At one point in time, it seemed like Ike and Tina Turner were unstoppable. Not only did they release hit after hit, but they built a reputation for legendary, must-see performances. On the outside, everything seemed perfect, but behind the veil of success, Tina was suffering at the hands of Ike. It was a tumultuous, troubled relationship, and Tina felt trapped.
It wasn’t until one fateful day in 1976 that she managed to run away with only 36 cents in her pocket. The international superstar suddenly found herself a single mother living on food stamps—but she was free, and that’s all that mattered. This is the story of Ike and Tina’s troubled relationship and how she managed to put herself back together, piece by piece.
Born Anna Mae Bullock, Tina was born to what she describes as “well-to-do farmers.” While the family was comfortable financially, there were other problems. Her parents, Floyd and Zelma, were always fighting. “They didn’t love each other,” Tina told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1986.
In fact, her mother was in the process of leaving her husband when she got pregnant with Tina. She decided to stay at the last minute, but the couple fought relentlessly. When Tina was ten years old, Zelma packed up and left. Tina, however, says that her mother walking out didn’t have that much of an effect on her. It was growing up with her mother that left an emotional scar on the singer.
“See, my mother didn’t want me in the first place,” the singer continued. “What I simply missed was that she didn’t love me. And I knew the difference because I used to watch her with my sister, Alline.” Tina says that her mother fawned over Alline, making it very clear that Tina was unwanted.
Three years later, her father up and left, forcing Tina and her sister to grow up quickly. The two briefly went to live with their grandmother, and eventually made their way to St. Louis to live with their estranged mother. This marked the beginning of a hard time for the little girl who went on to become one of the world’s best-selling recording artists.
While living in St. Louis, Alline would take Tina to R&B clubs in the area, even though she was just a teenager at the time. It was during one of these nights out that she met the man who would infamously leave a mark on her life: Ike Turner.
Ike was the front man and leader of Kings of Rhythm, who famously introduced rock n’ roll to the world with their hit song, Rocket 88. Their meeting was definitely not love at first sight, well, at least from Tina’s side. In fact, she found him somewhat unattractive. “I thought he was terribly ugly. There had been such a buildup about him because he had the hottest band around,” Tina told reporters.
Tina reminds us that she was still a teenager and “used to boys in jeans and short-sleeved shirts.” However, she did admit that she was drawn to his voice. “Boy, could he play that music. The place just started rocking,” she reminisced about the first time she laid eyes on Ike. “I wanted to get up there and sing so bad.”
But that would take another year. Tina and her sister continued to hit the club circuit and became frequent guests at Club Manhattan, where Ike and his band often played. During one of the band’s breaks, the band’s drummer, Eugene Washington, stood up and set the microphone in front of Tina.
She then picked up the microphone and began to sing Ike’s version of B.B. King’s You know I love You. A crowd began to form. Everyone wanted to know who was singing so beautifully. “Girl, I didn’t know you could sing!” Ike told Tina. He asked her if she knew any more songs, and she nodded.
So, he asked her to join the band on stage to sing with them for the rest of the night. Tina was an instant hit with the crowd and the band alike and immediately became a featured vocalist with the Kings of Rhythm.
“I was a star. Ike went out and bought me all these clothes. I had a fur and rings and [motions to elbow] gloves up to here,” Tina shared with Rolling Stone Magazine. “I was driving a Cadillac and I was still in school.” Her sister Alline was already dating the band’s drummer Eugene Washington, and Tina herself had eyes on someone in the band.
She eventually began to go out with the band’s saxophonist, Raymond Hill. “We didn’t fool around right away because I was so unsophisticated,” she reminisced with a smile. But that soon changed, and, during her senior year, Tina learned that she was pregnant.
After her mom found out about the pregnancy, Tina went to live with Hill. But their relationship came to an end when he broke his foot and moved back home with his family, leaving Tina to give birth alone and raise her son as a single mother.
Tina moved back in with her mother and did all of the cleaning, washing, and cooking for her family. “I was taken care of in my early stages,” she told Rolling Stone Magazine. “But I didn’t plan on hanging around; I planned on getting a job.”
And that’s what she did. Tina began working at a hospital with her heart set on going to school to become a practical nurse. As a single mother, Tina knew that she couldn’t rely on her sporadic gigs at the club. But then, one day, everything changed.
Ike was in need of a singer and asked Tina if she could help him out. Ike had written the song, A Fool in Love for Art Lassiter and he wanted Tina to sing backup vocals. But when Art didn’t show up for the recording session, Tina suggested singing lead.
It was a demo track and Ike initially wanted to erase Tina’s vocals and rerecord the track with Art’s voice. Well, when Juggy Murray, the president of the R&B label, Sue Records, heard Tina’s voice, he was blown away. “Tina sounded like screaming dirt. It was a funky sound,” he later told reporters.
He bought the track and convinced Ike to make Tina “the star of the show.” “Now we have to make up a name,” Ike told Tina. He renamed her Tina because it rhymed with the popular comic book character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
As for her last name, Ike decided to give Tina his and then trademarked her name as a form of protection. If Tina decided to leave him, like the many before her, Ike could just replace her with another “Tina Turner.” “And that’s when Ike and Tina started,” the singer reminisced in 1986.
“He wanted his name there because he’d always produced people, only to have them get record deals and leave.” In July 1960, A Fool in Love was released, and it instantly became a hit. Tina Turner was on her way to becoming a star.
Ike and Tine released hit after hit, and in 1961, they earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock and Roll Performance. Ike booked the band for performances all across the country, which helped them build a reputation as “one of the hottest, most durable, and potentially most explosive of all R&B ensembles.”
With a 90-day straight performance circuit, Ike and Tina proved to the world that they were unstoppable. But little did the public know that their relationship was already tumultuous. Ike had his hold on Tina, and it would take her years to escape the relationship. So, what was going on behind closed doors?
Tina described her early relationship with Ike as that of a “brother and sister from another lifetime.” Ike was living with his girlfriend, Lorraine Taylor, and Tina had just given birth to her first son. But that changed when Tina went to his bedroom to hide from another musician who tried being intimate with her in the middle of the night.
“I went to sleep with Ike, thinking he would protect me. Shit!” Tina laughed. “It happened then, but I thought, “Well, okay, I’ll just do it once.” But one thing led to another, and their relationship turned into a “friends with benefits” situation.
Tina says that she didn’t love him even though the two were intimate. “I didn’t like it because of that,” she later told reporters. “But I didn’t know how to handle it because I also didn’t want to lose my job. I knew he wasn’t right for me.” But their physical relationship continued as time went on.
Tina eventually became pregnant with their first son together, and Ike broke up with his girlfriend, with whom he already had two kids. He proposed to Tina in 1962, but it was far from romantic. In fact, she was scared to turn him down.
Ike was already physically abusing Tina at this point. The first time was in 1960 when she was already pregnant with their first son. Ike wanted Tina to officially change her name, but she didn’t want to. Ike responded by hitting her over the head with a wooden shoe stretcher.
This instilled fear in Tina, who remembers that life-changing moment. “You’re pregnant, Anna,” she remembers thinking to herself, “and you have no place to go.” It continued like this for years. So, when Ike did propose, Tina was scared of what he would do to her if she said no.
At 22 years old, Tina accompanied Ike, who was seven years her senior, to Tijuana, Mexico, to get hitched. At this point in her life, Tina had no control over either her career or her personal life. Everything was about making Ike happy. If Ike was happy, then Tina was safe.
The wedding in Mexico was a far cry from Tina’s dream wedding, but she went along with his plans. Following the quicky ceremony, Ike took his bride to a brothel. This was the last place she wanted to be, for obvious reasons.
When thinking back to her first wedding, Tina says that she was on the verge of tears the entire day. “The experience was so disturbing that I suppressed it, scratched it out, and created a different scenario, a fantasy of romantic elopement,” she told The Mail in 2018.
“We couldn’t leave until Ike was ready, and he was having a fine time.” For years, Tina kept the details of her wedding night a secret. She was too embarrassed to let everyone know what was really going on between her and Ike.
Ike had a lot of anger that had built up over the years. “He had a complex about how he spoke,” Tina later explained to Rolling Stone Magazine. “A lot of his fight came because he was embarrassed about his manners and not being educated… and the drugs just magnified that.”
But it wasn’t just a lack of education that led to Ike being angry all of the time. Ike came from rocky beginnings. According to Ike, his father had an affair with a married woman and, as a result, he was beat up and left for dead one day by an angry mob.
He lived in a tent on the family’s front yard before dying from his wounds. Ike was only five years old. His mother later remarried a man named Philip Reese, whom Ike described as a violent alcoholic who liked to take his anger out on Ike whenever he could.
But despite their troubled relationship, Ike took care of Reese after his mother died until his death two years later in 1961. However, it wasn’t just his troubled homelife that had an effect on Ike. He was sexually abused by a middle-aged woman named Miss Boozie when he was only six years old.
There was also another older lady who abused Ike when he was twelve years old. And while Ike remains adamant that he wasn’t traumatized by these experiences, they sure did leave their mark on the musician. How could they not?
Not only was Ike was robbed of his childhood and forced to grow up way too quickly, but these experiences also completely changed the way he viewed sex and women. “That’s probably why every relationship I was in was surrounded by sex,” Ike later said, when reflecting on his childhood. “Sex was power to me.”
Ike dropped out of school when he was in the eighth grade and began working as an elevator operator at the Alcazar Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It was during this job that Ike was first introduced to the music world.
During his breaks from work, he would stop by the WROX radio station, which was also located at the hotel. One day DJ John Friskillo saw Ike peeking around the corner and decided to put him to work. Ike learned how to work the control room, and soon he was playing tracks while Friskillo was on his coffee breaks.
Before long, Ike became a DJ on the late-afternoon shift. One thing led to another, and Ike soon found himself making and producing music. Tina says that she always knew that Ike was a talented musician, even though his songwriting skills were lacking.
“All of his songs were about pain or women. That was his life dilemma,” Tina told reporters in 1986. “I hated those songs. I knew he was writing about other women.” This was a huge problem for the couple. For a singer to sing a song properly, with enough soul, they have to actually like the song.
When Ike sensed that Tina wasn’t into the lyrics she was singing, he blamed her for delivering it poorly. “All the blame was put on me,” she later said. “It was all this suppressed anger he had.” But Ike knew that Tina was the talent and the key to becoming successful.
Ike knew that he couldn’t lose her completely. “The success and the fear came almost hand in hand,” Tina recalled. During the mid-‘60s, Tina and Ike had several Top 10 R&B hits, but the band had a hard time reaching mainstream success because of Ike’s self-sabotaging and violent behavior.
Before the age of 30, Ike didn’t touch drugs or alcohol. In fact, he was known to fire anyone in his band who touched substances. But all of that changed in the early ’60s when “two very famous people” introduced him to cocaine in Las Vegas.
It was later revealed that these famous people were none other than Elvis Presley and comedian Redd Foxx. Ike ended up taking the drugs home one night and trying them while writing songs on the piano. Ike said that he liked the reduced sleep that came from taking drugs because this meant that he could write more music.
By the early ’70s, Ike was buying drugs in bulk. Ike later estimated that he spent at least $11 million on cocaine in his lifetime. This addiction made Ike angrier and more impulsive, further dampening his relationship with Tina. At one point, Tina couldn’t take it anymore.
Not only was Ike abusing her and drugs, but he also openly paraded around the city with mistresses on his arm. Tina says that sexual encounters between the two were “an expression of hostility,” and she just couldn’t take it anymore. Then, in 1968, she tried taking her own life.
Tina went to her doctor and claimed that she had trouble sleeping. The doctor prescribed her sleeping pills, and later that night, she took 50 of them. In her memoir, Tina says that she was unhappy that she woke up but walked away from the experience as a changed person, with a new view on life.
This was a sign that she was meant to be alive. “So that’s when I actually went to the spiritual side of myself for help. And I got it,” she later recalled. As each day passed, Tina began to realize her strength—something that eventually helped her escape the marriage.
Even though Tina was getting stronger every day, she wasn’t ready to leave Ike. Then, in 1971, Ike and Tina finally hit mainstream success with their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary. Tina’s high energy and funky dance moves earned them a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a group, further cementing their reputation for serving up legendary performances.
Ike and Tina Turner had finally made it. This newfound fame meant that Ike had enough money to open up his own recording studio. Artists like Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Frank Zappa, and Little Richard flocked to record at Bolic Sound.
The Ike & Tina Turner Revue continued to release hit after hit, but little did the world know that the musical duo’s days together were numbered. In the summer of 1976, Ike was planning on leaving United Artists to join a new label, Cream Records for $150,000.
While this was a huge deal (and a lot of money), it meant that Tina was contractually tied to Ike for another five years. This scared Tina and rightfully so. Five days before the couple was supposed to sign the contract, she finally gathered up the courage to leave Ike.
It was more of a sudden decision than a thought-out plan. On the way to their gig at the Dallas Statler Hilton, Ike and Tina got into a fight that quickly turned violent. Tina couldn’t take living like this anymore.
Shortly after the couple arrived at the hotel, Tina fled with nothing more than a Mobile gas card and 36 cents in her pocket. She stopped at the first place she found, a Dallas Ramada Inn, and begged the manager to give her a room. He did. Finally, after years of abuse, Tina was safe.
However, it wasn’t easy at first. Not only did Tina not have any money in her pocket, but she also had no idea how to access the money that was rightfully hers. Despite what Ike thought, Tina was able to find a homeowner willing to rent out their house.
Ike sent all of the kids over to her house along with one month’s rent. Ike thought that Tina would come back to him when the money ran out. But she didn’t. “We slept on the floor the first night,” Tina recalled in 1986. Tina’s family pitched in to help with food and furniture. “We also used food stamps – yeah, food stamps.”
Tina’s problems weren’t just limited to accessing her money. Several promoters sued Tina and Ike for expenses and ticket sales, and Ike began to retaliate. According to her 2018 memoir, My Love Story, Ike began sending his “stooges” to intimidate her once she filed for divorce.
One night, these men began to shoot bullets into her new house. This scared Tina so much that she often slept in her closet. The couple’s divorce was finalized in March 1978. According to the divorce papers, Tina took financial responsibility for missed concert dates.
Tina received royalties from the songs she had written while she was with Ike, as well as her two Jaguar cars, jewelry, furs, and her stage name. However, she was so far in debt that she and her sons lived off food stamps for nearly two years.
She also worked at small clubs and hotel ballrooms to pay off her debts. Slowly but surely, Tina began to regain control of her life. But it wasn’t until 1984 that 45-year-old Tina finally made a comeback. Her pop album, Private Album, included hit singles like her cover of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and her trademark song, What’s Love Got to Do With It.
Tina then flew to Australia for her starring role in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and penned her 1986 memoir, I, Tina, with music critic Kurt Loder. It wasn’t until her memoir that the public learned about the details of her marriage with Ike.
By the end of the ’80s, Tina was an international superstar. She was selling out in venues across the world and earning Grammy after Grammy. With Ike out of the picture, Tina could finally shine. During these years, the world finally began to see Ike for who he was.
In a 1985 Spin Magazine article, Ike was asked about his relationship with Tina. “It’s years ago that I had a temper. I don’t regret nothing I’ve ever done, absolutely nothing,” he told the publication. “Yeah, I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.”
He also bragged about turning Tina into a sex symbol and acknowledged that she was right to think he was sleeping with other women, because he was. His career and public persona had already begun a downward spiral at this point.
In 1980, a SWAT team raided his recording studio, where they found seven grams of cocaine and a live hand grenade. Ike was only sentenced to 30 days in county jail and three years’ probation. The following year, Ike was arrested for shooting a newspaper delivery man.
Then, four years after that, Ike was arrested and charged with conspiracy to sell $16,000 worth of narcotics. He was arrested on drug charges nearly every year after and was eventually sentenced to four years in prison in 1990. Ike finally became clean after his prison stint, but unfortunately relapsed ten years later.
Ike remarried three more times, but each relationship ended due to his volatile behavior and drug abuse. In 2005, Ike had been diagnosed with emphysema. But that’s not what killed him in the end.
On December 12, 2007, Ike died of a cocaine overdose. His body was found by his second wife, Margaret Ann Thomas. Following his death, Tina’s rep issued a short statement that she had not been in contact with her ex-husband for more than thirty years, and “no other comments would be made.”
Tina had no interest in commenting on that chapter of her life, especially since she moved on with someone who truly appreciates and loves her. “Falling in love with my husband, Erwin, was another exercise in leaving my comfort zone…
…of being open to the unexpected gifts that life has to offer,” Tina wrote in her 2020 Book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good. Tina first met Erwin, a young German music executive who was sent to pick her up from Heathrow Airport, in London.
Although she was exhausted from her flight and preoccupied with thoughts about her upcoming performances, she felt an immediate connection. She says that instead of listening to the voices in her head telling her that she “shouldn’t be thinking about romance because it never ends well,” Tina decided to go with her heart.
That first, simple meeting led to a long relationship and her “one true marriage.” After dating for 27 years, the couple officially tied the knot on the banks of Lake Zurich in Switzerland in 2013. Tina wore a beautiful green and black Giorgio Armani gown and requested that all of her female guests wear white.
But Tina’s fairytale ending came to a screeching halt three weeks after the wedding ceremony when she suffered a stroke. Tina had to learn how to walk again, but this was not the last of her problems. In 2016, her kidneys began to give out.
Her chances of receiving a kidney were very low. She signed up for Switzerland’s assisted suicide program, but, luckily, she had Erwin in her life. He was a match and offered to give her a kidney. Tina had kidney transplant surgery in 2017 and has since been symptom-free.
Today, Tina resides in Switzerland with her husband, where she is a citizen as of 2013. It has also been revealed that Tina has relinquished her American citizenship. After such a tumultuous beginning, Tina finally has everything she ever wanted.
“Erwin, who is a force of nature in his own right, has never been the least bit intimidated by my career, my talents, or my fame,” she wrote in her latest book. “He shows me that true love doesn’t require the dimming of my light so that he can shine. On the contrary, we are the light of each other’s lives, and we want to shine as bright as we can, together.”