Tina Turner, the American-born singer 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 ‘n’ 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. In that decade she landed a dozen songs in 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.
Actor Angela Bassett, who was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Turner in the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” said she was “humbled to have helped show her to the world.”
“She gave us her whole self,” Bassett said in a statement. “Tina Turner is a gift that will always be ‘simply the best.'”
Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones said he was saddened by Turner’s death, calling her “inspiring, warm, funny and generous.”
“She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her,” Jagger said.
Canadian singer Bryan Adams, who paired with Turner on the 1985 single “It’s Only Love,” said “the world just lost one hell of a powerhouse of a woman.”
U.S. President Joe Biden described Turner as a “once-in-a-generation talent” and said her “personal strength was remarkable.”
“Overcoming adversity, and even abuse, she built a career for the ages and a life and legacy that were entirely hers,” Biden said in a statement.
Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 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 discovered her when she was 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 issue two 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 pummeled her during a car ride and she struck back, according to her memoir. Their divorce was finalized in 1978.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted Ike and Tina Turner in 1991, calling them “one of the most formidable live acts in history.” Ike Turner died in 2007.
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 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 in which she sold 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. 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.
Tributes salute Tina Turner’s music and resilience
ACTOR ANGELA BASSETT, WHO PLAYED TURNER IN A 1993 MOVIE
“How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world? Through her courage in telling her story, her commitment to stay the course in her life, no matter the sacrifice, and her determination to carve out a space in rock and roll for herself and for others who look like her, Tina Turner showed others who lived in fear what a beautiful future filled with love, compassion, and freedom should look like.
“While we mourn the loss of this iconic voice and presence, she gave us more than we could have ever asked. She gave us her whole self. And Tina Turner is a gift that will always be ‘simply the best.'”
SINGER BRYAN ADAMS
“I’ll be forever grateful for you bringing me on tour with you, going in the studio together and being your friend. Thank you for being the inspiration to millions of people around the world for speaking your truth and giving us the gift of your voice.”
ROLLING STONES LEAD SINGER MICK JAGGER
“I’m so saddened by the passing of my wonderful friend Tina Turner. She was truly an enormously talented performer and singer. She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”
SINGER AND SONGWRITER JOHN FOGERTY
“So deeply sad to hear about Tina Turner’s passing … I loved her version of ‘Proud Mary’! It was different and fantastic. I was also so happy because she chose my song and it was her breakthrough record.”
U.S. PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
“Before she was the Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner was a farmer’s daughter in Tennessee. As a child, she sang in the church choir before becoming one of the most successful recording artists of all time.
In addition to being a once-in-a-generation talent that changed American music forever, Tina’s personal strength was remarkable. Overcoming adversity, and even abuse, she built a career for the ages and a life and legacy that were entirely hers.”
FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
“I loved Tina Turner and will never forget meeting her when she came to Little Rock for a concert after releasing Private Dancer in 1984. We met again on her 67th birthday in St. Petersburg, where she and Elton John sang for a charity event. She still had it – talent, style, energy and authenticity – a priceless gift to music lovers everywhere.”
SINGER MARIAH CAREY
“The words legendary, iconic, diva, and superstar are often overused and yet Tina Turner embodies them all and so many more – an incredible performer, musician and trailblazer. To me, she will always be a survivor and an inspiration to women everywhere. Her music will continue to inspire generations to come.”
BLONDIE LEAD SINGER DEBBIE HARRY
“A woman who started in rural Nutbush (Tennessee), cotton fields and worked her way to the very top. Tina was a great inspiration to me when I was starting out and remains so to this day.”
SINGER AND ACTOR JENNIFER HUDSON
“Tina Turner, we honor you! Your legacy will live forever. (You) showed us all what it means to have the grit and determination to never stop, no matter what life throws our way!”
SINGER AND ACTOR BETTE MIDLER
“She was an absolutely brilliant performer and inspiration to us all. May flights of angels sing her to her rest, but if I know Tina, she is singing lead.”
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