthcoming about the abuse she suffered from her former husband during their marital and musical partnership in the 1960s and 1970s. She described bruised eyes, busted lips, a broken jaw, and other injuries that repeatedly sent her to the emergency room.
“Tina’s story is not one of victimhood but one of incredible triumph,” singer Janet Jackson wrote about Turner, in a Rolling Stone issue that placed Turner at No. 63 on a list of the top 100 artists of all time.
“She’s transformed herself into an international sensation – an elegant powerhouse,” Jackson said.
In 1985, Turner gave a fictional turn to her reputation as a survivor. She played the ruthless leader of an outpost in a nuclear wasteland, acting opposite Mel Gibson in the third installment in the Mad Max franchise, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”.
Most of Turner’s hit songs were written by others, but she enlivened them with a voice that New York Times music critic Jon Pareles called “one of the more peculiar instruments in pop.”
“It’s three-tiered, with a nasal low register, a yowling, cutting middle range and a high register so startlingly clear it sounds like a falsetto,” Pareles wrote in a 1987 concert review.
She was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in the rural Tennessee community of Nutbush, which she described in her 1973 song “Nutbush City Limits” as a “quiet little old community, a one-horse town.”
Her father worked as an overseer on a farm and her mother left the family when the singer was 11 years old, according to the singer’s 2018 memoir “My Love Story”. As a teenager, she moved to St. Louis to rejoin her mom.
Ike Turner, whose 1951 song “Rocket 88” has often been called the first rock and roll record, discovered her at age 17 when she grabbed the mic to sing at his club show in St. Louis in 1957.
The band leader later recorded a hit song, “A Fool In Love”, with his protégé and gave her the stage name Tina Turner, before the two married in Tijuana, Mexico.
Tina employed her strong voice and strenuously rehearsed dance routines as lead vocalist in an ensemble called the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. She collaborated with members of rock royalty, including The Who and Phil Spector, in the 1960s and 1970s and appeared on the cover of two issues of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967.
Ike and Tina Turner bounced between record labels, owing much of their commercial success to a relentless touring schedule. Their biggest hit was a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”.
Turner left her husband one night in 1976 on a tour stop in Dallas, after he pummelled her during a car ride and she struck back, according to her memoir. Their divorce was finalized in 1978.
In spite of that, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted Ike alongside Tina Turner in 1991, calling them “one of the most formidable live acts in history”. Ike Turner died in 2007.
Back on top
After leaving her husband, Turner spent years struggling to regain the limelight, releasing solo albums and singles that flopped and gigging at corporate conferences.
In 1980, she met a new manager Roger Davies, an Australian music executive who went on to manage her for three decades. That led to a solo no.1, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, and then in 1984 her album “Private Dancer” landed her at the top of the charts.
“Private Dancer” went on to become Turner’s biggest album, the capstone of a career that saw her sell more than 200 million records in total.
In 1985 Turner met German music executive Erwin Bach who became her long-term partner and in 1988 she moved to London, beginning a decades-long residency in Europe. She released two studio albums in the 1990s that sold well, especially in Europe, recorded the theme song for 1995 Bond movie “GoldenEye”, and staged a successful world tour in 2008 and 2009.
After that, she retired from show business. She married Bach, relinquishing her U.S. citizenship and becoming a citizen of Switzerland.
She battled a number of health problems after retiring and in 2018 she faced a family tragedy, when her oldest son, Craig, took his life at age 59 in Los Angeles. Her younger son Ronnie died in December 2022.
Her name continues to draw audiences years after her retirement. The musical stage show “TINA: The Tina Turner Musical”, with Adrienne Warren initially acting and singing the star’s life story, was a hit first in London’s West End in 2018, and later on Broadway, and is still running. And in 2021 HBO released a documentary about her life, “Tina”.
She is survived by Bach and two sons of Ike’s that she adopted.