One of the greatest voices in rock is no more. Tina Turner died today (May 24) at the age of 83 at her home in Switzerland. She had not been well for some time. Tina was diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) in 1978, something that was never really properly treated, damaging her kidneys. A small stroke–a consequence of the hypertension–happened in 2013 that left her unable to walk for short time. Homeopathic treatments didn’t work and only exacerbated her kidney woes. There was a diagnosis of intestinal cancer in 2016 and then quietly underwent a kidney transplant in April 2017 with the kidney coming from her husband, Erwin. Months of nausea and dizziness followed. There were times when it looked like her body was going to reject the kidney, requiring several hospitalizations. She had her own dialysis machine at home.
To say they don’t make ’em like Tina anymore is an understatement. You’re hearing her voice in your head right now, aren’t you?
After rising to fame with her husband Ike (a brute who abused her) the former Anna Mae Bullock, who grew up picking cotton in Nutbush, Mississippi, staked a claim for Black women in rock’n’roll and then all women. With her raspy voice, famous legs (insured for US$3.2 million), and sparkly stage costumes, she became a rock star first and then one of the defining cultural icons of the 1980s.
There was a biopic, three memoirs, a jukebox musical, and then Tina, a documentary film in 2021. Not only was she a rock and pop star, but her story of being able to escape an abusive relationship to reach stardom was an inspiration to millions.
Ike gave her the name “Tina Turner” after he enticed her to join his band. He then trademarked that name so that if she ever tried to leave, he could legally demand that she go back to being Anna Mae Bullock. They performed on the Chitin Circuit in the US South starting in the late 50s and began having some modest chart success in 1960 with a debut album.
When she finally did escape in 1976 (running from a Texas hotel room with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card), she gave Ike virtually everything in a 1978 divorce in exchange for her freedom and the right to continue to use her stage name.
There were four solo albums, none of which troubled the charts. But then she became a global superstar with her 1984 album, Private Dancer. It took five solo albums to get to this point–but it was a monster, selling more than 12 million copies worldwide. A 40-something woman, once considered washed up, became an MTV superstar.
How? The right songs. The right producer. And most of all, the right record label. John Carter, an exec at Capitol, saw something in Tina. He signed her (actually re-signed her; she’s been dropped but David Bowie, a major fan, helped her get back on the radar) and…well, you know the rest.
This, though, remained my favourite performance of hers.
She also had turns in movies. Her most famous role was as Auntie Entity, the badass ruler of Bartertown in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. My personal introduction to her was as the Acid Queen in the whacked-out Ken Russell film version of The Who’s Tommy in 1975. She scared the hell out of 13-year-old me.
And then there’s their classic cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary.”
Tina retired from performing in 2009. She’ss survived by her husband Erwin Bach (they married in 2013 after a long courtship) and three children. A son, Ronnie, died of colon cancer last year. Ike died in 2007.