RIP Tina Turner: An indomitable rock icon who spoke up against domestic abuse

The eight-time Grammy winner lit up the stage from the 1960s — and rose to superstardom after escaping her violent marriage, making her popular music's ultimate survivor

By Web Desk and Agencies

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AP File
AP File

Published: Thu 25 May 2023, 12:31 PM

The story of Tina Turner, hailed as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll who won over a legion of fans and left an indelible mark in music history, is not only about how a raw talent went on to become a captivating legend and scaled the pinnacle of showbiz success. Of course it's that — and a bit more. Most of that bit more is about her strength and courage that kept her going in the face of obstacles and made her life shine through the darkness she had to endure.

“I had a terrible life,” Turner, who died in Switzerland on Thursday at age 83, told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. “I just kept going. You just keep going, and you hope that something will come.”

In 1986, her bestselling autobiography "I, Tina" revealed explosive details about domestic abuse during her marriage to Ike Turner.

"I was insanely afraid of that man," she told People magazine years before her autobiography, according to the BBC.

Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock into a poor Tennessee farming family in November 1939, had developed an early love of singing at her church choir.

Her passion for music led her to Ike, a rhythm and blues group musician, when she was just 17. She would later join his band Kings of Rhythm; it was Ike who changed her name to Tina Turner in 1960. Over the next 15 years, the couple will have 25 records on the charts, according to news agency AFP.

In 1962, they married in Tijuana, Mexico. Turner fled Ike in 1976, dashing across a highway to escape during a concert tour. Her divorce was finalised in 1978, and she was left with nothing but her stage name.

In the People magazine interview of 1981, Turner described being "beaten with a shoe stretcher while she was pregnant" and also "spoke about Ike throwing scalding coffee at her, and of being brutalised with a coat hanger", according to the BBC. The torment was such that she tried to take her own life.

Ike, who died in 2001, always denied his ex-wife's claims that he abused her, and expressed frustration that he had been demonised in the media, the BBC article said.

“There was violence, because he had this fear that I was going to leave him,” Turner told the Sunday Times in a 2018 interview, according to Page 6.

The abuse was documented in the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, in which Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne played Turner and Ike, respectively, the Page 6 article added.

In her interviews, Turner told the media that she "felt obligated" to stay in the marriage as she was afraid. She said she felt she was living a "life of death" in which she did not exist.

"But I survived it. And when I walked out, I walked. And I didn't look back," she said, according to the BBC article cited above.

Dr Lenore E Walker, director of the US-based Domestic Violence Institute, which supports to domestic violence victims, told the BBC that Turner's decision to speak out helped give credence to other women daring to talk about abuse.

"When Tina Turner spoke out about her life, it brought awareness to the fact that domestic violence was everywhere," she told the BBC.

The indomitable Turner, whom the AFP news agency described as the ultimate survivor of popular music, would go on to win eight Grammy awards in a stunning comeback after escaping her violent marriage.

She struck crossover gold with her 1984 album "Private Dancer", whose Grammy-winning smash single "What's Love Got to Do With It" propelled her to superstardom at age 44.

Four years later, she set the record for largest paying attendance of a performance by a solo artist when her Rio concert crowd topped 180,000.

As a Black woman who embraced rock over 1950s doo-wop and 1960s Motown, Turner was a double outsider. But she wrote — and then rewrote — the rule book for women in the genre.

"A Black woman owning the stage all by herself: that's the dream right there," singer and rapper Lizzo said of Turner.

Turner sold more than 100 million records worldwide, according to Billboard, and paved the way for performers such as Janet Jackson, Madonna and Beyonce.

"I never in my life saw a woman so powerful, so fearless, so fabulous," Beyonce told Turner from the Kennedy Center stage in a 2005 Tina tribute.

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