Tina Turner, known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n Roll,” has died from natural causes years after rejecting assisted suicide. She was 83 years old.
Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, grew up on a farm in Tennessee before she burst onto the music scene in the 1960s with Ike Turner, who would eventually become her husband. She adopted his two sons, and the pair had one child together, in addition to Tina’s son from a previous relationship with saxophonist Raymond Hill. Known as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, the duo was hugely successful, but Ike was notoriously abusive to Turner.
Ike Turner controlled her career and her finances, making it difficult to leave. But in 1976, she finally had enough; after a particularly vicious beating, she fled while he slept. She even had to leave her wig behind, because her head was so swollen that she couldn’t get it on. She ran across a freeway to a Ramada Inn with nothing but 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. She had no money, nowhere to live, and relied on friends to give her a place to stay. She was so desperate for her freedom that, in her divorce from Ike, she gave him everything they had, even though it meant she was left penniless and even had to use food stamps. “You take everything I’ve made in the last sixteen years,” she said. “I’ll take my future.”
It was a good bet. Turner made a massive comeback in the 1980s, with the “Private Dancer” album. At 45 years old, Turner became a superstar in her own right, winning three Grammy awards and, by the year 2000, had sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history.
Turner went on to be inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, and also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005, and a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2018. Turner eventually married music executive Erwin Bach. The two met in 1986, and, after a 27-year relationship, married in 2013 in Switzerland. Bach would end up saving her life.
In 2018, at the age of 78, Turner released a book about her life, detailing her struggles with kidney disease, and how she had considered assisted suicide. Several years earlier, at 75, she was in kidney failure and was also fighting intestinal cancer. But organ donation rates in Switzerland are very low, and her chances of being approved for the transplant list did not look good.
“I began to think about death. If my kidneys were going, and it was time for me to die, I could accept that. It was OK. When it’s time, it’s really time. I didn’t mind the thought of dying, but I was concerned about how I would go,” she wrote. “One of the benefits of living in Switzerland is that assisted suicide is legal, though the patient has to inject the lethal drug herself. There are several organisations that facilitate the process, including Exit and Dignitas. I signed up to be a member of Exit, just in case.”
But Bach volunteered to donate one of his kidneys, which saved her life.
“He said he didn’t want another woman, or another life,” she wrote in her memoir. “Then he shocked me. He said he wanted to give me one of his kidneys.”
Turner would go on to live for nearly six more years. “[I]’m still here. We’re both still here, closer than we ever imagined — and that’s cause for celebration,” she said at the time. “Erwin knew that the old Tina was back at last when I got excited about putting up Christmas ornaments and ordering new tables for the living room. After so many years of being frightened and sick, I was reveling in the sheer joy of being alive.”
In her final interview, she spoke about her life and how she wants to be remembered. “As the Queen of Rock’n’Roll,” she said. “As a woman who showed other women that it is OK to strive for success on their own terms.” She joked that her superpower was being able to perform her signature energetic concerts in 6″ heels, and said that the only thing that made her unhappy was having “lost people close to me, too soon.” This may have been a reference to the deaths of both of her biological sons, who passed away in 2018 and 2022.
Ultimately, Turner said she was happy to experience life in her old age, saying, “This is life’s full adventure and I embrace and accept every day with what it brings.”