Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock & Roll, dies at 83
Tina Turner, an utterly commanding singer who broke every rule about race, gender, and maturity, has died at the age of 83.
Bernard Doherty, Turner's manager, confirmed to EW that she died Tuesday after a long illness in her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland.
A statement confirming the singer's death was also posted to her official Instagram. "It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner," reads the caption. "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.
Morphing from a quintessentially American R&B star in the '60s and '70s to an international pop icon in the mid-'80s, Turner proved that while racism, sexism, and ageism most certainly persists, sometimes undeniable talent can transcend everything. In 1984 with her multiplatinum breakthrough Private Dancer, she entered an extended plateau of popularity in her mid-40s, when the mere mention of her name was inevitably followed by comments on the intensity of her voice, the superhuman energy she induced, and the sensual charisma she spewed like a dancing fountain. The magnitude of her powers became even more remarkable when she spoke out about the beatings inflicted from her ex-husband and former musical partner Ike Turner as reflected in the 1993 biopic named after her biggest hit, "What's Love Got to Do With It." Tina's contribution to raising consciousness about domestic abuse remains incalculable.
Stephane Ruet/Sygma/Getty Tina Turner in 1999
Born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, young Turner moved from relative to relative, ultimately landing in St. Louis, Missouri, where she worked as a nurse's aide after graduating. While only 17, she started singing for Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Written for Art Lassiter, who didn't show up for the session, "A Fool in Love" marked the debut of Ike & Tina Turner. Raw even by 1960 standards, it reached #2 R&B and #27 pop; a major accomplishment for a record that radiated undeniable blackness in an era of segregation. The pair's professional relationship turned personal, and in 1962 they married in Tijuana.
Other hits followed — "I Idolize You," "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," and "Poor Fool" — but by the mid-'60s, they shrank. In 1966, mega-producer Phil Spector signed the duo, yet paid Ike to stay out of the studio while he crafted his crowning achievement, "River Deep, Mountain High." A #3 UK hit, this splendiferous example of Spector's "Wall of Sound" only reached #88 in the U.S.
Thanks to her high-octane performance chops, the Turners achieved more consistent success as a sweat-inducing live act; a fact finally reflected in "Proud Mary." Starting – as Tina described in her indelible spoken intro – "nice and easy" but finishing "nice and rough," their definitive 1971 reinterpretation of Creedence Clearwater Revival's song snagged an overdue Grammy. Written by Tina about her own childhood, 1973's "Nutbush City Limits" scored just before the duo started splintering: In 1974, she released her atypically C&W solo debut, Tina Turns the Country On! The following year, she starred as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell's phantasmagoric film interpretation of the Who's Tommy. After a bloody beating, Tina fled and filed for divorce in 1976.
Bill Marino/Sygma/Getty Tina Turner
Although Tommy confirmed her as a quintessential rocker, she turned to cabaret and disco with dwindling dividends, but everything changed once David Bowie insisted Capitol Records sign her: Tina's 1983 cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" with UK synthpop trio Heaven 17 became her first major solo hit, which green-lighted the completion of Private Dancer in England with Dire Straits, Jeff Beck, Rupert Hine, Terry Britten, and other rock vets.
Buoyed by several music videos that received near-constant rotation at the peak of MTV's influence, Private Dancer ignited pop, R&B, rock, and club playlists for a full year: "What's Love Got to Do With It" topped Billboard's Hot 100 for three weeks, and won three Grammys, including Record of the Year. "Better Be Good to Me" and the iconic title track also helped the album sell over 20 million copies internationally.
This stratospheric success landed Turner a lead role opposite Mel Gibson in 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, as well as two tracks on its soundtrack: "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" climbed the charts as her Live Aid performance paired her with Mick Jagger and ex-Temptations singer David Ruffin, and the follow-up, "One of the Living," won her second Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy — an honor she'd win twice again. In 1986, she issued her autobiography I, Tina, as well as Break Every Rule, which yielded hits like "Typical Male" and "What You Get Is What You See." A Rio de Janeiro stop on her globe-crossing 1987-1988 tour – the most-attended one ever staged by a female artist – entered Tina in the Guinness Book of World Records for attracting over 180,000 fans.
Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Tina Turner in 1984
Despite snagging another Grammy, 1988's Tina Live in Europe album signaled a shift: From here on out, Turner's output almost always sold far better in Europe. Nevertheless, 1989's Foreign Affair yielded "The Best," another signature hit, and '93's What's Love Got to Do With It, which starred Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike Tuner, generated the last of her major US singles, "I Don't Wanna Fight." Turner then settled in Switzerland with her longtime romantic partner, German music exec Erwin Bach, whom she married in 2013 following her Swiss citizenship.
Overseas, the hits kept on coming, including "GoldenEye," the U2-penned 1995 James Bond theme. After touring behind 2008's best-of Tina! to celebrate her 50th year in music, Turner essentially retired: One exception was Beyond, a Swiss vocal group that recorded four albums from several religious perspectives. Turner was raised Baptist, but since the early '70s practiced Nichiren Shoshu Buddism: She credited its chant "Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō" as helping her through Ike-induced turmoil. Beyond the sexiness and strength she exuded through her songs of survival, Tina was a spiritual woman who understood her ultimately triumphant life served a larger purpose.
"After you've bought all your houses and your clothes, you want something bigger," she told Oprah Winfrey in 2005. "I want my gift to become a gift for others. We're caught in a stagnant belief system passed on to us from our parents and what's been given from the churches. I believe there's another truth. Dancing and singing is all good, but the ultimate gift is to change people's minds. What else is there?"
In 2018, Turner published her second memoir, Tina Turner: My Love Story, which delved deeper into her past as it also chronicled her health struggles and the joys of her marriage to Bach. "I felt an electrical charge the first time I saw Erwin," she told EW ahead of the book's release. "The funny thing is he felt it too. I never gave any thought to the words 'love at first sight' before. But it happened to me on that day, with that man. You know, sex wasn't important to me. I could live without it. But there was something about Erwin that made me want to get close to him. Childhood, never loved. Other men, never loved. My whole life, never really loved. I needed to feel that Erwin loved me. And if I had to make the first move, I was willing to do it!"
Later, speaking about her retirement, she said, "I have been working — really, really working — since I was a teenager. I was ready to retire long before I got sick. I wanted to spend time with Erwin and do the things that normal people do, like work in my garden, stay up late watching movies, and go food shopping. I've always had good timing. I didn't want people to come to a show and think that I used to be great. 'Leave the party before it's over,' I like to say."
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, a jukebox musical built around her life and music, opened in 2018 in London before heading to Broadway the following year. In our review, EW praised lead actress Adrienne Warren for honoring Turner's powerhouse vocals: "Her singing voice is a hall-of-fame instrument, smoky and sweet and seemingly effortless." Turner's tumultuous life and career was also explored in an 2021 HBO documentary, Tina, which featured interviews with Bassett, Winfrey, Bach, journalist Kurt Loder, playwright Katori Hall, and more.
Warren previously told EW about Turner showing up to support the show's Broadway debut: "When we brought the show to Broadway [from London], Tina Turner showed up with Oprah Winfrey on one side of her and Gail on the other. [Laughs] And it was the craziest... I know. But, they're besties. And I was terrified. And actually, I was so excited that she was in America for the first time, in a very long time. So, it was really, really exciting to see her finally get the love from her American fans that I think they wanted to give to her for so long. So, it was just so sweet to see her so happy in that moment."
In 2020, Turner's Private Dancer was one of 25 new titles entered into the National Recording Registry, which aims to preserve works of music for their "cultural, historical and aesthetic importance to the nation's recorded sound heritage." The following year, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist after having been first inducted in 1991 for her work with Ike Turner.
Turner lost her eldest son Craig to suicide in 2018 — "I miss him and I will be dealing with that every day of my life," she told EW — and in 2022 saw the death of her younger son, Ronnie. "Ronnie, you left the world far too early. In sorrow I close my eyes and think of you, my beloved son."
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