Or… I’d like to think that Tina is somewhere incredible now, anyway. She certainly lived in a beautiful, idyllic, paradise like part of Switzerland off of Lake Zurich. A couple of years ago, Bill and I visited Kusnacht, Switzerland, where Tina’s home was located, but we were there because Bill wanted to visit Carl Jung’s home and museum, which is also in Kusnacht.
Last night, just after dinner, Bill blurted out the headline that Tina Turner had died. I wasn’t surprised by the news. She was 83 years old, and had suffered a host of serious health problems at the end of her life. She was also predeceased by two of her sons, Craig and Ronnie. Ronnie passed away just six months ago, which I’m sure was hard for Tina to bear. But, of course, I am only speculating, and I did read that Tina was somewhat estranged from her sons in later years. In any case, as sad as it is for the public to lose a legendary superstar like Tina Turner, I also suspect that the end was probably a relief for her. In spite of her incredible career and worldwide fame, Tina did not have an easy life.
My heart goes out to Tina’s two surviving sons, Ike Jr. and Michael, and her husband, Erwin Bach, who famously donated a kidney to Tina when she went into kidney failure. They had a very long love affair with each other, having started their relationship in the 1980s and married in 2013. That was also the year that Tina gave up her U.S. passport and became a Swiss citizen. I don’t know what, exactly, drew Tina to Switzerland, but if I were to guess, I’d say it’s probably because it’s a very serene place with lots of natural beauty and security. It’s a far cry from Tina’s beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, where Tina was born on November 26, 1939 as Anna Mae Bullock.
Tina Turner’s family of origin was very poor, and she was the youngest of three daughters. Her father was an overseer of sharecroppers, and she grew up helping her family pick cotton. When Tina was eleven years old, her mother, Zelma, ran off without any warning, supposedly to escape an abusive relationship with Tina’s father, Floyd Bullock. According to a passage on Tina’s Wikipedia page:
She stated in her autobiography I, Tina that her parents had not loved her and she wasn’t wanted. Zelma had planned to leave Floyd but stayed once she became pregnant. “She was a very young woman who didn’t want another kid,” Turner recalled.
I have basic knowledge of how that feels, although I do think my parents love(d) me, in their own way. Tina was able to turn that fundamental rejection into incredible success. Imagine, being a tiny child who knows her parents didn’t want her… and then growing up to be such a renowned phenom whose death the world mourns. It just goes to show you that there is endless potential in most people. Tina went through many hardships, but she was also blessed with extraordinary talent, drive, creativity, and quite a lot of luck.
Still, it amazes me when I think of Tina’s humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, picking cotton with her family, enduring years of separation from her parents, living with her very religious grandparents, and finding the gift of song in their Baptist church. Then, years later, she met Ike Turner, who propelled her to fame, but used and abused her until she found the courage to leave him. In the years between leaving Ike and breaking out as a rock star, Tina did have to pay some dues in Las Vegas hotels… and perhaps most embarrassingly, on an episode of The Brady Bunch Hour. Still, she always gave it her all!
I will never forget the first time I heard Tina’s remake of the Al Green classic, “Let’s Stay Together. I was maybe 11 years old, and had never heard Tina’s hits with Ike Turner. I don’t think I even knew their version of “Proud Mary”, nor was I even exposed to Al Green’s song. To be honest, my first reaction to Tina’s “Let’s Stay Together” wasn’t very favorable. At that time of my life, I didn’t have an appreciation for unique voices. I didn’t like listening to Bob Dylan, either– even though he is an incredible artist and songwriter. I remember thinking Tina had a terrible singing voice!
But then, the next year, the title song on Private Dancer came out on the radio… Suddenly, I understood what the fuss was all about. I remember that album so well, as I was right in the middle of puberty when it was a hit. I’d see her videos, enchanted by her big, bushy, wild hair (wig), her mini skirts, leather bustiers, high heels and bright red lips. I was shocked to find out she was less than two years younger than my mother! I liked her other songs just as much or even more, and then I became a real fan. Maybe I wasn’t as big of a fan of hers as others were. I never got to see her in concert. But her unusual sound made me want to know more about her.
In 1993, when I was in college, my friend Chris worked at a video store. He got a screener of the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. I loved that movie! I’ve seen it a bunch of times over the past thirty years. I never get tired of it, or the wonderful soundtrack with old songs from the Ike and Tina era. What I really love about that movie is that it introduced me to Tina’s past through Angela Bassett’s masterful acting. As I mentioned up post, I wasn’t familiar with Ike and Tina, and it wasn’t until I saw that movie that I started to seek out those old performances that were so different from Tina’s 80s image. I also love Angela Bassett’s work. She is a fantastic actor, and is perfect in her role as Tina Turner.
Tina’s story, as depicted in What’s Love Got To Do With It, was made entertaining, even though she truly went through Hell to get to where she ended up. The truth is, Tina escaped her hellish marriage to Ike Turner and soared into a career of her own that way eclipsed what she ever had with Ike. She served as a role model and icon to so many people of my generation. I heard her collaborate with other musicians, changing classic songs into her own creations.
It wasn’t until the early aughts that I read Tina’s book, I, Tina, ghostwritten with Kurt Loder, which provided a much rawer look at her life story. It’s been many years since I read I, Tina, but I do remember that the book was very candid. I distinctly remember reading about how and where Tina lost her virginity. Tina was just as forthcoming and unbridled in her book as she was in her stage performances. I think I still own a copy of that book– it’s in storage. I shouldn’t be too surprised that the day after Tina’s death, the prices for the first edition of her book are way up on Amazon! Years ago, I wrote a review of that book. I’m not sure if I still have it available. I’ll look and see, and if I find it, I’ll repost it.
Not too long ago, I saw a 2021 documentary about Tina Turner’s more recent life. It was called Tina, and it filmed in her home in Switzerland. She spoke candidly about her life, and that was when I heard about her serious health concerns. But even with those health problems, she still looked amazing and spoke with such lucidity and wisdom. I remember being amazed by her all over again. She was obviously destined to be an icon… but even icons have an end. Fortunately, she left behind an astonishing treasure trove of works that will continue to inspire and amaze people for many years to come.
I know a lot of people are expressing sadness that Tina Turner has died. I think it would be disingenuous for me to be sad about Tina’s death, because she lived a long, full life, and death is something that happens to us all. Instead of sadness about her death, I feel grateful that she lived, and we all got to know aspects of her by watching her perform and hearing her sing. I am consoled that she no longer has to suffer from ill health, or even just the ravages of getting older– the aches and pains that make it harder to enjoy living. Even if there is no Heaven after death, the condition of no longer suffering is a kind of heavenly peace.
Any sorrow I feel is not about Tina’s death, but for those who knew and loved her, and will have to go on without her in their lives. I know she will be missed by so many people– not just her legions of fans, but the people in her life who had the pleasure of knowing her personally. To those people, I offer my most sincere condolences… and to Tina herself, I offer gratitude for the many memories I have of the 1980s version of Tina Turner and the way she served as a positive role model to so many young girls like I was, back in those days. I really wish I could have seen her perform live.
Tina really was a queen for us all…
I’m sharing the link to I, Tina, for those who might not have known it exists. If you purchase through my site, I get a small commission from Amazon. But I don’t expect anyone to pay so much for this book. I recommend looking in your local library for it. ETA: I see a new edition is out and offered at a relatively reasonable price. If you want to know her unvarnished story, I recommend picking it up.