Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939 in a village in Tennessee called Nutbush. Her family lived in a 2-room sharecroppers’ shack.
When she was 10, Tina’s mother left the family, and her father left two years later. She was shuffled around from relative to relative and felt she didn’t belong anywhere.
As a pre-teen she was employed as a domestic worker for a white family. At 16 she went to live with her sister and mother in St. Louis, Missouri. After high school Tina worked as a nurse’s aid at a hospital.
She soon met Ike Turner, who was a popular musician in St. Louis, the leader of the Kings of Rhythm Band. She began singing with his band, and soon became its featured performer. What started out as a platonic relationship changed into something else through Ike’s force. When Tina rejected him he beat her. She thought: “You have really gotten yourself into something.”
Many of he words that I quote from Tina Turner are from her autobiography: I, Tina.
“After I gave birth to our son he insisted that I sing two days later for an engagement in Oakland. I bled a lot when I hit the high notes that night.
“It was constant hard work: if we weren’t on stage we were on the road to the next show. If we weren’t on the road we were in the studio; in every city no matter where we were, he’d find a studio to work at. If we weren’t recording we were rehearsing, running down songs, and working out steps. It was nothing to drive 700 miles from one show to the next, Ike sitting in the backseat with his guitar and us singing and practicing new tunes all the way; it never stopped.
“Out of nowhere he would leap up from a couch and walk right up to you and pow! and you’d go: what did I do? What’s wrong? And he’d hit me again. It was insane. It got to be that I always had a black eye and a busted lip. He would beat me with shoes and shoe trees. Then he would have sex with me; it was torture. I always had a cut on my head somewhere, always had bruises, and later I’d be on stage trying to sing through these cuts and swollen lips.
“One night Ike said do you want to marry me? I said yeah because if you said no to Ike you were just going to get beat up. I knew that I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to be another one of the five hundred women he had around him, but I was scared. Sometimes I’d see him fooling around with one of the Ikettes or picking up women from the audience, sending me home early. He started renting party rooms at the hotels we stayed at just for him and the band and the women they’d bring back from the show. I was never allowed in there. Later on, the party rooms became party suites. I was jealous, but I couldn’t say anything to Ike because you never knew what he’d do.”
Ike’s business manager, Ann Cain said: “One time in Dallas I saw him stick a lit cigarette up her nose and he would beat her with clothes hangers for no reason. One night I could hear him beating her up in their dressing room and I went in the room just as the fight ended. Tina was covered in blood and Ike had fractured her ribs but Tina stayed because of the children.”
Rhonda Graham was the group’s manager and later managed Tina when she started out on her own. She said “You lived in fear; you wanted to get out but you were afraid to, just like Tina, and if somebody did leave, Ike would always track them down.” Tina wrote “I knew I needed something to help me deal with what my life had become, to help me find the way out but I knew that drugs weren’t it.” One of the Ikettes said “She taught me how to be a woman and how to carry myself as a lady, always told me you can’t work and party too, and she lived by that, never drank never smoked always went to bed after every show. She was so strong.”
Tina wrote: “When Ann Cain became his mistress Ike set her up in a separate room at our house. I was trapped in the sadistic little cult, totally ashamed and totally without hope. Ike never let me have money; once I asked him for $5 a week just as an allowance and he had said no. The first time I left him I borrowed some money from the Ikettes and my sister and I got on a bus to St Louis to go back to my mother. Well Ike tracked down the bus. I had to get off the bus and go back with him and boy I remember that was the first time I got it with the wire hangers. It was like a horror movie.
“After he began abusing cocaine that made him worse. Everything came quicker: getting mad, the fighting, the impatience; it got so you were so scared to say a word to him never knowing how he would react. If I thought it was bad before, the cocaine started making him evil.
“One night he threw boiling hot coffee in my face; he said I wasn’t singing the way he wanted. When the coffee hit me it felt like ice and then it started burning and I started screaming. I grabbed my neck where most of it had hit and the skin just peeled right off. I had 3rd degree burns on my face. That scared Ike and you know what he did? He started beating me. My left eye pretty much stayed black and my nose was always swollen. It got so if I happened to roll away from him in bed at night– because he always had to lie in the crook of my arm– and he woke up and noticed, he would start punching me in my sleep. It was like living in hell’s domain.”
“I tried leaving him a few more times but he always found me brought me back and beat me. When we were on the road he would always have his mistress, Ann Thomas, in a room right next to ours. One time he got out of our bed, walked through the doors connecting the two rooms, didn’t even bother to close them and got in bed with her, had sex and then came back to bed with me. When I found out that she was pregnant by Ike, I lost all feeling for him as my husband.” Tina was becoming a familiar battered face at the local hospital. Nathan Schulsinger, an emergency room nurse at a nearby hospital remembers Tina well. “She would come in pretty bad shape all beat up and bruised face, swollen bloody noses, hematoma on the eyes all puffed out and black.” Tina wrote: “It got to the point where I was ready to die. Ike was beating me with phones, with shoes, with the hangers, choking me, punching me. One time right before a show he punched me in the face and broke my jaw and I had to go on and sing anyway with the blood just gushing in my mouth. I felt like I could not take anymore.” Tina went to her doctor and got a prescription for 50 valium pills; she took all 50 of them. She was rushed to the hospital and her life was saved. “As soon as I got out of the hospital Ike made me go right back to work; he forced me; I went on stage trying to sing and hurting so bad. And when I came off I was coughing and throwing up; I didn’t even make it back to the dressing room. I was standing in the hallway all sick and choking and he came up and said ‘It serves you right. You want to die? Then die.’”
In Tina’s words: “I was really seeking a change and I knew that it had to come from the inside out, that I had to understand myself and accept myself before anything else could be accomplished.”
After years of abuse she desperately needed an change escape from her misery. Then in 1971 she found solace when she was introduced her to Buddhism and chanting. “I found a way to deal without without being so frustrated.” While chanting gave Tina a feeling of inner peace and tranquility it frightened Ike. This is the chant she does: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the Law of the universe, the Law of cause and effect.
Tina continues: “After I was introduced to the chanting by a new secretary Ike had hired, I set up an altar in an empty room we had, and when Ike was out I would do the chant and read the prayer book book. I could feel myself becoming stronger becoming less and less afraid. Then Ike discovered the altar and he blew up and forced me to get rid of it because it scared him a lot. It really scared him for some reason. I thought he was going to faint so I had to get rid of it but that didn’t stop me from chanting whenever I could. Now I could feel the power deep inside me stirring up after all these years. And I would think about Ike’s face and how funny it was to finally see him scared, to know at last that he wasn’t all powerful, and that I could be set free. That’s when I really started chanting.”
Tina was chanting more than ever, growing stronger and coming into her own. On the verge of age 36 she felt that a massive transition was at hand, an end to all the old things and the beginning of the new. All the years of fear had left her finally fearless.
“I knew I was going somewhere. By now my determination was outweighing my fear of this man. What did I have to lose anymore? By 1976 we had our last fight. I fought back I didn’t care what he did because I was flying. I knew I was gone; that’s when I left him for good. I’m gone and I’m not going back was the attitude.”
When Tina left Ike, she only had 36 cents and a gas station credit card with her. In her words: “I moved from place to place for 2 months working my way at each one housekeeping and cleaning. I moved junk stored stuff away, put out the trash, cleaned the cupboards, washed dishes and scrubbed stoves, because that was the only way I could repay these people. I didn’t have any money so I paid my rent by cleaning for them and organizing their closets. I finally had my freedom; god how I dreamed about it for 16 years. My women friends were into the rhythm of chanting. I was chanting up to four hours every day. The chant brings you into harmony with the hum of the universe, that kind of subtle buzz at the center of all being. My friend Anna Maria had a Buddhist altar, so I stayed indoors all day and just chanted and chanted building up my spirit for the trials I knew still lay ahead.”
Ike Next Ike sent all four of the children to live with Tina. She continues: “One night all the windows of Rhonda’s house had been blown out with a shotgun. Another night all the windows on my car had been blown out and the car belonging to my son’s girlfriend was set on fire.”
To haggle with him over the terms of the divorce, she knew would be to remain tied to the man for as long as he could manage to stall and stymie her. Thus her only ultimate non-negotiable demand, she informed her lawyer, was her freedom. She told him that she wanted to walk away from everything because her life was more important.
“What was it like when I walked out and left Ike? Yeah, I was afraid but sometimes you’ve got to let everything go–purge yourself. I did that. I had nothing, but I had my freedom.”
Because Tina walked out of the marriage during a concert tour, she was legally responsible for the $500,000 in debts incurred to the concert promoters of the canceled tour and a heavy IRS lien.
The Ike and Tina Turner name was now mud with promoters and as a solo act Tina was an unknown commodity. At the age of nearly 37 she found herself starting over at the bottom of the business.
“I knew I had talent but what I didn’t have was the backing to get me back into work. I said I don’t have this yet but I’m going to get it. Buddhism changed my old patterns of thought; it taught me to be a positive thinker and helped me stop saying what I can’t do and what I don’t have and start saying what I am going to do.
“I never gave in to alcohol, never gave into drugs not even to smoking. I am very proud of how I came up. The whole thing is about earning your way and you don’t really get there until you earn it; that’s the real truth.”
In 1988 Tina made the Guinness World Record when she performed in front of the largest paying audience to see a solo performer. 184,000 fans in Rio de Janeiro. And in 2000 Guinness World Records announced that she had sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in music history.
Well into her 50s, Tina was paid 10 million dollars to wear and endorse Hanes pantyhose. Her amazing youthful appearance has been the envy of many.
Tina Turner lived in Europe for almost three decades. In 2013, Tina married the German music executive, Erwin Bach, after a 27 year romantic partnership. He was 16 years her junior. That same year she gave up her American citizenship and was issued a Swiss passport. She divided her time between her homes in the mountains of Switzerland and her villa on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. It has breathtaking views of the French Riviera, a spectacular pool and all the comforts one could imagine.
Mike Wallace: “You feel like you deserve all this?” Tina: “I deserve more! HAHAHA!” And on the 2nd floor, a Buddhist altar. Tina Turner credits Buddhism for giving her the strength she needed to get through her rough times and she continues to chant every day. Tina wrote: “The real power behind whatever success I have now was something I found within myself—something that’s in all of us, just waiting to be discovered.”
At age 73 she became the oldest person in the world to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. “If I look in the mirror in the morning and don’t like what I see I don’t accept it’s because I’m an old woman. I do whatever I can at the moment to bring myself back to life: perhaps a facial mask, a massage, sauna, whatever I can do naturally to return the glow to my face. As long as you’re alive why not keep living as beautifully as you can.”
And these words of Tina’s are particularly revealing: “If I want something I go for it and really push until I get it, and I don’t give up.”
In 2013 she had a stroke. Then in 2016 she had intestinal cancer and kidney failure. She received a kidney transplant from her husband. However, her body rejected the new kidney. “‘And I said yes, but darling you’re young and I am already old. I don’t mind.’ In Buddhism you’re taught that you live when you die. It’s something that’s accepted. And so after Irwin said that, I said ‘OK darling if you’re willing to give up a kidney, then fine.’”
In 2018 her son Craig took his own life. “I think Craig was lonely. That’s what I think really got him more than anything else. I have pictures al all around of him smiling and I think I’m sensing that he’s in a good place. I really do.” In December of 2022 her son, Ronnie died of colon cancer.
In her book, Happiness Becomes You, Tina wrote “I was never shaken, at least not for long. I mustered all my resilience and I know that my ability to smoothly navigate the healing process came from my spiritual training. Throughout many hospital visits and many surgeries I kept this empowering message in mind from Nichiren, the 13th century religious reformer and philosopher. ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is like the roar of a lion. What illness can therefore be an obstacle?’ Remembering this call to courage I summoned my inner lion and roared. I roared and roared and kept roaring until I overcame every health challenge just like I’d overcome every challenge that came before.”
In 2019 the very successful musical, Tina, about her life opened in England, Germany and on Broadway. When she turned 80 in 2019 she had this to say: “Yes, I am 80. What did I think, how did I think I would be at 80? How is this? Oh! Well, I look great. Ha Ha Ha Ha! I feel good. I’ve gone through very serious sicknesses that I am overcoming. So it’s like having a second chance of life. I am happy to be an 80 year old woman. I have everything. When I sit at the lake Zürich in the house that I have, I am so serene, no problems. I had a very hard life but I didn’t put blame on anything or anyone. I got through it. I lived through it with no blame and I’m a happy person.” Gayle King: “Here’s to you! You earned it.” Turner: “Cheers!”
After a long illness, Tina Turner died in 2023 at her home in Switzerland at 83.