In 1976, Tina Turner fled from her abusive husband, Ike. All she had was 36 cents.

On Thursday, news broke that Tina Turner has died at the age of 83. The singer died peacefully in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, following a long illness, her publicist Bernard Doherty said in a statement. Read more here.

Content warning: This story deals with domestic violence and suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

It started with a microphone.

Barely 18 years old, Anna Mae Bullock - who would go on to become the icon known as Tina Turner - was at a popular R&B club in St. Louis, Missouri, with her sister Alline when a microphone was placed in front of her.

She began to sing.

That voice - that raw, powerful voice - caught the attention of Ike Turner, who performed there with his band, Kings of Rhythm. Anna Mae had previously asked Ike if she could sing for him and had been rebuffed. 

But now, after hearing her sing for the first time, he was enthralled.

"Girl, I didn't know you could sing!" he told her. 

She could and she did, immediately becoming a featured vocalist with his band.

While recording his first demo, which Anna Mae sang on, Ike decided she needed a new name. He liked Tina because it rhymed with Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and he tacked on Turner as a form of trademarking, protection [in case she left him, he could get "another Tina Turner"], and, most likely, possession. 

Thus, Tina Turner was born.

Tina Turner, the icon. Image: Getty. 


Soon, Tina and Ike were singing together as a duo and their songs were making headway on the music charts. For someone who came from humble beginnings - Tina was raised in a small town in Tennessee, and neglected by both her mother and father as a child - it was exciting to be chasing her dream of becoming a singer. 

Everything was going well... until it wasn't.

After ending a relationship with saxophonist Raymond Hill, the father of her first child Craig, Tina and Ike began to see each other romantically. She fell pregnant in 1960, and gave birth to their son Ronnie. 


In 1962, at 22 years old, Tina and Ike travelled to Tijuana, Mexico for a quickie wedding. After the ceremony, they attended a live sex show at a brothel. It was a traumatic wedding for the young mother and wife.

"The experience was so disturbing that I suppressed it, scratched it out, and created a different scenario, a fantasy of romantic elopement," Tina wrote in her memoir, My Love Story.

The first time Ike hit Tina was over a disagreement about a musical collaboration. In a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Tina detailed how Ike picked up a wooden shoe stretcher and beat her across the head with it. He then ordered her into bed and had sex with her. 

From there, the beatings were frequent and merciless. They included having hot coffee thrown in her face and breaking her jaw.

In a 2000 interview with Tina's first child, Craig, who tragically died by suicide in 2018, he said, "Ike took a lot of his anger out on her. Most of the time he'd come home and he'd take her into the bedroom and close the door and there would be the screams. And we were so petrified we were in bed with the covers over our heads. One time he was striking my mother and I was young and he'd thrown some scalding hot coffee on her. At that point in time I hated that man for the rest of my life and I'll never forget that, never."

Tina and Ike Turner in 1975. Image: Getty. 


In 1968, Tina was so depressed that she attempted suicide by taking 50 sleeping pills. She woke up in the hospital after doctors saved her life. Ike said to her, "You should die."

Even though Tina was unhappy to be alive at the time, she realised it was a sign that she was meant to be in the world and never attempted suicide again.

As the duo's popularity grew - with the public none the wiser of what was happening behind the scenes - so did the beatings and abuse. One night in July 1976, Tina left Ike with the clothes on her back, 36 cents, and a Mobil credit card. She ran to the Dallas Ramada Inn and pleaded with the manager to give her a room. He did.


"The memory of that was horrendous because I was practically run over by a truck," Tina said in the documentary. 

"I wasn't thinking clearly, of course. I felt like I was moving slow and there was a big truck, one of the really big ones coming and the horn blew, and mostly what I remember is flashing lights. But the next day it was the Fourth of July and I'll always remember it because that's when I got my freedom."

Afterwards, Tina tried her best to get her footing on her own, but it was a hard slog. Ike sent people to intimidate her after she filed for divorce. Promoters tried to sue her due to cancelled performances.

She spent two years on food stamps and worked hotel lounges to pay off debts, including lawsuits from cancelled tour dates. Their divorce was finalised in 1978.

For the next six years, Tina tried to just be "Tina Turner" instead of "Ike and Tina Turner", but labels were hesitant to sign her as a solo act. In 1981, she did a tell-all interview with People magazine. "I wanted to stop people from thinking that Ike and Tina was so positive, that we were such a great team. So I thought, if nothing else, at least people know."

While it took some time, eventually Tina found her groove, becoming a record-smashing rock n roll queen in her 40s. It is one of the reasons she is so revered by fans - women don't usually tend to "make it" in their 40s. Her hit single What's Love Got to Do with It, released in 1984, hit the number one spot on the US Hot 100 billboard. From there, she went on to record earworms Simply The Best, We Don't Need Another Hero, and Private Dancer, amongst many others.


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As for Ike, he displayed no remorse for abusing Tina. 

"I love surrounding myself with beautiful women, I always have," Ike said in a 1985 Spin Magazine feature. "Tina's said I always messed around with other women, and that's true, I won't deny it. If you want to set a trap for me, bait it with pussy - you'll get me every time.

"That woman [Tina] will say whatever she thinks you want to hear. I don't care what she says about me, I'll always be her friend. If the devil was real, it was real... When I saw Tina do 'What’s Love Got to Do With It?' I picked up the phone and called her. 'Hey, Bo [short for Bullock, her maiden name], that's a cute song. I really like it.' Well, that was it. I ain't saw nothing else she did that I like.

"One time I got pissed off about something I read. I wrote her a letter. 'Why don’t you talk about you and stop talking about me and the kids.' I told her she was hurting the kids and embarrassing them. The boys had nothing to do with us.

"But it's years ago that I had a temper. I don't regret nothing I've ever done, absolutely nothing, man, because it took all of that to make me what I am today - and I love me today, I really do. Yeah, I hit her, but I didn't hit her more than the average guy beats his wife. The truth is, our life was no different from the guy next door's. It's been exaggerated. People buy bad news, dirty news. If she says I abused her, maybe I did."


Ike died of a cocaine overdose in 2007.

When the musical on her life debuted in London in 2018, Tina told the actor playing Ike that she forgave him. A number of people took that to mean she had forgiven Ike himself, but that is not the case.

"I don’t know if I could ever forgive all that Ike ever did to me," she told The New York Times in 2019. "[But] Ike’s dead. So we don't have to worry about him."

But perhaps time heals all wounds, even the ones that are still bleeding.

"For a long time I really hated Ike, but after he died I realised he was a sick person, an ill person," Tina said in 2021. 

"Maybe it was a good thing that I met him? That I don't know. It hurts to have to remember those times, but at a certain stage forgiveness takes over. Forgiving means not to hold on, you let it go because by not forgiving - you suffer. I had an abusive life, there's no other way to tell the story, so you have to accept it."

Tina retired from performing in 2009 with a 50-year anniversary tour. The 82-year-old is now living very comfortably in a chateau in Switzerland with her German husband Erwin Bach. The couple married in 2013, and have been together for almost 40 years after meeting in 1985. With a 16-year difference between them, headlines back in the 80s and 90s referred to Bach as Tina's "boy toy".


"He was just so different. So laid back. So comfortable. So unpretentious," Tina said about meeting Bach. "I really needed love. I just needed to love a person."

Tina Turner and Erwin Bach. Image: Getty. 

Bach is now a part of Tina - literally. He gave her a kidney when she was on dialysis and close to death a number of years ago.


Even though it has been decades since Tina left Ike, she has never revealed the full extent of the abuse she suffered at his hands. "I think I’m ashamed," she said. "I feel I told enough."

She still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bach said she has nightmares about the horrific violence she endured. "She has dreams about it, they're not pleasant," he said in last year's documentary. "It's like when soldiers come back from the war. It's not an easy time to have those in your memory and then try to forget."

Tina acknowledged that while people look to her as a symbol for strength and female empowerment, she doesn't necessarily want to be a strong person.

"I had a terrible life. I just kept going. You just keep going, and you hope that something will come," she said.

She waved her hands around her, at the life she had built with the man she loved. 

"This came."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature image: Getty.