The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Tina Turner

Since Tina Turner first stepped into the flood lights of stardom, her life has been a roller coaster that has taken her to the highest highs and the lowest lows. She came from difficult circumstances, which only got worse when Ike Turner set his sights on Tina. He got her started in the entertainment industry, but he also brought a lot of pain into her life. 

Tina eventually left him, but even once she escaped her husband it seems things kept going wrong for her. Despite an incredible career spanning decades filled with hit after classic hit, one of the greatest artists of a generation continued to suffer all kinds of problems. After suffering from a long illness, she passed away on May 24, 2023. She was 83.

Tina Turner had a difficult childhood

As a little girl growing up in Nutbush, Tennessee, Anna Mae Bullock, as it reads on the singer's birth certificate, was the child of sharecroppers, Floyd and Zelma Bullock.

When Tina was 10-years-old, her mother fled the constant fights with her husband, left her family and her home, in search of a better life for herself, according to an interview Tina did with Rolling Stone. Tina's dad eventually split as well, forcing her to have to grow up quickly. During this time, she and her older sister Alline were raised by their grandmother, and when she died they made their way to St. Louis, where her estranged mother was living. These were the beginnings of hard times for the little girl who would grow to become one of the best-selling recording artists in the world.

While living in St. Louis, Tina and her sister would frequent R&B clubs in the area, although she was just a teenager at the time. It was during a night out at Club Manhattan that she met the man who would put a permanent bruise on her life, Ike Turner. 

She had her sister to blame for meeting Ike

A lot of things could take blame for Tina and Ike Turner's paths crossing for the first time. A full moon. A curse. Perhaps a black cat walked in front of her. But as her poor luck would have it, her own sister Alline was the one responsible for them meeting. Alline was a barmaid at a popular R&B club in St. Louis, where Ike Turner's band, Kings of Rhythm would regularly perform. One night, while Tina was there watching the band, the drummer put a mic in front of her and she started to join in. Later, Ike ran over saying, "Girl, I didn't know you could sing!"

In a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone, Tina said that everyone was happy for her that night because they all knew her sister, and had heard stories from her about Tina wanting to be a singer. And from that night on, she was. 

Ike started giving her clothes and jewelry to wear for performances. Already doing his best to mold her into what he wanted. Tina, on the other hand, didn't want anything to do with him at first. "I thought he was terribly ugly," she said to Rolling Stone. 

Ike Turner changed her name to Tina so he could own her

Tina wasn't always Tina. Anna Mae Bullock was her name at birth, but once she started regularly singing for Ike Turner, he decided that wasn't flashy enough. While recording his first demo, which heavily featured Tina, he decided they needed to come up with a name, and that's when the Ike and Tina Turner Revue came to be. 

In a 2013 interview with Oprah, Tina said that Ike was smart in changing her name because then he would essentially own her. And he made a point of attaching his name to hers for future recordings, as the Ike and Tina Revue, because he'd had experiences in the past where he produced people to the point of fame, only to have them get record deals on their own and leave. He wanted to do all that he could to hitch a ride on her star, and he'd go to drastic measures in order to do it.

Tina Turner was forced to go to a brothel on her wedding night

In Tina Turner's memoir, "My Love Story," published in 2018, which was the follow-up to 1986's, "I, Tina," she opened up about her ill-fated marriage to Ike Turner in 1962. According to Tina, she accompanied Ike to Tijuana, Mexico, for a quickie wedding at the age of 22. A far cry from her ideal wedding scenario, she went along with his plans in an effort to placate him and avoid further abuse. Following the ceremony, the couple spent their first few hours as newlyweds attending a live sex show at a brothel. That was decidedly not where she wanted to be, for obvious reasons. Tina described her wedding night as being a miserable experience that left her on the verge of tears.

"The experience was so disturbing that I suppressed it, scratched it out, and created a different scenario, a fantasy of romantic elopement," she said in an interview with The Daily Mail

She kept the perverse details of her marriage a secret for many years out of sheer embarrassment. 

Ike Turner beat Tina with a shoe stretcher

In a 2013 interview with Oprah, Tina Turner described the first time Ike Turner ever beat her. According to Turner, she had expressed concerns about tying her name to his as a musical partner to a colleague of his, and when word got back to Ike about it, he told Tina that he wanted to speak with her. He started out by questioning what Tina was trying to "do to him," and then picked up a wooden shoe stretcher and beat her across the head with it. After the beating, Ike told Tina to get into bed, and then had sex with her, which left her thinking, "You have really gotten yourself into something."

And the abuse didn't stop there. In Tina's memoir, "My Love Story," she alleged that Ike Turner was merciless in his beatings, going so far as to throw hot coffee in her face, resulting in third-degree burns, and even breaking her jaw at one point. 

She lost all hope while married to Ike

In her 2018 memoir, "My Love Story" Tina Turner shockingly revealed that she was at such a loss during her marriage to Ike, and so morbidly depressed, that she actually attempted suicide at one point.

Tina went to the doctor and claimed she was having trouble sleeping, so he would prescribe her pills for it. That night, she took 50 of them, with the intent to end her suffering with Ike, and her troubled life as a whole. She described her attempt as being far more than a classic "cry for help," and that she truly wanted to die. She went on to say in her memoir that she was unhappy when she woke up but walked away from the experience believing it was a sign that she was meant to be alive. She never attempted suicide again.

Her husband Ike, as would be expected based on his previous behavior, didn't offer any words of consolation. When Tina woke up in the hospital after recovering from the overdose, Ike told her, "You should die." 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

All hell broke loose when she filed for divorce from Ike

In 1976, Tina Turner fled Ike Turner with nothing more than 36 cents and a Mobil gas card in her pocket. According to a 2019 profile by The New York Times, the singer revealed that she was swollen from beatings, in debt, and didn't even take her wigs — she just up and left. Entertainment Weekly records she stopped in the first safe place she found, a Dallas Ramada Inn, and pled with the manager there to give her a room, which he did. 

Ike and Tina were in the midst of touring when she finally got up the courage to leave him, and although she was relieved to finally be free, it wasn't free and easy at first. A good number of promoters tried to sue to recoup expenses and ticket sales, and Ike himself retaliated. According to her memoir, "My Love Story," Tina said that once she filed for divorce Ike would send his "stooges" to intimidate her. One night, according to Tina, they went so far as to shoot bullets into the house she had relocated to. She would get so scared that she'd sleep in the closet some nights.

Tina Turner lost her son tragically

Prior to Tina Turner marrying Ike, she dated Raymond Hill, the saxophonist for Ike's band Kings of Rhythm. Tina got pregnant and decided to keep the child, even though she knew her relationship with Raymond wasn't going anywhere. Their son, Craig, would later be adopted by Ike after he and Tina married in 1962. But People reports in 2018, 59-year-old Craig Turner was found dead in his Studio City, California, due to what the Medical Examiner's office ruled was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

In an interview with BBC News, Tina said as far as she knew he had been happy at the time of his death, both professionally, working for a real estate company, and romantically. She revealed that Craig had just started dating someone he really seemed to care about, and had told her that he'd never met a woman he felt that way about before. Tina went on to say that she has no idea what "pulled him down," but that thinking back on their last few conversations, he did exhibit slight changes that she didn't think to worry about until after his suicide was discovered.

Tina gathered with close family and friends to scatter her son's ashes into the California coast. In a heartbreaking tweet sent by Tina at 3 a.m. on July 27, 2018, she said, "He will always be my baby."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Ike Turner had zero remorse about beating Tina

In a 1985 Spin Magazine feature, Ike Turner was flippant at best when asked to respond to the long-running story that he'd beaten Tina during their marriage: "It's years ago that I had a temper. I don't regret nothing I've ever done, absolutely nothing," Ike said. "Yeah, I hit her, but I didn't hit her more than the average guy beats his wife."

Ike let his true personality reveal itself many more times during the Spin interview by bragging that he was personally responsible for "making" Tina into a sex symbol by styling her that way, and that she was right to think he was sleeping around on her, because he definitely was. 

When Ike Turner died in 2007 of what the San Diego medical examiner's office ruled as being a cocaine overdose, the NY Post ran his death announcement with the horrific headline "Ike 'Beats' Tina to Death." In response to his passing, a representative for Tina issued the statement: "Tina hasn't had any contact with Ike in more than 30 years. No further comment will be made."

She once had a nasty feud with Elton John

In Elton John's autobiography, "Me," published in 2019, he spills the details of a feud between he and Tina Turner dating back to 1997. Apparently, the two had been planning a joint tour, but that all went up in flames when Tina (according to Elton) called him on the phone to berate him about his piano playing, his clothes, and any number of other grievances. "You wear too much Versace, and it makes you look fat," Tina allegedly said.  

He went on to dish that during rehearsals for the tour that would never be, she was rude to his band, and to him, accusing him personally of playing her classic hit "Proud Mary" incorrectly. To this, (again, according to Elton) he told her to "stick her f*****g song up her a**e" and stormed off. 

As unlikely as all this sounds, and as much as one would hate to think of Tina behaving this way to anyone, other sources such as the New York Post backed up the feud. Apparently Elton and Tina had it out during another rehearsal, this time for VH1's "Divas Live '99." This particular rift was also caused by Tina taking issue with Elton's piano playing.

Tina Turner gave up performing in 2009

In 2009, Tina Turner toured the world on her "Tina! 50th Anniversary" tour, ending with a final date at Sheffield Arena on May 5, 2009, after which she retired from performing. The final song played that night was "Be Tender With Me Baby," off of her album, "Foreign Affair," which came out in 1989. The tour was her first tour in eight years, and is said to have grossed $130 million. 

During an interview with Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2 Tina said, "We had the greatest show, it was really wonderful. But the next day [I] took a deep breath and said 'This is it, I'm not going back for anything.'"

She went on to tell Norton that she'd been singing since her 20s, right up until she was 70, with no personal life to speak of besides performing. She was tired of singing and dancing, and just wanted to be at home and be "normal."

Her new husband gave her a kidney

In 2013, Tina Turner married again, this time to Erwin Bach, a German music executive. The knew each other for a long time prior to getting married, having originally met in 1985 a record label party in London. In 1994, they moved together to Switzerland, and Tina eventually applied to become a Swiss citizen, giving up her American passport. 

As her bad luck would have it, People reports Tina suffered a stroke just three weeks after their marriage, which rendered her unable to walk. She got through that, learning how to walk all over again, only to learn in 2016 that she had intestinal cancer. Turning down standard medical treatments in favor of homeopathic remedies turned out to be a bad choice, and eventually caused Tina to be looking at total kidney failure. 

In desperate need of a kidney replacement, as a matter of life or death, her new husband stepped in as a donor. The transplant took place in 2017 and was mostly a success, but Turner suffered from "dizziness, forgetfulness, anxiety, and the occasional bout of insane diarrhea" as a result of her body trying to reject the organ.

Did Tina Turner ever forgive Ike for what he did to her?

In a 2019 profile by The New York Times, Tina said she wasn't sure if she could ever forgive all that Ike ever did to her, but that he's dead, so she doesn't have to worry about him any more. That's a sentiment that many thought she'd reconsidered when "Tina" the musical debuted in London in 2018, and she walked on stage during the curtain call to tell the actor portraying her abusive ex-husband, "I forgive you." 

And still, regardless of her firmness on the subject, she has fluctuated her forgiveness in the recent past. In a 2018 interview with People, Tina said that as "an old person" she does forgive him, but that Ike was the type of person you could never forgive and let back in. She went on to say in that same interview that "it's all gone, all forgotten," but that she wonders if she's holding something in. One would think that would have to be the case, after all of the years of hell that man put her through.