Words like "icon" and "legend" tend to get tossed around frequently, yet they’re entirely fitting when describing the one and only Tina Turner. The now-retired singer, who celebrated her 81st birthday in November 2020, can look back on a long, successful music career spanning five decades.
But all that success did not come without some serious challenges. In memoirs, numerous interviews, and the biopic, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Turner has chronicled the horrific abuse she suffered throughout her marriage to Ike Turner, who was both her husband and musical partner. When she divorced him and struck out on her own, Turner endured years of struggle in the lower echelons of show business, typified by an appearance on Hollywood Squares when host Peter Marshall cheerfully asked her, "Where’s Ike?"
Entering her forties with her music career at a low ebb in the early 1980s, nobody would have predicted that Turner’s biggest success was still to come, including mega-hit albums, wildly successful tours, awards, and accolades. Even though she’s been in the public eye since the 1960s, there’s a lot to learn about this enduring musical superstar. Read on to discover the untold truth of Tina Turner.
Tina isn’t her real name
Tina Turner has been a superstar for so long that it’s easy to forget that Tina isn’t the name she was given at birth. As Encylopedia.com recalled, she was born Anna Mae Bullock — and was identified as "Little Ann" on the first single she ever recorded, the 1958 novelty number, "Boxtop."
According to Mark Bego’s 2005 biography, Tina Turner: Break Every Rule, the singer — who was then performing in future husband Ike Turner’s band — explained how she came to receive her now-famous name. "[Ike] had a thing for the women in movies who swing on the vines — the jungle queens," she said. Bego then revealed that since the pseudonym rhymed with one of his favorites, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, Ike dubbed her "Tina." From then on, the couple performed together as Ike and Tina Turner.
When she finally divorced Ike, Bego wrote in his book, she didn’t seek any money or property, but instead asked for only "her freedom and her stage name of ‘Tina Turner.’"
She attempted suicide to escape her abusive marriage to Ike Turner
Tina Turner’s marriage to musical partner Ike Turner was notoriously turbulent. In her 2018 memoir, My Love Story, she detailed her allegations of abuse throughout her marriage, including the time he struck her so hard "he broke [her] jaw." In an excerpt published in the Daily Mail, Turner wrote about hitting a particularly low point in 1968. At that time, she admitted, "I convinced myself that death was my only way out … One night, just before a gig, I simply couldn’t take any more and swallowed 50 sleeping pills."
Fortunately, she had miscalculated the length of time it would take for the pills to take effect: they "kicked in just as I started to put on my make-up, and I ended up being rushed to hospital," she explained. As a result, her stomach was pumped and she survived, coming away from the experience with a certainty. "I knew my suicide attempt hadn’t been a classic cry for help: I’d chosen death," Tina wrote.
"Yet I never tried killing myself again, because I came out of the darkness believing that I was meant to survive," Tina added. "I was here for a reason."
Tina Turner converted to Buddhism and spent four hours a day chanting
It wasn’t long after her failed suicide attempt that Tina Turner discovered Buddhism. As she revealed in a 2020 interview with USA Today, "A number of people suggested I try chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and studying Buddhist principles. The more I learned about it, the more I found the philosophy helpful, and it made perfect sense to me." She added, "Buddhism literally saved my life, and I’ve been happily chanting every day for about 50 years now."
Speaking with Buddhist publication World Tribune in 2018, Turner explained that chanting "changed my life for the better," adding, "I’ve left a good body of work as a rock singer, and I’ve made it very clear that it was because of my spiritual practice." During the most difficult times in her life, Turner recalled chanting "for four hours a day, in the morning and in the evening, and also when needed in the middle of the day."
However, while she was still chanting daily at this point, she admitted that she’d reduced her chanting time substantially. "The practice is to get you started twice a day, when rising in the morning and before retiring in the evening," Turner explained.
Her first two solo albums were flops
Tina Turner was still married to Ike Turner when she put out her first solo album in 1974. As Rolling Stone recalled, that first solo effort was a stone-cold flop that failed to chart. In retrospect, that failure is perhaps understandable, given that the raucous soul singer baffled her fans by putting out an album of country songs, Tina Turns the Country On!.
Her second solo album appeared in 1975, and was also produced during the Turners’ marriage. This album was titled Acid Queen, taken from the character Tina Turner portrayed in the movie, Tommy, based on The Who’s iconic double-album rock opera. She took another departure with this album, putting her distinctive spin on cover versions of classic rock tunes by the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. This time around, reviews were mixed: Rolling Stone‘s Dave Marsh, for example, slammed the producers for burdening the singer with an album "cluttered with pointless string charts and synthesizer zips and zaps."
However, Acid Queen, unlike its predecessor, did make it onto the charts, but by no means was it a hit. According to Billboard, the album spent just five weeks on the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart, peaking at No. 39.
Tina Turner says she taught Mick Jagger all his moves
Mick Jagger has spent decades as one of rock music’s most electrifying frontmen, renowned for his inimitable onstage dancing (which inspired the Maroon 5 hit "Moves Like Jagger"). According to a 2012 interview Jagger gave to Rolling Stone, he credited his mother with teaching him how to dance, while also admitting he drew inspiration from such musical forebears as James Brown and Little Richard.
Tina Turner, however, has a different recollection. The way she remembers, it was she who taught him how to move like Jagger. "Mick wanted to dance — and I was a dancer — but he never gave me the credit!" Turner jokingly griped to the Daily Mail in 2017. "He said his mother taught him how to dance. But we worked with him in the dressing room, me and the girls, and we taught him how to Pony," she added, referencing the early-1960s dance craze.
Turner also insisted her relationship with the legendary lothario was never romantic, describing Jagger and the late David Bowie as being "like the brothers that I never had." She added, "We never slept together; and they never came on to me, because I think they saw me as a role model in some kind of way."
She played the villain in a Mad Max sequel — but turned down a major lead role that same year
After appearing 1975’s Tommy, it was a full decade before Tina Turner would return to the big screen, playing the ruthless Aunty Entity opposite Mel Gibson in 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. As NME recalled, not only did Turner have to shave her head in order to accommodate her character’s wig, but her costume weighed 70 pounds, as it was "made from an assortment of soldered materials." Another fun fact, as reported by the Hot Cars website, was that Turner wasn’t actually doing the driving in her scenes — because all the movie’s vehicles had manual transmissions, and she could only drive automatic.
Meanwhile, she confirmed in a 1997 interview with Larry King Live that she turned down the role that ultimately went to Whoopi Goldberg in 1985’s The Color Purple. Turner understandably passed, she explained, because the character’s abuse by her husband "was too close to [her] personal life." She added, "I had just left such a life. It was too soon to be reminded of [it] … I was very excited and very flattered that I was asked by Mr. [Steven] Spielberg, but it was just the wrong movie for me at that time." Turner had zero regrets.
Tina Turner’s life story was the focus of an Oscar-winning biopic and a Broadway musical
Tina Turner’s next big-screen outing came in the following decade, with the 1992 release of What’s Love Got to Do With It. Turner, however, didn’t star — that honor went to Angela Bassett, who received an Oscar nomination for portraying the singer in the biopic. Based on Turner’s autobiography, I, Tina, the film proved to be both a critical and commercial winner. "A high-energy mixture of spectacular music, vigorous acting and cliched situations, this is a rough-and-rowdy fairy tale with a feminist subtext," declared the Los Angeles Times‘ review of the film, which raked in a respectable $39 million at the box office.
But this movie isn’t the only project to be based on Turner’s life story. In 2018, the stage musical, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, premiered on London’s West End, before coming to Broadway in 2019. Turner was there for opening night, and surprised the Broadway audience when she took to the stage and delivered a speech.
"This musical is my life but it’s like poison that turned to medicine," Turner told the opening-night crowd, as reported by People. "I can never be as happy as I am now." The show received 12 Tony nominations, including best musical.
She had to relearn how to walk after a 2013 stroke
Weeks after the Broadway debut of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Tina Turner took to social media to celebrate a big milestone with fans. "Yes, I’m 80," she declared in a video she shared on Twitter. "How did I think I would be at 80? Not like this … I look great," she said with a laugh, adding that she’d "gone through some very serious sicknesses that I’m overcoming, so it’s like having a second chance at life."
Turner candidly opened up about those health struggles in her 2018 memoir, My Love Story. As the Evening Standard noted, she wrote about suffering a stroke in 2013, and then being diagnosed with intestinal cancer just three years later. But as she told Oprah Winfrey in a 2018 interview, she initially dismissed doctors’ warnings that the stroke had left her unable to walk as "bull crap" until she tried to "[step] out of bed and went flop to the floor."
However, she instantly dismissed any negative thoughts. "No," Turner told herself. "I’m going to will myself to [relearn how to walk]." She added to Winfrey, "But you know, I wasn’t depressed about it ever, Oprah. I was just determined to fix it."
Tina Turner holds an impressive Guinness World Record
As Billboard recalled, it was Tina Turner’s 1984 album, Private Dancer, that catapulted her from apparent has-been to rock superstardom. That record alone was responsible for her first handful of Top 40 hits as a solo artist, along with her first No. 1 single, "What’s Love Got to Do With It." The album also spent 39 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart.
The success of that album propelled Turner to become of the biggest touring acts in music history. As her bio for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical pointed out, Turner "holds the Guinness World Record for selling more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history." Turner last hit the road in the late 2000s, for her Tina!: The 50th Anniversary Tour, a two-hour retrospective encapsulating her entire career to that point. As The Hollywood Reporter‘s review of a performance at Los Angeles’ Staples Center opined, the singer — who was about to turn 69 at the time — may not have been able to "move like days of old," but "her spirit was willing, and those legendary legs were still at work."
She met her future second husband in an airport
After her divorce from Ike Turner, Tina Turner had no intention of getting married again. However, a chance meeting in a German airport changed everything. In a clip from HBO’s 2021 documentary Tina shared by People, she tells the story of how she first came to meet second husband Erwin Bach, a Swiss music executive who’d been tasked by Turner’s manager to pick her up at the Düsseldorf Airport.
"He was [16 years] younger [than me]. He was 30 years old at the time and had the prettiest face. I mean, you cannot [describe] it. It was like insane," Turner recalled. "[I thought], ‘Where did he come from?’ He was really so good-looking. My heart [was beating fast] and it means that a soul has met, and my hands were shaking."
As Hello! reported, the couple had been together for 27 years when they finally tied the knot in 2013. In a 2005 interview with O, The Oprah Magazine, Turner revealed why she was in no hurry get married. "People often ask me why I don’t marry," she explained. "I have love. I have a good life. I don’t need to interfere with that."
Tina Turner relinquished her U.S. citizenship
While there’s no denying that Tina Turner is a quintessentially American musical artist, her fans may be surprised to learn that she hasn’t lived in the U.S. for decades. As Forbes recalled, she has resided in Zurich, Switzerland since 1995, where she’s lived with her now-husband, Erwin Bach. In 2013, Turner made the big step of becoming a Swiss citizen and gave up her American citizenship. Forbes received confirmation from the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland that she had made it official by visiting the embassy and signing a "Statement of Voluntary Relinquishment of U.S. Citizenship."
According to a 2019 profile in The New York Times, Turner and Bach live in a spacious home (named Chateau Algonquin) on the shore of Lake Zurich, where she’s waited on by Didier, "an enormously tall Swiss man" who serves as her "major domo." In the interview, Turner joked about originally wanting to live in a castle, "until I saw how big castles were."
Her second husband saved her life by donating one of his kidneys
Tina Turner’s relationship with Erwin Bach has spanned decades, and in her 2018 memoir, My Love Story, she revealed the life-saving gift he gave her in 2016 after years of untreated high blood pressure had severely damaged her kidney function. Her condition was so dire that, as she wrote in an excerpt published by the Daily Mail, "I faced two choices: either regular dialysis or a kidney transplant."
She was shocked when Bach offered to give her one of his kidneys — an offer that Turner immediately discouraged. "He was a young man. Why should he take such a risk to give an older woman a few extra years? What if he had a problem some day with his remaining kidney?" she wrote. Bach, however, refused to be deterred and donated one of his kidneys for what turned out to be successful transplant surgery. "We’re both still here, closer than we ever imagined — and that’s cause for celebration," Turner added.
"And I would do it again," Bach later told The New York Times of his organ donation.
The reason why Tina doesn’t talk about Ike in the HBO documentary about her life
Tina Turner has had much to say about the abuse she experienced during her marriage to Ike Turner, something she’s discussed in interviews, written about in books, and dramatized on stage and in a big-screen biopic. However, in the 2021 HBO documentary, Tina, she speaks very little about what she experienced during that time in her life.
According to the film’s directors, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, there’s a reason for that. As the filmmakers told Vanity Fair, they didn’t want to put Tina — an octogenarian at the time she was interviewed for the film — through the trauma of reliving those painful memories. "The trauma of abuse doesn’t just go away — that’s something we wanted to communicate with this film," said Lindsay. "Revisiting that time can be very traumatic for her," he added. "And it oftentimes comes up in dreams or nightmares, and it’s like she’s reliving that stuff for the first time again … We were very aware that that is something that she is still dealing with."
If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also find more information, resources, and support at www.thehotline.org.
Tina Turner’s net worth is shocking
Tina Turner’s 1984 album, Private Dancer, proved to be a turning point, not just resurrecting her career but propelling her to a level of superstardom she hadn’t experienced previously. According to Turner’s bio for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, she’s "sold more than 200 million albums and singles worldwide to date, making her one of the biggest selling female artists in music history." In addition, the album’s success established Turner as a major touring act, with The Richest noting that her 1996 Wildest Dreams tour raked in a whopping $100 million in ticket sales, while her Twenty Four Seven tour in 2000 sold $80 million in tickets. Her 2008 Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour — her final tour before she retired — brought in gross revenues of more than $84 million.
Turner summed up her feelings about her wealth, reported The New York Times, when 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace asked her while visiting her Southern France villa, "Do you feel like you deserve all this?" Her reply? "I deserve even more."