Photo via Tina Turner’s Facebook
Today, Wednesday, May 24, Tina Turner, the iconic American singer, passed away at the age of 83. She emerged from a challenging upbringing in a farming community and an abusive relationship to become one of the most celebrated recording artists in history. Her representative confirmed that she died peacefully at her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, following a prolonged illness – her Facebook page shared a statement in regard to her passing shortly after.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner,” the Facebook post reads. “With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow. Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music. All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly.”
Turner’s remarkable career began in the 1950s, coinciding with the early days of rock-and-roll, and she later became a prominent figure in the MTV era. Her music video for the chart-topping song “What’s Love Got to Do with It” showcased her distinctive ’80s style, featuring spiky blond hair, a cropped jean jacket, a mini skirt, and stiletto heels as she confidently strutted through the streets of New York City, remains iconic to this day. With her penchant for musical experimentation and straightforward ballads, Turner perfectly embodied the pop landscape of the era, which embraced electronically-produced sounds while rejecting the idealism of the hippie movement that preceded it.
Often referred to as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Turner achieved great success during that time, earning six out of her eight Grammy Awards during the decade. She scored multiple hits on the Top 40, including songs like “Typical Male,” “The Best,” “Private Dancer,” and “Better Be Good to Me.” Notably, her 1988 concert in Rio de Janeiro drew an astounding crowd of 180,000 people, making it one of the largest audiences ever for a single performer.
Having freed herself from an abusive marriage to guitarist Ike Turner, Tina candidly spoke about the physical and emotional abuse she endured during their musical and personal partnership in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite her painful experiences, she transformed her narrative into one of incredible triumph, as acknowledged by singer Janet Jackson in a Rolling Stone feature that ranked Turner as the 63rd greatest artist of all time. Jackson described her as an elegant powerhouse and an international sensation.
In 1985, Turner took to film via a role as the fierce leader of a post-apocalyptic outpost in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the third installment of the Mad Max film franchise, alongside Mel Gibson. Although many of Turner’s hit songs were written by others, her unique vocal abilities elevated them to new heights. Music critic Jon Pareles of The New York Times described her voice as a distinctive instrument with three tiers: a nasal low register, a yowling and cutting middle range, and a startlingly clear high register resembling a falsetto.
Born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, in Nutbush, a rural community in Tennessee, Turner immortalized her hometown in her 1973 song “Nutbush City Limits,” depicting it as a quiet, one-horse town. Her father worked as a farm overseer, and her mother left the family when Turner was 11 years old. As a teenager, she relocated to St. Louis to reunite with her mother.
At the age of 17, Turner caught the attention of Ike Turner, renowned for his song “Rocket 88,” often considered the first rock-and-roll record. She seized the microphone during one of his club shows in St. Louis in 1957, and the band leader eventually recorded a hit song, “A Fool In Love,” with her. He also bestowed upon her the stage name Tina Turner before they wed in Tijuana, Mexico.
Turner became the lead vocalist of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, where she showcased her powerful voice and rigorous dance routines. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, she collaborated with notable figures in rock music, including The Who and Phil Spector – she also graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967. After a tumultuous marriage, Turner left Ike Turner in nine years later, in 1976, following a violent incident during a car ride in Dallas. Their divorce was finalized in 1978. Both Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, acknowledged as one of the most formidable live acts in history. Ike Turner passed away in 2007.
Following her separation from Ike, Turner faced years of struggle in her quest to regain stardom. However, in 1980, she crossed paths with Roger Davies, an Australian music executive who became her manager for three decades. Under his guidance, Turner achieved her first solo no. 1 hit with “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and her 1984 album “Private Dancer” reached the top of the charts, becoming her most successful release. In total, Turner sold over 200 million records throughout her illustrious career.
In 1985, Turner met Erwin Bach, a German music executive who became her long-term partner. In 1988, she relocated to London, beginning a residency in Europe that spanned several decades. During the 1990s, she released two successful studio albums, particularly well-received in Europe, and recorded the theme song for the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye. Notably, in 2008 and 2009, Turner embarked on a triumphant world tour.
After retiring from show business, Turner faced various health challenges. In 2018, she endured a family tragedy when her eldest son, Craig, took his own life at the age of 59 in Los Angeles. Her younger son, Ronnie, passed away in December of last year.
Despite her retirement, Turner’s name continued to captivate audiences. The musical stage production TINA: The Tina Turner Musical, portraying the singer’s life story, achieved tremendous success in London’s West End in 2018 and subsequently on Broadway. It continues to run to this day. Additionally, in 2021, HBO released a documentary about Turner’s life titled Tina.
Tina Turner is survived by her partner Erwin Bach and two sons from her marriage to Ike Turner, whom she adopted.