Tina Turner defined herself as more than an abuse survivor. And we should too
There’s a video of Mike Wallace interviewing Tina Tuner for “60 Minutes” in 1997 that recirculated after she died at the age of 83 this week.
In it, Turner shows Wallace her palatial home in Nice, France, and the pair share a moment over the breathtaking luxury of it all.
“You feel like you deserve all this?” Wallace asks Turner, to which she responds, “I deserve more.”
It was just one example of Turner knowing her worth, something hard won after a difficult past that included poverty, racism and domestic abuse.
While she chose to share her experiences as a survivor of domestic abuse, she also defined herself beyond it.
Turner first went public about the violence she said she suffered in her marriage and musical partnership to Ike Turner during an interview with People magazine in 1981, in part, she said, to make sure people knew the truth.
“I wanted to stop people from thinking that Ike & Tina was so positive, that we were such a great team,” Turner said in the 2021 HBO documentary, “Tina.” “I thought, if nothing else, at least people know.”
Ike and Tina Turner married in 1962. She fled from him 16 years later with only 36 cents and a Mobil credit card in her wallet, an event famously dramatized in the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” featuring Angela Bassett starring as Turner.
“I was living a life of death,” Turner told People. “I didn’t exist. I didn’t fear him killing me when I left, because I was already dead. When I walked out, I didn’t look back.”
Prior to the superstar singer sharing her account, domestic violence was often only associated with women living in poverty. When Turner, as an internationally revered star detailed the brutality she said she lived with, it sparked conversation and cultural awareness about abuse.
She revealed more of her life story in her 1986 book, “I, Tina,” and domestic violence became a frequent topic in many of her interviews.
Yet with all that Turner shared, she told the New York Times in 2019 that she had never told the full story of how bad it was for her.
“I think I’m ashamed,” she said. “I feel I told enough.”
For his part, Ike Turner, who died in 2007 at the age of 76, consistently denied that he was the person his ex-wife described.
“‘Ike Turner, known as the meanest man alive, the ugly woman-beater’ or whatever; people always got to say some [expletive] like that,” he told the Washington Post in 1997. “See, they put that movie out right during the time of that women’s movement, and Tina fit right into that. That women’s-lib thing, she was a good vehicle for them to get behind. It really hurt me a lot, but I’m getting over it, man.”
“You can’t undo what’s been done,” he later said. “And I have no regrets … I did nothing that I’m ashamed of. I did nothing that I won’t do again.”
There was probably plenty Tina Turner would have done differently, as one of the main themes of her 2021 documentary was the unhappiness she endured with him for years.
But there was also triumph.
After being left deeply in debt following their divorce, Tina Turner reclaimed her career and became an even bigger star than when she had performed with her ex-husband.
Her 1984 solo album “Private Dancer” featured several hits, including the Grammy-winning single, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
Critics praised both the album and her voice.
“Rolling on the river without Ike in the boat, Tina Turner makes a powerful comeback on Private Dancer,” Debby Miller wrote for Rolling Stone at the time. “Turner throws herself into the material here, her voice rasping but strong, physical and impossibly sensual. There isn’t a single dud among the songs, and they’re given modern rock settings that are neither detached nor very fussy.”
More hit songs, millions of records sold, movie roles, sold-out tours, two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Broadway musical about her life and career followed.
There was also the longtime love she found with Erwin Bach, a record executive with whom she shared the last 40 years of her life.
Turner was clear that she had moved on from her painful past.
“I don’t know if I could ever forgive all that Ike ever did to me,” she said in 2019, adding, “Ike’s dead. So, we don’t have to worry about him.”