How Tina Turner overcame an abusive marriage to become one of the most popular artists of all time
As Tina Turner has stated in her autobiography and in interviews, physical abuse from her husband Ike Turner began almost from the start of their marriage in 1962.
Thin-skinned and mercurial, Ike Turner would fly into fits of rage at the slightest provocation, she said, adding that he would hit her with whatever was available – coat hangers, telephones, a wooden shoe stretcher, his fists.
Often, she said, he’d even beat her before they went onstage.
“He’d hit me in the ribs, and then always try to give me a black eye. He wanted his abuse to be seen. That was the shameful part,” Turner said in a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Tina sang lead on most of their songs with the help of female backup singers, while her husband remained in the background, usually on guitar. Their musical partnership yielded a string of R&B hits, including “A Fool In Love,” “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary,” their 1971 cover of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, which reached No. 4 on the pop charts and won them a Grammy.
But offstage their marriage remained tumultuous, fueled in part by Ike Turner’s cocaine addiction.
“Another night we had a fight in the dressing room, and when I went onstage, my face was swollen,” she told Winfrey. “I think my nose was broken because blood was gushing into my mouth when I sang. Before, I’d been able to hide under makeup. But you can’t hide swelling.”
She stuck with Ike Turner for more than a decade, terrified of his temper and determined not to abandon him like others had.
But things came to a head in July 1976 when they flew to Dallas for a show. Turner wrote in her book that after a flight on the airplane, her husband began hitting her in a car on the way to their hotel. While he slept, she slipped out of their room, carrying only a Mobil credit card and 36 cents – “a quarter, a dime and a penny.”
She fled across a busy highway to a motel, where a sympathetic clerk saw her bloodied face and gave her a room. She then called a lawyer she knew, who arranged for a friend to pick her up and put her on an airplane back to Los Angeles.
“After my plane landed in California, my heart was in my ears. I was afraid Ike would be there because when I’d left once before, he tracked me down on a bus…” she told Oprah. “So when I got off that plane, I ran like mad. I said to myself, ‘If he’s here, I’m going to scream for the police. And I had one chant in my head: ‘I will die before I go back.’”