Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, Tina Turner passed away on May 24, 2023, at her home in Switzerland at age 83, but boy, did she leave a dash between her year of birth and year of death. News of the Nutbush, TN native’s passing stirred up fond memories of the leggy legend’s fiery stage performances and a swift outpouring of tributes from everyone from Barack Obama to Dolly Parton to Mick Jagger (whose stage moves she influenced).
The “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” singer had suffered through a famously abusive marriage, and multiple life-threatening illnesses including a stroke, intestinal cancer, and kidney failure. Further heartache came with the deaths of her older son, Craig, who died from an apparent suicide in 2018, and her youngest son, Ronnie, who died from complications of colon cancer in December 2022.
Despite all the tragedies and obstacles, Turner lived a life of triumph. Perhaps actress Angela Bassett summed it up best. Bassett, who earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Turner in 1993’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” said in a statement that reads: “How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world?”
To put that in further context, remember that how society reacted to domestic violence was much different when Ike was abusing Tina; her frank discussion of it helped move the needle. Barrett’s astonishing depiction of the moment Tina broke free of Ike gives just a taste of the guts it took.
Tina left the marriage asking for only one thing: her name. Then she began to build back her career, playing one low-rent gig after another until her massive popular comeback in 1984 with Private Dancer. After 20 years under his thumb, with him directing her every move, she proved she didn’t need Ike (and truthfully, never did).
Bassett noted, “Through her courage in telling her story, her commitment to stay the course, no matter the sacrifice, and her determination to carve out a space in rock and roll for herself and for others who look like her, Tina Turner showed those who lived in fear what a beautiful future filled with love, compassion, and freedom should look like.” She continued. “Her final words to me — for me — were ‘You never mimicked me. Instead, you reached deep into your soul, found your inner Tina, and showed her to the world.’ I shall hold these words close to my heart for the rest of my days. I am honored to have known Tina Turner.”
Selling more than 180 million albums, a recipient of 12 Grammy Awards, and three-plus decades of sold-out stadium tours are just part of the “Proud Mary” singer’s rich musical legacy.
Turner was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (for the second time) as a solo artist in 2021. She scored her first and only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her comeback single “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” at age 44, making her the oldest solo female artist to top the Hot 100 chart (ageism in the music industry was another barrier she kicked down with those powerful legs).
The singer also had three Grammy Hall of Fame awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She was the first woman and the first Black artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone in its second issue.
For the most part, Turner stayed out of the spotlight as she got older, officially retiring from the stage in 2009 after completing her 50th-anniversary tour. “I’ve done enough,” Turner announced to a crowd of 75,000 people at Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich that year. “I’ve been performing for 44 years. I really should hang up my dancing shoes.”
Tina Turner. She was simply the best.
Photo: Tina Turner, 2009 (Philip Spittle via Wikimedia Commons)