Tina Turner, Cross-Generational Giant of Song and Sometimes Screen, Dead at 83

The iconic singer’s manager said she had been suffering from a long illness.

AP/Hermann J. Knippertz, file
Tina Turner performs at Cologne, Germany, on Jan. 14, 2009. AP/Hermann J. Knippertz, file

If anyone wants to know what love’s got to do with it, they need simply ask the multitudes of fans of the inimitable American-born singer Tina Turner, who died Tuesday at her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, after a long illness. 

That is because news of the death of one of America’s most iconic and exemplary performers came as a shock that left generations of eager listeners of her signature full-throttled, sometimes raspy voice simply crestfallen.

The endlessly energetic singer and stage performer teamed with husband Ike Turner for a dynamic run of hit records and live shows in the 1960s and ’70s and survived her abusive marriage to triumph in middle age with chart-topping hits like “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Her videos for that song and other chart-toppers were a staple of MTV in that channel’s early heyday. 

“Tina Turner was an iconic figure on so many levels: as a gritty trailblazing voice of soul, as a survivor of abuse and outspoken champion against domestic violence, and as a woman who resurrected herself as the queen of soul over the age of 40,” the editor-in-chief of the website DivaGalsDaily, Delaina Dixon, said. “Her songs became anthems and she redefined for Black women — and so many others — what it meant to be ‘Simply the Best.’”

“Simply the Best” was a hit song from Turner’s 1989 album “Foreign Affair.” 

Turner, who became a Swiss citizen a decade ago, traveled a long way and in more ways than one. 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. An entertainer and a survivor, she was physically battered, emotionally devastated and financially ruined by her 20-year relationship with Ike Turner. Yet 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, 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 “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 and strong cheekbones, her palette of wigs, and the muscular, quick-stepping legs she did not shy from flaunting. 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.

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 made public 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 Turner was forced to perform with bronchitis, with pneumonia, and with a collapsed right lung.

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. 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. 

By the end of the 1970s, Turner’s career seemed finished. 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 Turner’s on-stage moves, sang “Honky Tonk Women” with her during the Stones’s 1981-82 tour. At a listening party for his 1983 album “Let’s Dance,” David Bowie told guests that Turner was his favorite female singer.

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.

Even with Ike, it was hard to mistake her for a romantic. Her voice was never “pretty,” and love songs were never her specialty, in part because she had little experience to draw from. She was born in Nutbush, Tennessee, in 1939 and would say she received “no love” from either her mother or father. 

Her film work included the iconic role of Auntie in 1985’s  “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” in which she co-starred opposite Mel Gibson. Her convincing portrayal of the overlord of a fictional post-apocalyptic Australian desert town and two hit songs for the film, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and “One of the Living,” cemented her status as a pop culture superstar of the 1980s.

She had two sons: Craig, with saxophonist Raymond Hill; and Ronald, with Ike Turner. (Craig Turner was found dead in 2018 of an apparent suicide). In a memoir published later in 2018, “Tina Turner: My Love Story,” she disclosed that she had received a kidney transplant from her second husband, a former EMI record executive, Erwin Bach.

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 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,” 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.’”

Tina Turner, international entertainment hero, was 83.

The New York Sun

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